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Training Classroom vs Workplace

Learning and development are vital tools in driving employee performance and motivation, yet it’s something businesses continue to get wrong, according to Charles Jennings of the 70:20:10 Institute.

When it comes to learning, there is no doubt a place for the classroom, but we need to move away from the use of formal, structured learning as our main development tool and instead invest more money in on-the-job development.

This is the view of Charles Jennings (pictured right), co-founder of the UK-based 70:20:10 Institute, who recently presented a series of workshops in Australia and New Zealand on this topic.

The 70:20:10 framework is a model that has been developed by Jennings and others into a strategy to improve the impact of learning through working. It is based on a rule of thumb, borne out by evidence, that most learning occurs as part of daily workflow, through experience, practice, conversations, and reflection.

The numbers refer to the fact that:

Formal training in the classroom or online contributes approximately 10% to effective performance in the workplace.

Development through Relationships such as coaching, mentoring, support from exemplary performers and collaborating contributes approximately 20% to effective performance in the workplace.

Learning on the job contributes approximately 70% to effective performance in the workplace.

“Clearly these numbers are not hard-and-fast,” Jennings says. “They will vary depending on types of work, the nature of demands for official certification and other factors, but research from a number of academics and workplace studies reinforce the original studies into the major factors driving high performance in the manager population.

“And yet despite the 70:20:10 approach now being accepted as conventional wisdom, businesses continue to invest the majority of their L&D budgets on formal training rather than much more effective on-the-job development activities.

“Professor Andries de Grip, Director of the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market in The Netherlands, has also shown that about 96 per cent of learning time for adults is in the workplace while just 4 per cent is in formally structured learning,” he said.

Formal training has its place, but it will never produce high performance.

“In the past, when we were talking about L&D, we would identify a problem and then develop a solution for it which is usually based on the ‘10’, or formal training.”

Jennings tells The Brief he worked with researcher Jay Cross who believes that most people cannot separate “learning from schooling”, and that in the workplace, managers and others assume formal training is usually the answer to performance problems.

“They believe they need to be in a classroom or a formally structured setting to be learning, while discounting the value of on-the-job learning,” he says. “When, actually, we learn more from work than we do away from work.”

The closer to the point of use the learning occurs, the more likely it is to be useful.

Jennings’ interest in workplace learning and development was peaked when he held the role of Chief Learning Officer at Reuters in London from 2001 to 2008 where he was asked to develop a strategy for improving the impact of learning across the company.

He knew about the original research behind the 7:20:10 model, so he built Reuters strategy on that, extending the 70:20:10 model across all types of roles and challenges.

Effective learning

Jennings, who co-founded the 70:20:10 Institute in 2015, recalls being a student at The University of Sydney in the 1960s and ‘70s when a biochemistry exam he was sitting was cancelled because of a power failure.

“I remember walking into the quadrangle with my friends and complaining to each other that we would need to study again for the exam which was rescheduled for another three weeks away,” he says.

“We hadn’t learned the material; we had simply committed it to short-term memory and would need to memorise it again.

“The more research we do, the more we understand that the closer to work and application the learning is, the more use it is likely to be. Otherwise, it will be forgotten.”

He points to the aviation industry as being effective in its approach to learning and development.

“It is one of the safest in the world and they have really been fantastic in terms of learning from experience,” he says.

“They have official processes for self-reporting of errors if you are on the flight deck, and you are protected by law for errors you may report, which encourages people to come forward.

“Reports detailing these self-reported errors are then circulated world-wide as a support and learning tool so people are learning from the experiences of others. This is a really good example of learning in the workplace, and of learning from working.

“The aviation industry uses performance support tools in the form of checklists which are developed and refined as a result of learning from mistakes of the past.”

Less successful workplace L&D, Jennings says, can often be found in the medical profession.

“Errors occur in hospital quite often,” he says. “There is a significant number of deaths and serious injury in hospitals because of mistakes.

“Atul Gawande, an American surgeon, writer, and public health researcher, has been able to introduce checklists into surgeries which have reduced mortality rates by almost 50%.

“In one case, the average patient death rate fell by 40% and the rate of complications fell by more than 30% simply through the introduction of checklists as performance support tools. And that is the result of a reasonably simple change.

“It is important to remember that a big part of the ‘70’ of on-the-job learning comes from learning from your mistakes.”

Jennings says it is often easier for workplaces to persist with outdated models of L&D because that is what we are used to, with formal qualifications often providing little in terms of proof of capability.

We start off well and then what?

“In kindergarten they use something similar to the 70:20:10 model for learning,” Jennings says. “It’s all very hands-on learning with a large amount of input from collaboration (the ‘20’). And then we get into senior school and the ‘10’ takes over in the form of formal, knowledge-based classroom learning.

“This same model has continued in the workplace.

“However, we know from research that managers who are focused and effective at developing their people in the workplace increase employee performance by around 25 per cent and retention by 40 per cent. That’s effectively getting an extra day’s work every week from employees with no more effort from them, and no more cost to the organisation.

“You are also more likely to keep your higher performers just by focusing on their development, by giving them challenging work, and supporting them and offering feedback.”

Jennings calls the determination of business to stick with the outdated model of formal workforce training “a major blind spot”.

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