Accelerating the Informal

The 70-20-10 Model for Learning and Development is a well-known formula that's been around since the 80s. It's considered to be one of the best guidelines for companies looking to increase the effectiveness of their learning programs, meant to describe how learners learn. It's also sometimes referred to as the OSF model (on-the-job, social, formal).

Hands-On Experience (on-the-job):

70% of what we learn comes from hands-on experience, such as when we learn new things while working, overcoming challenges and refining our skills. This could also occur while interacting with other colleagues, talking through things, learning from their mistakes or receiving feedback from them.

From Others (social):

20% of what we learn is social, through coaching or mentoring or other interactions with peers. Encouragement and feedback are huge parts of this method.


10% of what we learn comes from formal training, such as classroom settings, instructor-led trainings, eLearning courses or other formal programs.

The Modern Reality of 70-20-10

An interesting study conducted in 2018 by the Training Industry, Inc. found that in more recent years, this seems to be more of a 55-25-20 model.

Regardless of the formula, as learning professionals, our focus is mainly on the formal aspect of learning and development. So the question arises - if most learning takes place informally (on-the-job or from others), in the formal setting, what can we do to accelerate the informal?

I recently attended Ray Jimenez' webinar on the Critical 1% Learning Skill in 70/20/10. During this conversation, he asked this very question - what can we do to accelerate the informal? There were some really interesting and practical suggestions that came up.

Put some context into the content

This phrase came up multiple times - putting context into the content. If learner's don't know anything about the content, they have no frame of reference to put the pieces together, and their brain has a harder time making the connections and finding the right place to store the information. So how can context be put into the content, and how does this accelerate informal learning? Well, during the formal learning, you could:

  • Include pre-work: Include pre-work before a course, such as reading materials, self-guided exercises, or even interviewing others about the topic. This is all done to give context to the content. This helps them during the formal course to make the mental connections needed in order to better retain the information. Later on, when they're on-the-job, they're able to recall and access the information more quickly.

Identify the benefits

We're all familiar with WIFFM: What's in it for me? But we may sometimes forget to include this critical piece of the puzzle. If the learner isn't able to connect why the information they're learning is important, it's more likely to go in one ear and out the other.

  • Answer the questions: How am I going to use this information? Why is this beneficial? Why should I pay attention?

Focus on critical thinking

Critical thinking builds upon the WIFFM and helps learners identify how to use and apply the information they're learning. It also helps them to think beyond what they've learned, and to use the information in a variety of settings and situations. How can you do this?

  • Allow learners to problem solve and troubleshoot: Build in challenging activities and scenarios so the learner can apply what they've learned. Don't make the answers too obvious - there's no benefit to it and it actually dissuades learners from learning. If it's too simple, they'll simply glaze over the information and it won't get stored anywhere in their brains for future recall. Allow them to make decisions, even if it's the wrong one, and learn from the consequences.

  • Ask "What if" questions: If you don't have the resources available to build out scenarios, asking "What if" questions can be just as effective. Ask learners to think about the consequences if someone were to follow a process incorrectly, or what might happen if something broke, or a customer complained, etc. Be careful not to provide them with possible answers - the goal is to get THEM to think critically about the scenario. Many times designers try to build such questions into courses, specifically eLearning courses, and make them multiple-choice. But allowing open responses allows the learner the option to think of their own ideas and make the connections themselves.

Allow opportunities for failure

In the real world, if we do something wrong, we most likely won't do it again. I remember when I first started in HR, I ended up sending the paperwork for a salary increase to the wrong person. I quickly learned from that mistake. Our learners are the same way. We need to allow them opportunities to fail so they can learn from the mistake.

  • Build in mistakes: Build mistakes into your learning programs and allow the learner to find them. This could be through case studies, role-play or scenario-based interactions. Ask learners what went wrong and how it could be done differently.

The purpose of all these suggestions is to accelerate the informal learning. These suggestions all help the learner to build connections, think critically about the information, retain it and be able to recall and utilize it while on-the-job. By incorporating these into your learning programs, you'll be able to increase the effectiveness of your training and help your learners accelerate their informal learning.

I'd love to hear your suggestions on other ways you could accelerate the informal. What other methods do you use in your learning programs? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!