The 70, 20, 10 rule

The 70, 20, 10 rule: A model for learning and development

The 70, 20, 10 rule: A model for learning and development

Welcome back to PowerPoint Training Online. Continuing on from last week where we spoke about different learning styles, we are going to talk about the 70, 20, 10 rule. There are many different learning models out there in the world. The 70, 20, 10 rule is just one. We will look at the others over the course of time but now we just want to look at the one.

There has always been a human need to create a rule or model to explain how stuff happens. This is relevant to the human mind or to how we eat breakfast. People want direction. And who can blame them, it makes life easier. In the learning and development world there is no exception. There has been plenty of rules and modes created to help you educate people. There are multiple models out there.

Here at PowerPoint Training Online we have views on all of them. The remainder of this article will discuss one of those models, the 70, 20, 10 rule. Below we will look at the advantages and the disadvantages of this model.

A brief history of the 70, 20, 10 rule

The 70, 20, 10 rule was created in the 80’s by 3 researchers from the Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit educational institution in Greensboro, N.C. These were Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert A. Eichinger. At they the time they were researching what made a successful manager. The results of their research was the 70, 20, 10 rule.

Since then it has taken the business world by storm with 60% of American offices using this learning model in some form or another.

What is the 70, 20, 10 rule

The 70, 20, 10 rule breaks learning and development down into three sections. Each number then signifies the level of importance of each section. Think of them as percentages.

  1. 70 – 70% of learning is completed by on the job experience
  2. 20 – 20% of learning is completed by social interactions
  3. 10 – 10% of learning is completed by formal learning

70 – Learn by job experience

This model states that people learn more by actually doing the job. On the job experience accounts for 70% of learning. And it is more than reading and doing online courses. On the job experience comes from mistakes and decisions that you make. How you handle yourself in stressful situations.

20 – Learn by social interactions

Social interactions are an important part of every work place. They do not all happen in a meeting or training room. Social interactions happen when walking past somebody in the corridor, chatting in the canteen. When you go out for drinks on a Friday after work. We are always listening, always paying attention. Always learning. You will learn from your manager, from the people below you. From the people sitting beside you. You just need to make sure you are always listening.

10 – Formal learning

This is classroom learning, e-learning. Traditional learning that you can easily recognise. PowerPoint’s, ice breakers and flipcharts. It’s what we have used for years, ever since we were little. You may be thinking, 10%, only 10%. Is there really much point in doing formal training.

Yes there is. Formal learning is where you set the basis for all learning going forwards. . With over 25 4 week inductions under my belt, I have come to realise that people never take in all the information that I give them. I only set them on their way to being able to do their job.

Advantages and disadvantages of the 70, 20, 10

This is a simple rule, in fact it is so simple it only has three points. Lets take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of following this rule.


  1. Knowledge is passed on

Learning in the real life world allows people to get the shortcuts and tips that it has taken more experienced people years to learn. If you have a good management team, they will want new people to succeed, so they will pass on anything to help them succeed.

    2. More learning can be done

Unfortunately, you cannot teach them everything. Most industries are evolving and changing at an alarming rate these days. At the time of writing this I am working in a technical role, namely smart phones and smart devices. There is no way that I can keep people in a room to teach them all about the new stuff. It now falls onto the employee to make sure they are keeping up to date will all that is going on.


1. You lose control of the learning process

When a company prioritises on the job learning, there is no control over what they teach. They have to hope that their staff come to the right conclusion. That they will be corrected and/or learn from their mistakes. The problem is there are a few that do not. These few can pollute the workplace. Spreading wrong information that they believe is right. The damage from this can be lasting.

2. Teachers prioritise the wrong learning

This rule prioritises on the job learning. Teachers and educators then start to shorten their lessons as they start to see no point in doing them. It is easy to think that you should concentrate on the 70% not the 10%.

3. Not everybody will learn at the same rate

There will always be that one person that only goes to office because they have to have a job, or the person that shows up just to act like a clown. Some of these people will have no interest in doing additional learning, even if it benefits them. They come in, do their job and then go home. They feel if they don’t change then their work won’t.

4. Expect people to learn from their mistakes

Some people can be so arrogant that they can not recognise their own shortcomings. With the 70, 20, 10 rule you are putting a lot of faith in each person recognising where they went wrong, then correcting to take the right path next time. In my experience this does not happen so easily. In the book “How to win friends and influence people”, Dale Carnegie writes extensively that people don’t like to be told they are wrong. And that when you tell them they are wrong they will seal up and stick to their ideas and thoughts more so than before.

Problems with the 70, 20, 10 rule

No rule or model is 100% perfect, they all have their shortcomings. The following are what I believe the shortcomings to this model are, they are only my opinion. Let’s take a look at some of these now.

1. Survey audience was not large enough

Only 191 people were included in the research. This world has 7 billion people. The working population sits at about half this figure. 191 seems like a very small piece of the pie and it does not represent the larger workforce let alone the population.

2. Research covered a very specific audience 

191 people from different companies were surveyed. These were not 1st line workers, receptionists or cleaners. They were executives. They were people that typically learn from their mistakes and that want to push themselves to become better. I have never met an executive that just comes in, does the basics and then goes home. The researchers choose highly driven people for the survey. They were successful individuals that understood the importance of learning.

3. The results were made to fit

Out of 191 surveys, 616 key learning events were recognised. These events were then categorised down into 16 categories. But because the 16 categories were too complex to use in a course, they combined them down into 5 categories. These were

  1. Challenging assignments (job experience)
  2. Other people (social)
  3. Coursework (formal)
  4. Adverse situations
  5. Personal learning out of work

Adverse situations and personal learning were taken out of the equation because they could not replicate them within a training environment. That is understandable until you realise that these two alone make up 25% of the learning from the survey results. The research team skewed the results.

4. Research was roughly replicated

Further research has been carried out. This time it was carried out in other countries, not just America. Countries included were China, Singapore and India. More recent research also includes some of the female workforce. The results were similar on some occasions, but on others they showed a large portion of learning was done by social learning. Especially at mid level and by females. Again different countries had different results again. Throughout all of these other surveys and results, learning by job experience always came out on top. What is important to note though is that sometimes it was only just on top by a couple of points.


There is no right or wrong in anything, especially in today’s ever changing world. The 70, 20, 10 rule came about because we needed a model, the learning and development industry needed something to work against, to unify everybody. And that is what they got.

I believe that this model does represent the best way to approach learning but I do feel that people place too much emphasis on it. The majority of learning is going to be through on the job experiences. But you can never forget the importance of formal training. It is that which will provide the basis for all knowledge in any organisation. Any organisation that is willing to just throw people into the work without giving them a base to build is certainly doomed to failure.

It is also important to remember that not everybody will learn the same, it is up to you to identify how each of your trainees takes on information.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I have always followed this model mindlessly because it was the norm. But doing research for this article I found that it was not everything it seemed. I hope this article has opened your eyes to the power of research and how not everything may be as it seems.

If you want to have a chat about anything we discussed in this article then please reach out in the comments below. Alternatively, you always reach us on Facebook or Twitter. We are always online.

Till next time


Further reading

Here are a list of online articles which I found helpful in writing this article. If you to learn more then check these out.


Microsoft UK IE