[Webinar recording and transcript] How to make sure your 70-20-10 model is successful

Edited transcript of the webinar: How to make sure your 70-20-10 model is successful

This is an edited transcript of our webinar, How to make sure your 70-20-10 model is successful.

This webinar is a discussion about the ‘understanding’ phase, which occurs during the early stages of a 70-20-10 learning project. The focus of the session is how these early stages of a project can be used to engage stakeholders and make sure the program is successful later on. The understanding and analysis phase of a learning project is the bedrock of making a great piece of learning, and is integral to building an effective learning ecosystem. Managers need to transform into learning leaders, and employees need to become self-directed learners. Your team needs to begins designing learning ecosystems rather than just organising events (which, sadly, is what L&D has traditionally been all about). There is a lot to understand.

Here we’re going to look at some techniques from design thinking and lean manufacturing and how they can be used in learning. Part of what I’m talking about is based on our Learning While Working Framework, which is a methodology based on the 70-20-10 learning model. The framework comprises three things: a process, a series of design patterns, and principles that can be used for designing and developing learning programs.

70 20 10 design

Today we’ll focus on the process more than the design patterns and principles. This session is about the first stage – understanding. I referred to this stage as the bedrock of good learning, for very good reason. Moving to a 70-20-10 learning model actually means lots of changes for key stakeholders. Managers need to transform into learning leaders and employees need to become self-directed learner. Your team needs to begins designing learning ecosystems rather than just organising events (which, sadly, is what L&D has traditionally been all about). There is a lot to understand.

70-20-10 learning models require new ways of thinking. It’s an area that I often speak about because it directly affects Sprout Labs’ clients. I often see organisations struggling with these changes.

The other thing about 70-20-10 learning models is that they have many more moving parts than traditional models. It’s not like the good old days of L&D where you simply organised a face-to-face course and set and forget it. The solution needs to be more carefully designed and that means a deeper understanding of your context is needed.

The understanding phase has two important aspects.

1. Engagement

What I’ve been talking about is around engagement and making sure that your key stakeholders – your managers, learners and L&D people – are all invested in the change process and will work to co-design it.

As I was developing this presentation, I realised that in some ways we’re dealing with a consultative model for developing learning programs. Effective stakeholder engagement and involvement, particularly in the early stages, is the key to building a great learning program.

2. Value proposition design

The other thing that the understanding phase can be used for is to make sure your value proposition for your stakeholders is a strong one. Value propositions aren’t talked about a lot in learning and development – the term is generally the domain of marketing or product and service development areas.

But I think it’s really quite a powerful idea for L&D people to think about as well: have we got the right fit for our learners? Is the solution right? Is it right for our managers? For the organisation? Sound value proposition design provides a good framework to work with, and it will certainly assist the development of shared understanding throughout the other parts of the business.


We use lots of visual tools. Strategyzer, the people who made the business model canvas, has also made a value proposition design poster. They see value proposition design as one of the keys to a successful business.

In L&D and learning design we quite often focus on the jobs at hand, e.g. what do people need to do? What are the learning objectives? We tend to ignore the ‘pains’ we’re trying to relieve, and what ‘gains’ we hope to make. And it’s the pains and gains, that are what really engages people. Most learners want to be better at their jobs.

Sometimes it’s difficult to sell the benefits of becoming a learning leader, which is why highlighting the gains to be had and the pains that might be removed is important for enlisting support from your managers. By being more proactive, coaching wise, there will be fewer poor performance issues among individuals and overall better team performance.

Getting started with the 70-20-10 model

In my outline for the webinar I promised to talk about what’s the best kind of project for getting started with the 70-20-10 learning model. I think of 70-20-10 as a journey – one that, just as you feel is nearing completion, you see more possibilities on the horizon for continued learning. The journey is a continuum that stretches all the way from blended learning to 70-20-10 being embedded in the way people operate, and in how the organisation learns and works.


In that continuum I think it’s really interesting to look at who has control. I’ve put together this table to try to express what I mean.

Blended learning

Team approach

Continuous learning

PD programs

Learning and development


Fosters – has indirect control of the outcomes

Designs the ecology system – has indirect control of the outcomes






They should be be involved in the program



Essentially, with blended learning L&D leads and guides the employees' as well as managers’ involvement in the program. Then, in a continuous learning environment L&D doesn’t have as much direct control. They become more focused on designing the learning ecosystem, helping individuals take a lead on their own learning, and helping managers lead their team’s learning. If your organisation is just starting with 70-20-10 you are probably better off beginning with a blended learning program. Start with some formal learning, add some social learning, add some follow-up workplace learning activities, and then move through more complicated and mature approaches over time.

This sort of model has its roots in learning transfer. Some of the approaches that are used in learning transfer are:

  • post-course follow-ups with more content
  • strong accountability for managers for the outcomes
  • programs for the managers themselves.

In the early stages of moving to 70-20-10 you won’t yet have good success stories across the organisation. In that case it can pay to begin implementing 70-20-10 in your own team. L&D can begin to model what 70-20-10 might look like when it’s applied to the organisation as a whole.

The link between understanding and engagement

Back to the core idea of understanding and engagement and how they work together.

I’ve already spoken about the understanding phase of a project as being a consultation phase. It’s about listening to the learners and managers and other stakeholders, and asking them what their pain points are. It’s amazing what can happen if you start to ask people what’s wrong – they feel listened to, they feel engaged.

One of the most powerful questions is to ask is, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ I personally find it an awkward one to ask (and to answer) but the sentiment is a powerful one that helps to drill down into what the pain points actually are. A benefit of being an external consultant is that I get to ask the dumb questions. And I find that in many cases they are questions that people within the organisation have forgotten to ask, and they often reveal underlying issues and false assumptions.

This questioning process has three aspects:

  1. What is the business problem?
  2. What is the context?
  3. Who are the learners?

The business problem

At Sprout Labs we often experience the same problem faced by internal L&D teams: someone comes to us wanting a training course and we soon realise it’s not a just a learning problem. To solve the problem other systems need to be changed as well.

One thing that frustrates me is when people come to us saying, ‘Oh, this is an awareness program.’ But becoming aware of something does not necessarily lead to an actual behavioural outcome. Awareness campaigns are more about marketing than learning. These types of activities should be done by internal marketing or communication areas of the organisation rather than the learning area, because learning should be about a behaviour change. Sometimes, when these awareness-style learning objectives when they fully explored it becomes clear that there was an expectation of behaviour change in the long term, but these expectations will not be met through a course alone.

The context

As well as understanding your learner’s needs and developing a deep, rich empathic understanding you need need to make sure the approach is right for the situation as well. You must understand the context. This means exploring things like:

  • What is the current learning culture of the organisation?
  • What learning technologies are available in the organisation?
  • How mature are the learners with using learning technologies?

The learners

Before we explore understanding the learner I’d like to explore the subject of design thinking a bit more.  Design thinking is often equated with user-centred, customer-centred approaches. One of the leading organisations in the field is IDEO, the pioneers of design thinking. They have developed a series of design thinking method cards.

IDEO method cards

One day I sat down with these cards and counted how many of them were about the understanding phase of designing: about 80% of the ideas were about looking, learning and asking questions. To arrive at a great solution you really need to understand the problem at hand. The richer or deeper you understand the more likely you are to come up with a great solution at the end of the day. I think of this as placing yourself in the shoes of the learner and trying to develop an emotional understanding of what it means to be them. Design thinking and an empathic way of working often go together.

In L&D we talk a lot about analysis, skills gaps and needs analysis. We don’t talk about developing a holistic empathic understanding of what it means to be a learner.

A tool Sprout Labs uses for developing this sort of understanding of learners is the learner profile poster. We print them out as A0, on a plan printer from Officeworks.

learner profile poster

Download this poster.

We put them up on the wall during workshops and explore the questions for different segments of learners, giving each one a name. They are the planning tool for building learning personas. We are essentially building a story about the current knowledge of content, and also their personal context. Personal context is important to learning programs because it often shapes motivation. A learner who is under 30 is going to have a different demand on their time and often different motivations for learning at work than someone who is 60.

Many of the prompts on these posters are focused on the learner and content, through looking at the learning program through a learner lens, rather than the lens of a subject matter expert. It’s not easy for an expert to remember what it’s like to be a novice.

The process

The approach the we have decided works best for the consultation phase of a project is to start with interviews with individuals and then move into workshops with groups. Repeatedly we have found that individuals during these one-on-one discussions will say different things about the pros and cons of existing programs than what they will say in a group situation. Quite often that’s because their managers are part of the group. I think that one of the powerful things about external consultants doing design work is that these difficult conversations can happen. These personal discussions often reveal unspoken core problems with the program.

The results

The information from these learner profiles is then written up into learner stories like the one below.

Zara is a recent PhD graduate, living in Perth. She was interested in working for ... but didn’t want to move to Canberra and so she joined the outposted team. On her first day she joins in the quick daily virtual check-ins and meets the rest of her team.

She gets started on the induction part of the program and has her first session with her workplace coach. Together they map out some goals, which involves sitting in on a three-person team in her area of expertise where she can contribute her expert technical knowledge.

Zara sees this as a great way to begin to work with the rest of her team. As part of her training plan her coach wants her to join the online learner community. What she likes about these sessions is that everyone is connected virtually. Zara works her way through the training program and progressively becomes more involved in the work that her section is working on.

These stories – or learner personas – have become a natural part of learning design but they often are not used as part of the design and communication of the program. This story-based approach provides a more emotive edge to the analysis phase of a project.

Performance analysis tools from lean manufacturing

There has been a lot of talk in L&D about focusing on performance improvement instead of just providing training. It’s often the case that you commence a conversation with someone who’s come to you with a learning problem, but as you explore more deeply you discover it’s more holistic than that. I don’t know if many L&D people have the tools and expertise to be able to hold a conversation around performance improvement, but I think a lot of the time when we talk about performance improvement in L&D we revert back to performance support, which is really just another form of content.

Some of the most powerful tools for performance improvement and continuous improvement have come out of the lean thinking movement. These can be applied during the understanding phase of a project to change the conversation from talking about a course to more hostlic performance improvement solutions.

 Here is a definition of lean thinking:

‘Lean thinking is a business methodology that aims to provide a new way to think about how to organise human activities to deliver more benefits to society and value to individuals while eliminating waste.’

Lean thinking came out of Toyota’s Total Production program. It is not about cutting costs, it’s about removing what doesn’t add value for customers.

I think it’s interesting that lean thinking has come from Japan. I spent some time in Japan last year and found that the high value of space there forces a focus on making sure things are organised efficiently. In some ways, I don’t know if ‘lean’ is the right word in lean thinking, I actually think it might be better if it were called ‘value maximisation’ or ‘waste reduction thinking’.

There are a few tools in the lean thinking toolkit that are really valuable for L&D people at the understanding phase of a project.

Gemba walk

The first tool is called the gemba walk. A gemba walk is essentially looking at, watching, seeing firsthand (gembutsu means ‘real thing’ in Japanese). A lot of the time, as a consultant we have stakeholders, subject matter experts and L&D but the learners rarely are given first-hand involvement of a process. It’s really fantastic when we can actually spend some time with someone who is going to be part of the program we are building, watching what they are doing and actually getting a sense of the whole process. Often what happens is that stakeholders provider filters and options about what the employees need. The idea of the gemba walk is to get a first-hand empathic understanding of the challenges the learner faces.

Ishikawa diagram

Ishikawa diagram

It’s common for someone in a business to come to L&D with what might look like a training problem but is often a quality problem. Quality problems often don’t just have one root cause. An Ishikawa diagram is a fishbone-style diagram that is organised around six possible causes of defects. It’s a useful tool for L&D people to use with the business to identify underlying factors that are creating the quality problem.

Value stream mapping

Value stream mapping

Another tool for lean thinking that is useful in L&D is value stream mapping. A value stream map essentially is a visual tool that maps the actual process. Two critical elements are:

  1. How long does each stage take?
  2. Wait times – which stages of the process involve someone waiting for something else to be completed?

Value stream mapping is also a powerful process for learning design as well. It can be used to map processes and the thinking behind them.

Ask why five times

One of my favourite tools from lean thinking is really simple: ask why five times. Imagine a situation where someone observes that their managers are not great at coaching.



Why are your managers not great coaches?

Because they don’t have the coaching skills.

Why don’t your managers have great coaching skills?

Well this all new and we haven’t expected them to be coaches in the past.

Why haven’t you expected them to be coaches in the past?

We have always expected them to focus on managing the team output, we just expect them to know how to improve their team's performance.

Why haven’t you worked with them to give them skills to help improve their team's performance?

We just haven’t had the time or resources.

Why don’t you have the time and resources?

L&D hasn’t put together a business case for why a culture of coaching should be part of our organisation.

With this example the five whys uncovered a number of business problems including the focus on team outputs and the managers not knowing how to improve their team’s performance. Coaching is just one approach to performance improvement. It might be one of the most effective. Lean thinking provides some valuable tools to L&D analysis in understanding business problems.


Essentially my key message is that the understanding phase of a learning project is all about consultation. During this you can build a really rich, empathic understanding of your learners and your context, and your business problems. What you do during that understanding phase sets up the rest of the project to make sure it's successful.

Robin Petterd