Learning & Development Blog

blended learning ROI

Three Reasons We Need Blended Learning Programs Now

Learning leaders at several large organizations have asked me recently about the 70:20:10 blended learning model, looking for ways to incorporate it into their programs. In each case, I was surprised that these experienced learning practitioners seem to have only recently begun looking for ways to implement blended learning programs.

It’s not that they hadn’t heard of 70:20:10. It’s been discussed for years, presented at conferences, and become the subject of books and movies (ok, not movies … yet).

70% of what we learn is on the job and through our experiences. To our learners, this is their reality. A good facilitator connects to this reality – the glue that brings the collective “real world” experiences of the classroom together in a shared learning experience.

As a reminder, the 70:20:10 blended learning model states that 70% of adult learning takes place by doing, or while on the job, 20% take place learning from others, and only 10% takes place in a formalized setting or event.

Here are three reasons why L&D departments – if they’re not already – should start taking meaningful steps to support a 70:20:10 blended learning paradigm in their organizations.

1. eLearning Isn’t Enough.

For years, the rush has been on to build more eLearning, more quickly, and for less money, than ever before.

In fact, the demand for eLearning has outstripped L&D departments’ ability to produce it. As a result, rapid authoring tools are placed directly into the hands of Subject Matter Experts, who proceed to create eLearning modules of epic proportions. This SME-generated content – while extraordinarily faithful to the subject matter – can be mind-numbingly long and full of unnecessary detail.

So, to recapture learners’ attention, eLearning providers adopted the decidedly un-ambitious goal of making eLearning “not boring” – adding branching scenarios, animation, avatars, games, and more. Eventually, all this fun-filled eLearning became like a large pile of leftover Halloween candy – tasty enough in small bites, but not so great, and sometimes a little nauseating, taken in large volumes.

70-20-10 Learning

While these enhancements were welcome additions to the “page-turner” eLearning modules that flooded the workplace, learners’ sensibilities quickly adapted. Over time, learners became increasingly disinterested in eLearning modules that were “thrown over the wall” from L&D, or directly from an SME.

That’s where blended learning comes in. By complementing eLearning with on-the-job practice and coaching by peers and mentors, we can resurrect learner engagement, and save money by producing a bit less eLearning content.

2. Millennials Will Demand It.

In a recent engagement for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer, we conducted a survey of more than 250 sales and sales management personnel. The group was fairly evenly split among Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials.

Depending on who you ask, the age ranges for each generation varies a little, but generally speaking:

  • Boomers were born in 1964 and earlier, making them 52 and up today.
  • Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1984, so they’re currently between 32 and 51.
  • Millennials were born after 1985, so they’re 31 and younger.

Survey participants were asked to choose their top five learning preferred learning modes, from a list of 15 options. The most popular response for all generations – by a significant margin – was, “Practicing a task by doing it.” This response put them squarely in the “70” segment of 70:20:10.

In fact, as a group, the top most-preferred learning modes all fell in the 70 and 20 categories:

Learning Mode Rank
Practicing a task by doing it #1
Guided by a mentor in real situations #2
Content explained by an expert #3
Trial and error in a safe environment #4
Asking a trusted colleague #5


Predictably, the formal learning options (the “10” segment in 70:20:10), were the least popular. Out of the 15 possible responses, here’s how some of the formal learning options ranked:

Learning Mode Rank
Watching a video #7
Participating in classroom training #8
Presenting findings to others in a classroom setting #11
Reading a book or manual #12
Participating in games or contests #15


So, as a group, respondents’ learning preferences clearly conformed to the 70:20:10 paradigm. This data became incredibly valuable for our client, who used it to gain consensus for modifying the company’s new hire onboarding program to include more on-the-job training and mentoring.

Learning For Millennials

Millennials’ Preferences Even More Pronounced.

While the learner group as a whole showed a preference toward the 70 and 20 learning modes, Millennials showed an even stronger inclination in this direction than the older survey respondents.

70:20:10 preference

70:20:10 chart

Again, you can see that the learning modes in the second chart were chosen less frequently overall (none of these options captured more than 10% of all respondents), but these examples show a clear pattern: Millennials are even more averse to formal learning modes than Gen X or Boomer generations.

3. Blended Learning is Good For Your Career.

Unfortunately, the services provided by the L&D function in many organizations are viewed as “necessary but not sufficient,” for improving employee performance. And with good reason. If you ask 10 sales or operations leaders to place responsibility for achieving performance targets in the hands of the L&D department, most likely all 10 would say, “No way.”

By adding learning experiences that nurture learners’ natural desire to learn on the job and from trusted colleagues, L&D can improve its perceived relevance – and value – to the broader organization.

L&D providers who use the language of learners’ day-to-day work challenges when proposing solutions, will be taken more seriously, and included in more strategic discussions around performance improvement.

Why is it Taking So Long?

There appear to be several factors impeding the adoption of 70:20:10.

Ambiguous Origins

Many articles argue that there is no empirical data supporting blended learning. In one of the original surveys where the 70:20:10 ratio emerged, 191 executives were asked the following open-ended question:

“Please identify at least three key events in your career, things that made a difference in the way you manage now. 1) What happened? 2) What did you learn from it (for better or worse)?”

Obviously, this question would have yielded a large set of unstructured data, in the form of “event descriptions.”

Since these responses contained no rating scale, no readily apparent way to quantify them, someone had to make qualitative interpretations of each response. Eventually, the analysis that got traction was summarized by Lombardo and Eichinger, in the Career Architect Planner (1996 Lominger Press). Their conclusion:

“Lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly:

  • 70 percent from tough jobs

  • 20 percent from people (mostly the boss)

  • 10 percent from courses and reading”

Difficult to Brand

The 70:20:10 concept is frequently misinterpreted as a prescriptive model for creating blended learning programs. This can be clarified, but doing so can be difficult. The author I’ve seen most successful at parsing the nuances of 70:20:10 is Charles Jennings, who writes extensively about the concept.

In his 70:20:10 Primer Jennings writes:

“Don’t make the mistake of quoting the numbers as a mantra or as fixed percentages … Each organisational culture will display its own profile of workplace, social and structured development opportunities, and the distinctions between the ways of learning often blur."

Another articulate advocate of the model is Tom Spiglanin, who writes in his post, Revisiting 70:20:10:

"Even more to the point, is that 70:20:10 is not prescriptive, but instead descriptive. It describes what has evolved over decades of learning in the workplace."

In the comments that follow the Spiglanin post, Jennings sums it up nicely:

“Basically, the 70:20:10 approach is not about the numbers, it’s about change.”

If we can find a way to “brand” these interpretations and definitions of 70:20:10, and tout the benefits of blended learning, we could see broader adoption of its principles and ultimately, a learning and development industry with higher perceived value and better business outcomes.


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