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Oct 2016

Are we still the ten percenters?

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Shaping the future of learning

Few theories trip off the tongue of L&D professionals easier than the 70/20/10 principle. The theory was formulated by Morgan McCall and his colleagues at the Centre for Creative Leadership. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of its publication. Although 70/20/10 was never a prescribed model nor an exact science, it's found great success. For two decades, elearning designers have categorised most of what they do in the 10%. But is it time for more online learning to break out into the other 90%?


The Internet and mobile phones were new technology for most people. Learning still took place in a classroom or on a CD ROM, quite likely in a specially made learning suite. Elearning  ('computer-based training' as it was often dubbed back then) fitted neatly in the 10% of the 70/20/10 principle – formal training and coursework. It didn't easily reach out into the 20% (feedback and examples from people around them) or the 70% (real work experience and learning from your own mistakes). 

Fast forward to 2016

We're cyborgs - at least by ​some people's standards. We're lost without our smartphones and I peronally feel my own​ ​shift from needing to know​​​​​ things to knowing how to Google them. Wearables and mixed reality headsets like Hololens and Magic Leap will allow us to experience a whole new layer of information superimposed on top of reality (Pokémon Go is just the beginning).


In the twenty-first century, does a taxi driver need to memorise a street atlas before they get on the road or do they just need a sat nav? How long before everyone has a version of a sat nav for their role? Performance support – guides, calculators, glossaries and the like – helps with the jobs our brains used to juggle. At the very least, it erodes the need to memorise absolutely everything. The information is there as we need it and the skill is in finding it and interpreting it, and the skill for L&D departments and systems designers is to make that task as easy for learners as possible. This 'resources not courses' approach is starting to gain increasing popularity in the industry. However, it's more than just bunging information on a portal. It requires a razor-sharp sense of what information is needed to turbocharge an individual's performance and when it's needed, then a real strategy for making sure it's available at those points.

With these performance-boosting just-in-time resources, we begin to augment the learner during that ​70%. This is especially true if we also provide good just-in-time practice opportunities to help learners through the important process of making mistakes. So many scenario-based challenges end up as the assessments in the 10%, but why not design them as a just-in-time rehearsal for real tasks? And just like Facebook now mediates our social lives, we begin to mediate the 20% by providing social learning and online knowledge-sharing communities. But perhaps trying to wrap everything up in neat categories is the real limitation - modern learning is always-on, it's personalised and it's there at the point of need. The old patterns cease to apply. There's even a question as to whether the goal of your online materials should always be recognisable as 'learning' in the strictest traditional sense.

So maybe it's time to stop thinking in terms 10%, 20% or 70% and spend more time looking at how our technical and creative solutions support learners through 100% of their learning journey. And, ironically​, in the future, people might not 'learn' as much but they'll likely do their jobs better and quicker than ever before.



Shaping the future of learning

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