How to leverage the 70:20:10 rule: maximising the 70%

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Kiddy & Partners

As experts in assessing and accelerating the right leaders for the future, understanding how individuals learn and how their development can be accelerated is key to the success of our solutions. In this article, we further explore the 70:20:10 rule of learning and look at how we can maximise the 70%. 

One of the best known and widely accepted ‘rules’ within learning and development is the 70:20:10 rule of learning (1). Despite its mathematical title, 70:20:10 is not a formula for certain success to be followed precisely, but highlights the relative impact of three types of development experiences:

  • 10% of learning comes from formal learning (e.g. workshops, training programmes, MBAs)
  • 20% of learning comes from other people (e.g. coaching, mentoring, line manager support)
  • 70% of learning comes from on the job experiences and challenging assignments

In an earlier article we talked about the 10% and 20% elements, formal learning programmes and learning through coaching. This article looks at the often overlooked 70%, exploring what HR and Talent professionals can do to leverage on the job learning.   

Encouraging Growth mindsets 

The key to maximising learning on the job is having a learning culture. Developing a learning culture can be achieved in a number of ways and one area is encouraging teams to adopt a growth mindset. People with a Growth Mindset tend to believe that their abilities are capable of increasing. When faced with a difficult problem, they continue trying, understanding that the ability to solve it will come with effort. Individuals who adopt a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenge and stretch assignments (1), which enable greater learning. 

Stretch assignments 

People feel the maximum satisfaction and learn most not when they accomplish something easily, but when they need to stretch a little beyond their current comfort zone and take risk to accomplish a task, allowing them to surpass their achievements (1). 

The learning zone model demonstrates how, in order to learn successfully, we must be challenged. Very little learning happens in our comfort zone, where we feel safe and can apply the same familiar skills over and over. Individuals need to be pushed outside of this comfort zone into the learning zone, where they are challenged to try new things and learn from these experiences. 

However, it is important that the level of stretch is appropriate. If people are pushed too hard outside of our comfort zone, individuals are likely to feel panicked and overwhelmed, leading to disengagement from the activity and therefore disengagement in learning. 

Research shows that you’ll typically see diminishing returns from developmental challenges (2).  In other words, when tasks get too challenging, we don’t learn as much – because we experience cognitive overload and emotional interference. Consequently, it’s important to tailor the level of stretch based on insights about an individual’s ability to deal with complexity, resilience, and learning ability, and provide scaffolding for stretch assignments.  This scaffolding should include developmental support to a growth mindset, high quality feedback and support in how to receive feedback and reflect on it constructively. By doing this, you’re more likely to see a continuing upward trajectory in terms of learning and development, as the level of challenge and complexity of work increases.

Experiential learning 

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” (Kolb, 1984, 3) 

As the 70:20:10 model and much of the research highlights, learning from experience is key, but how does experience transform into learning? Kolb’s experiential learning cycle is a widely accepted explanation.

This posits that effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: 

  1. Having a concrete experience 
  2. Observation of and reflection on that experience 
  3. The formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalisations (conclusions) 
  4. Using abstract concepts to test a hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new further experiences

To encourage ‘on the job learning’, it is important for individuals to take the time to reflect on their experiences and what they have learned, so this can be applied to future scenarios for increased success. 

It is important to ensure the most helpful type of reflection is encouraged, so that the benefits can be realised. Reflection can be adaptive or maladaptive (4). Adaptive self-reflection is a constructive process, where individuals take a learning and goal-oriented perspective (5) leading to a greater self-awareness and self-knowledge that contributes to more effective performance in future. Maladaptive self-reflection is a more disruptive form of reflection that generates negative emotions (6), the individual tends to dwell over what did not work as opposed to what is changeable and can lead to disengagement from development experiences. The risk of individuals engaging in maladaptive self-reflection and the detrimental impact this can have on their engagement further highlights the importance of encouraging growth mindsets and a learning culture where individuals are encouraged to reflect on what’s gone well and what they can learn from what’s not gone so well, rather than being demotivated by reflecting on what they haven’t done well or can’t do yet.  

Assuming individuals are engaging in adaptive reflection, it’s important that appropriate time is given to reflection when individuals participate in stretch assignments. Therefore, if businesses are to assign stretch assignments to individuals to help them realise their potential, they need to also ensure that appropriate support and time is in place to maximise the learning from these experiences. 

Learning is key to help individuals realise their potential, but how we learn is complicated. By harnessing growth mindsets, being thoughtful about the learning opportunities we provide to individuals, encouraging them to engage in adaptive reflection and appropriately supporting them through stretch challenges, we can maximise the learning and benefits for both the individual and the organisation.

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  1. Rege, M., Hanselman, P., Solli, I. F., Dweck, C. S., Ludvigsen, S., Bettinger, E., ... & Yeager, D. S. (2020). How can we inspire nations of learners? An investigation of growth mindset and challenge-seeking in two countries. American Psychologist.
  2. DeRue, D. S., & Wellman, N. (2009). Developing leaders via experience: the role of developmental challenge, learning orientation, and feedback availability. Journal of applied psychology, 94(4), 859.
  3. Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. New Jersey: Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall.
  4. Avolio, B. J., Wernsing, T., Chan, A., & Griffeth, J. (2007). A theory of developing leader self-awareness. Unpublished manuscript, University of Nebraska—Lincoln.
  5. Trapnell, P. D., & Campbell, J. D. (1999). Private self-consciousness and the five-factor model of personality: Distinguishing rumination from reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 284–304.
  6. Mor, N., & Winquist, J. (2002). Self-focused attention and negative affect: a meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 128(4), 638.

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