Is the 70-20-10 Learning & Development Model a Dream for IT?

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# What is the 70-20-10 Learning & Development Model

The 70-20-10 Learning and Development Model states that 10% of learning should be formal, 20% should be from peers and 70% through the course of employment.

The 70-20-10 Rule for Leadership Development was created by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger at the Centre for Creative Leadership in the 1980s. It was derived from a study asking executives to self-report on at least three key events that occurred in their career.

There are a number of criticisms levelled at this model, not least of which is the lack of any empirical evidence, but for the sake of this article I will conveniently ignore these issues and assume it is a valid theory, or is at least a useful guide.

# Let’s put some actual figures to this

To generate some figures, we first need to understand what is meant by the 70% (the other two are relatively self-explanatory). The 70% is not saying that 70% of our time should be spent learning in the course of employment. It is saying that 70% of our learnings will come from being extended during our course of employment. This means that if we find our job mundane and it never provides any challenges our 70% will be 0 hours; this leads to the peer assisted learning and formal learning also being 0 hours.

In my experience, IT roles vary wildly from the unchallenging to the always challenging. Depending where on this scale your job sits (based on your current skillset and knowledge) the amount of other learning to support this will vary.

Let’s start with the extremes. If a position is challenging at all times, according to this model you should be spending 7 days per fortnight learning by extending ourselves at work, 2 days learning from your peers, and 1 day in formal training. Thankfully no job is like this, it would be exhausting. If we look at the other extreme where we never encounter a challenge in our job, it follows that we will spend no time on learning at all.

Luckily, in IT there are always some challenges. I’d estimate about 50% of my roles have been challenging and extended my knowledge. Based on this I should be spending 2 days per month learning from peers, and 1 day per month in formal training. I’m yet to find an employer that will give me 3 days per month off work (that’s about 10% of my work time) for learning and development.

Assuming my assumptions about the challenging aspects of my work are correct, what would happen if we averaged the learning and development over an entire career? Assuming we work for around 45 years, we have 22.5 years of being extended in the line of work; that means we need around 6 years and 5 months of peer based learning, and just over 3 years of formal learning.

I can already hear the comments from some of you, that 3 years of formal learning is the same as a university degree; but let me assure you it isn’t. A 3 year university degree will only have approximately 12 contact hours per week, for the sake of simplifying calculations I’ll call that 1/3rd of the time; excluding the fact that university has longer holiday periods than work, this would only account for 1 year of your formal learning time. Coupled with this, if we assume that the remaining 2/3rds of the time at university we spend learning from peers, we still have around 4 years of peer based learning we need throughout our career.

# When did you last get a full day for formal learning?

Although I didn’t attend university, for the sake of this article I will assume that I did. Somehow I need to find 700 days of formal learning throughout 45 years of work; I also need to find 1400 days for peer based learning. Using slightly rounded figures, that means every 5 work weeks I should have 1 day of formal training and 2 days of peer learning.

If I look at the very sort term, I think I’m close to achieving this goal at the moment. I attended some conferences and workshops late last year, and looking at the period from the start of them until now I’m close to the 10% of formal learning. If I look beyond this period, I am likely yo be closer to 1 or 2% for my formal learning. Maybe this amount of learning is correct and I actually only get extended at work about 10% of the time, but if this is the case I would be disappointed.

# What options do we have?

So, if our learning requirements aren’t going to be fulfilled by employers, what can we do to ensure we keep learning? Thankfully we have a lot of options.

To fulfil the 70% of our learning, we can request an increase of responsibility at work, we can offer to do tasks that will extend us, and we can actively look for challenges.

The 20% is also relatively easy to fulfil. I like to attend meetups, each one is around 2 hours long, so if I attend an average of 2 per week then I easily fulfil the peer learning hours. In my case I attend far more than this, so I claim that I’m just making up for lost time. The peer learning could also be covered by technical sessions in the workplace (think of a lunch ‘n’ learn style session) and also at special interest groups (or guilds) that meet during work time.

The 10% is the hardest bit to fill. Some people choose to undertake further education on a part-time basis after work; others leave the workforce for a period to study full time; personally, I attend conferences. I’ve found a number of one day conferences that occur on weekends, I’ve taken leave to attend conferences, and I’ve attended conferences that my employer deems are required.

Although my career average is nowhere near the 70-20-10 ratio, I believe I currently have a good balance in my learning and it is serving me well in this phase of growth.

# So is it a dream?

Of course I haven’t answered the question yet, but those of you who read my articles will know that I don’t often provide a definitive answer. In this case I will answer the question, but as usual, it won’t be definitive.

The amount of learning that we undertake at different times of our career means that we won’t be able to meet the 70-20-10 model at all times. Sometimes we won’t be learning anything new, other times we will be overloaded with on the job learning and won’t have the energy for other learning.

In my case I think my career average will be close to the 70-20-10 model, of course that doesn’t mean I’ve spent 10% of my career in formal training, but it does mean that I’ve gained 10% of my knowledge through formal training.

Just because my career is likely to have this ratio of learning, it doesn’t mean yours should to. Find the balance that is right for you. If you learn better form formal training and not so well from work-related activities, ramp up the formal learning. If you learn better from your peers and formal training doesn’t suit you, then hit the meetup scene and forget the formal courses.

Find the balance that works for you, and remember that (as I stated at the start of this article) the 70-20-10 model may be popular, but it has no evidence to back it up.