ATD Blog

Is 70:20:10 Relevant Today? Part 1

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Three numbers are bothering me. They relate to 70:20:10, but those aren’t my three vexing numbers.   

The first number is 10,000. If you’ve read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you undoubtedly recognize this as the number of hours it takes to go from novice to expert. Let’s contrast this against my second number: 66. This is the newly updated number of days it takes to form a habit. Yes, that’s right, research shows that it takes 66 days to start something (like make a habit of an exercise routine) or stop something (like quit that smoking habit). Finally, there’s the number 31. According to ATD’s most recent State of the Industry Report, this is the number of training hours that organizations spend annually to develop their leaders. 

These numbers are vexing because I can’t seem to figure out how, as learning and development professionals, we can ever reach our goal to develop ready-now leaders for our organizations if we only have 31 hours. 

Let’s consider leadership development. During 31 hours, we may introduce such skills as how to make decisions, delegate, build trust, and so on. But new leaders certainly won’t make a habit of these new skills within that limited amount of time. And they are many, many hours away from becoming a master. 


The answer to this dilemma lies in another set of three numbers: 70:20:10. We all know that the number 10 refers to formal learning. In essence, this is the 31 hours measured by ATD. Think of it. As a new leader, being invited to a formal learning event is exciting and validating to their career development interests. So, they come to the session engaged learners—ready to soak in everything they can. Yet, once they are back on the job, their excitement and true application of the learning materials seem to taper over time as day-to-day challenges creep in. 

Fortunately, corporate learning has evolved! We don’t offer only formal learning—and we haven’t for years. We know that our learners require a continuous learning environment, which DDI calls a “learning journey.” A learning journey builds excitement and interest before formal learning, and creates a post-training environment that is rich with activities to ensure that training doesn’t just build awareness of skills, but instead creates lasting behavior changes. 


Some of the activities that extend beyond the 10 into the 20 and the 70 include:

  • simulation-based learning to practice and cement the new skills
  • peer coaching sessions
  • feedback and support from managers
  • organized lunch-and-learn sessions to further refine, apply, and maximize adoption of the skills. 

These types of activities keep learning alive. More importantly, they solve the issue of limited time (31 hours) for formal learning. This is much like the community of support that marathon athletes use when training for an event. They train together, provide recommendations on pace and nutrition, and simulate the “big race” day with mini-marathons. Again, this is all about creating a continuous focus on the journey to complete a marathon—and not a single event. 
So, all of this leads back to my opening question: Is 70:20:10 still relevant for today’s learners? Or are we living in the past? We’ll explore that in part two of this blog series.

Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on DDI's Talent Management Intelligence, DDI’s blog for talent management professionals.

About the Author

Tacy M. Byham, PhD, is CEO of Development Dimensions International (DDI). She is co-author of the book Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others.

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