The 70:20:10 model eLearning - guide and eBook

702010 elearning and workforce development cover


This guide explores how eLearning technologies can be used to accelerate and increase workplace performance. Learning and development approaches are evolving rapidly. The focus is shifting from traditional training sessions to using strategic tools which align employee performance with the organisation’s goals. One study undertaken by Bersin & Associates found that performance consulting yields the highest value of any business learning function. This performance-focused training, combined with new technologies, offers an opportunity for organisations to transform and improve their performance.
This document is organised around how eLearning can be utilised through the workforce development cycle. This development cycle includes:

  • Employee onboarding
  • Employee performance
  • Employee role transitions
  • Organisational change and development
  • Knowledge capture and transfer when employees are departing


What is the 70:20:10 learning model - How learning really happens at work

The 70:20:10 model of learning was developed by Morgan McCall, Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina in the mid-1990s. Essentially the model suggests that lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly: 

70:20:10 workforce development


This model supports the theory that 90% of learning is informal and 10% is learned in a formal program. Lombardo and Eichinger’s original study was limited in participants and the model can be difficult to demonstrate. However the 70:20:10 model is an effective way of highlighting the importance of experiential and informal learning. It is also a useful tool for explaining the shift from formal training programs to informal training by learning and development areas.


Experiential learning - how the 70 really works

70-20-10 elearning and workforce development diagram

Most people think of experiential learning as “learning by doing”. David Kolb’s experiential learning theory gives us a richer understanding of how it works. His theory suggests that experiential learning is actually a process of thinking, doing, feeling, and watching.

Learners show preferences for where they start their learning in the development cycle. One learner may start the learning cycle with a concrete experience. Then as they feel, observe and reflect, they will rethink their actions and then modify and regulate their behaviour. Other learners may prefer to think something through first, see the procedure and have a conceptual outline before they put it into action.

Another important aspect of Kolb’s model is the notion that learners need to move through all of the stages to learn. Often people will continue to repeat the same behaviours out of habit if they have not moved through all the stages of learning.


Learner A - concrete experience

702010 concrete experience


Learner B - think through first, see the procedure

70:20:10 think through 


Trends in learning

Some of the ideas in this post might seem impossible to implement in your organisation. However, the 2012 MASIE Center Learning Directions Pulse Survey looked at over 500 organisations and found that:

70:20:10 elearning and workforce development trends

This survey affirms that organisations are moving towards a greater use of learning technology to transform their workplaces. 


The 70:20:10 model - Beyond courses

There are two useful frameworks that Sprout Labs uses for designing integrated learning experiences: blended learning, and campaigns.


1) Blended learning and the 70:20:10 learning model

Sometimes people think of blended learning as face-to-face, mixed with some online learning. But blended learning strategies can be far richer and more complex than that. They can integrate elements of workplace assessment, social learning, mobile learning and performance support.


702010 blended learning


2) Campaigns and the 70:20:10 learning model

If learning and development activities are thought of as a campaign, new holistic ways of providing training and approaching organisational problems open up. An example of this is an organisation that wishes to reduce absenteeism. Traditionally, learning and development activities would include a face-to-face training program or a simple eLearning module.


Instead, by developing the training like a campaign, the learning and development team could:

  • Develop a series of short articles or videos that could be added to internal communications about absenteeism issues in the organisation.
  • Support the HR area in helping managers making the change by developing and running courses or developing guides and job aids for the managers.
  • Develop experiential based short training programs that allow the managers to practise new skills. If these programs are online techniques such as branching scenarios can be used. Branching scenarios are like a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, where the learner makes a choice and then they are taken down a new pathway. These types of activities allow learners to practise new skills and learn from mistakes.
  • Set up and facilitate discussion about the challenges managers are facing in reducing workplace absenteeism.
  • Share and communicate best practice using internal communications.
  • Provide one on one coaching for managers who are not reducing absenteeism in their areas.
  • Develop visual dashboards for managers and employees that make it easier for everyone to understand the effect of absenteeism on the organisations.


Four stages of workforce development and eLearning

Onboarding and induction

One of the most powerful learning and development activities for which an organisation can use learning technologies is the onboarding and induction process. It’s often where most organisations start because it is the first step in training their employees and eLearning is well suited. The benefits of using eLearning in onboarding and induction are:

 702010 elearning and workforce development onboarding induction


1. Employees can acquire the right skills and knowledge at the right time.

Employees need different skills at different times. The skills needed on the first day are different to those needed after a month, and those needed after three months are different again. With an e-enabled induction process it’s easy for the process to be staggered, deferred and also customised for the employee’s job role.


2. The activities are recyclable

The ASTD 2011 National Learning and Development Index reported that 87.6% of the training an organisation provides is inductions. If this process is conducted online, it would be reusable, provide consistency and would cost less than providing face-to-face training each time.


3. Outcomes are measurable

Organisations need to be sure employees are aware of their obligations in areas such as health and safety, legislation, equity and discrimination. The Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) conducted a survey on learning and development, which found that in house training and inductions were the two most common learning and development activities reported by respondents. The power of online inductions is that employees’ involvement is measurable and organisations can collect data on participation and completion rates. While there are productivity gains to be had from e-nabling inductions, they can be realised only if the program is implemented correctly. Frequently, most organisations’ inductions become no more effective than a printed handbook and a passive PowerPoint presentation. This happens because they are designed to become a classic part of the ineffective formal training.

Induction training traditionally has been used to passively feed employees large amounts of information. One example of this is the OH&S induction. These inductions often focus on the information an employee needs to know. This does not necessarily result in an employee actually putting this information into action. By focusing on what the employee needs to do and using engaging learning technologies employees are better prepared to practise safe behaviours in the workplace. This in turn leads to a different style of course that moves beyond dot points and quizzes. Instead the courses become real-life scenarios and simulations that are relevant to the employee’s job role and puts the employee into the position of making meaningful decisions. These scenarios and simulations can highlight the employee’s strengths and deficiencies in the skills and knowledge required for their job. One trend Sprout Labs is seeing is a focus on assessing employees’ workplace behaviours and skills before and after training. This then reveals if the employee needs training, and in what, or if they even need training at all.

Unfortunately the focus of online inductions is often on saving time and money, rather than effective learning and performance. Studies suggest people learn more informally than in a formal session and when they are interacting with peers. With using learning technologies it is possible for new employees to connect with other employees, peers and mentors. For example after an employee has completed a self-paced online module they could be introduced into an online network of people who have started with the organisation in recent months.

By focusing on effective eLearning organisations are able to move away from unproductive training inductions. Online inductions could become experiences and places to explore. Employees could find answers to real life problems that they will face in their new jobs, through videos and asking questions in a facilitated network. Online training would no longer be an ineffective tool for learners to passively consume but could be a whole environment for learners to explore and interact with, that stimulates different learning styles similar to stimulating different senses. It becomes an experience to remember rather than an online lecture.

 70:20:10 induction


The 70:20:10 model demonstrates that experiential learning is a productive way to learn. Inductions and onboarding training can move away from formal training sessions to learning experiences.


Barriers to online inductions

Many industries such as retail and construction are not office based and often have limited access to computers. This is where mobile learning can make a difference. Sprout Labs has been working with different clients on developing scenarios. For example, a contractor arrives at a building site and is given a tablet loaded with videos, simulations and checklists. They then spend some time working with the tablet, exploring the simulations and scenarios. This becomes an interactive experience like a game or photo essay, and not just a passive reading exercise. This is a relatively cheap and efficient way of providing information to employees. It is much more cost effective to provide tablets to employees than it is to send each one for face-to-face training each time a process changes or when working at a new site.



During the first stages of inductions and onboarding, employees usually need a little extra support. Keeping the support tools up-to-date and measuring how a new employee is travelling along can often be difficult; this is where performance support can be a powerful strategy. 

In learning and development there is a shift away from simply designing a training course to focusing on how the course will improve organisational performance. This is a way for organisations to help employees to work smarter. This performance focus means working at a system level to change key performance indexes (KPI) and processes. There are two key components of performance improvement: performance support and individual performance development.

 702010 elearning and workforce development performance


Performance Support

Performance supports are tools used to aid employees in their job performance and can include resources such as flow charts, onepage ‘cheat’ sheets and standard operating procedures. However it can be hard keeping these resources up-to-date with best practice standards. Knowledge management is concerned with capturing, documenting and standardising best practice. Implementing, sharing and adopting best practices throughout all facets of an organisation can be difficult and time consuming. Performance support tools rely on the efficiency and maturity of knowledge management practices.

Sprout Labs is starting to see more and more performance support tools being developed for touch-screens and tablets. This makes adopting and standardising practices simpler and faster. Employees that don’t have individual access to a desktop computer can still access important documents, which might be enhanced with video and audio.


Performance Development

E-enabled performance development systems allow organisations to effectively and efficiently track their employees’ development over time. 

There are growing numbers of Learning Management Systems that allow employees to complete their performance development plans and then present them with exactly the right learning nuggets. Learning nuggets are small chunks of learning that fit around the learner’s workflow and are tailored to the specific learning need. Often the learning nuggets are just straightforward 1 to 3 minute learning experiences that are quick and simple to complete. Many of the performance development processes focus on recording and assessing performance and goal setting. However this is only one part of what learning technologies can do. Tools such as blogs allow employees to reflect on their own learning. The learner is also able to record and share their learning as they develop their knowledge and skills further. There is also a growing number of online tools that allow for peer feedback on individual performance and team performance.


20: learning from others

A core component of learning in the workplace is learning from peers. Studies are showing that social media activity takes up 22% of people’s time online. It is possible for social media to be more than recreational and make it part of the workplace. For example Sprout Labs is starting to see social media and social learning becoming part of organisations’ e-enabling process of sharing and collaborating. Social learning is sometimes referred to as social business in the workplace because it is goal directed and differentiates between personal networking and professional networking.

Social business goes beyond a marketing tool. It’s a mixture of internal and external sharing. An example of this would be an employee sharing information with an external client about how their organisation works internally to improve performance. For these tools to be successful in the workplace there needs to be a greater focus on structured collaboration and shared tools such as wikis, employee blogs, manager blogs, forums and online discussion boards.

Two social learning barriers:

  • It’s seen as only for office based employees;
  • The heavy use of text is seen as a barrier to engagement.

In the book Social Learning, Bingham and Conner talk about Comcast’s mobile system for video capturing and sharing. A field technician is sent out to a job site and notices a problem, then records a video about the problem on their smart-phone and sends it back to their centralised server. Then other field technicians can look at that video and record their responses. The process becomes a kinaesthetic and visual experience using tools that are in everyone’s pocket.


70-20-10 elearning and workforce development learning from others 


Two success factors for the use of social media at work

  1. One of the core success factors for the use of social media in business is the process of sharing and publishing embedded into business activity. Sharing is part of what you do and is integrated into your workflow. 
  2. Simply providing the tools and software and expecting people to share and collaborate will not work. For the process to be successful there needs to be structure in place and employees need concrete reasons for using the tools. Conversation and collaboration will also be most successful if it is facilitated by community managers. 


Measuring informal learning

Sprout Labs has found that many organisations focus on but don’t understand how to measure informal learning. These are often the same organisations that measure learning by the hours an employee has spent in a training course or by simple feedback sheets at the end of the course.

Kirkpatrick’s model for evaluation addresses these issues with 4 separate levels to review when evaluating learning:

70:20:10 elearning and workforce development kirkpatrick

A common misconception made by organisations when designing training programs is to start at level 1, designing tools such as surveys to be given at the end of the training and then moving onto levels 2, 3 and 4. However, at Sprout Labs we are finding that by commencing the training design process at level 4 – desired results achieved from the training – different thought processes arise that are performance focused.

If evaluation focused on results, behaviour and learning instead of the number of hours spent training or answers from surveys, informal learning could be measured appropriately and successfully. Organisational change and a change in employees’ behaviour will then be seen.



It goes without saying that most organisations are in a process of change. Along with organisational driven change there is a layer of professional and personal change that occurs when an employee changes roles. For most organisations change is challenging and for it to succeed all components of the 70:20:10 framework need to be applied. 

702010 transitions

Organisational change

Organisational change does not always happen smoothly. Sprout Labs has seen how experiential learning can hinder organisational change by reinforcing current practices if it is not applied correctly. 

Why does this happen? Think of a time when you have taken part in a training course in which you gained new knowledge and skills that could be applied to your workplace. And then you walk back into the job, the current day to day practice gets in the way of the change and instead of utilising the new knowledge and skills you revert back to the old ways and nothing changes.

The strength of 70:20:10 is how it can maintain the current status quo of on-the-job performance. Informal learning is great for employees needing to understand existing practices. The key for creating lasting change in an organisation is using a combination of formal learning and informal learning techniques. An integrated approach that uses aspects of formal learning, social learning and informal learning is needed to not only teach but change the employees behaviour.


Communicating the change

The first stage of change is to communicate the idea to others. Possibilities for e-enabling and using learning technologies during this stage include:

Using video to tell stories that illustrate what the new vision looks and feels like.

70:20:10 elearning and workforce development videos

Blogs from leaders communicating why the change is happening and how it needs to happen.

702010 elearning and workforce development blogs


Adding in a facilitated discussion forum or providing opportunities to make comments opens up a dialogue for the reasons to change.


Flipped Classroom

Recently the term ‘flipped classroom’ is being used to describe a learner completing online tasks first and then using the face-to-face times for discussions and to ask questions about what they have just learned.

In a blended systems approach this may take the form of:

The learner starts with an online introductory course that includes branching scenarios and videos. Then they move into face-to-face discussions and case studies. After the face-to-face sessions there might be more online scenarios and simulations that give the learner the opportunity to practise the new skills. At the end of the face-to-face classes the discussions are moved into online forums. As the learner acquires new skills there will be performance support and job aids that assist them in implementing their new skills.

70-20-10 elearning and workforce development flipped classroom

Effective Learning Experiences

ELearning transforms courses from being purely information driven to enabling learners to explore, develop and apply new skills. The learning becomes an experience that captivates and immerses the learner via an environment of experiential learning. Developing this type of learning is not complicated, utilising simulations, branching scenarios, games and online based role-plays.

An example of effective and efficient use of eLearning:

An organisation needs to introduce a new computer system to their employees. If they were to rely on face-to-face training sessions for all employees it would be time consuming and expensive. Instead training could be conducted via short online courses. Employees could choose to do the programs at any time and could choose the speed at which they work through the course. It would also be possible to use a learning nugget approach so that employees could choose to do only the parts of the training that applied to their specific roles. After the new system is live employees could access ‘just in time’ performance support that can cross over with sections of the formal course to provide extra support. This is just one example of how eLearning technologies can support an organisation’s ability to cope with large changes and implement them efficiently.

Personal change

Often employees will move across or upwards within an organisation. When the employee changes roles a new set of skills and knowledge is needed. How can an organisation best support and assist their employee in a smooth transition for acquiring the new skills needed for their role?

Access to new Performance Supports

It is possible for organisations to give employees access to learning portals that include case studies, videos and other job aids when utilising eLearning as part of their training strategies.

Access to new networks

ELearning can be used to facilitate the exchange of information between developed networks, outside of the organisation, via blogs and forums. This can make best practices implementation smoother and more efficient.

Personalised support

Mentoring is a commonly used learning aid and is a good support strategy for when an employee moves role. This doesn’t need to be only face to face – it can be done online, and the mentors may be from within the organisation or external. 



70:20:10 elearning and workforce development departing


A few questions that an organisation should think about when an employee is leaving:

  • What does the employee do day-to-day to complete their job?
  • When the employee leaves has all of their knowledge left with them or is it accessible in another form within the organisation?
  • Organisations don’t lose knowledge when collecting and sharing knowledge is part of the workflow. Is this process of collecting, documenting and sharing integrated into work?

An example of capturing knowledge was demonstrated to Sprout Labs via a simple story of a furniture maker. An organisation that had a valued furniture maker soon retiring decided to make videos of the employee working and talking about their work practices. These videos were stored on DVDs and used for training purposes.

This was an excellent and simple way to demonstrate how knowledge capturing works. However it does not have to be left until an employee is retiring; employees could be involved in developing job aids and performance supports as part of their day-today work.


Takeaways about the 70:20:10 model

702010 elearning and workforce development conclusion


The 70:20:10 framework combined with learning technologies can create new ways of thinking about learning and performance in the workplace. This post has outlined just some of the techniques Sprout Labs is using to improve learning and performance at work. The learning and development area is at an exciting crossroads, moving beyond developing formal courses to focusing on technology enabled performance consulting. Rethinking learning and development as a performance focused function is not difficult, and learning technologies can enable and accelerate this transformation.


70:20:10 ebook

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