I was writing a post for another blog of mine that focuses on learning and technology about these 70:20:10 models in business and learning. They are all about rethinking how we spend our time working and learning. In the business application of them, it changes the way traditional business resources are managed. It doesn’t really sound controversial to encourage creativity, innovation, and experimentation, but they are not part of many organization’s structure.

It got me thinking about how it applies to all of us in our lives outside of classrooms and workplaces.

The model is also used as a way to manage and encourage innovation. The most famous use of it as a corporate policy is probably at Google. In 2005, Eric Schmidt, (then CEO) introduced the idea of making it policy that a proportion of time should be spent by employees should on different activities. Though the majority of their work day would be devoted to their core business tasks, 20% would be used for projects that were not directly related to the core business. This “20% time” has led to Google News, Google Earth, and Google Local which were employee-initiated projects unrelated to Google’s “core” business of search and advertising.

A 70:20:10 model for learning (originally for training rather than school settings) was developed in 1996 by McCall, Eichinger and Lombardo at the Centre for Creative Leadership based on the results of a survey of successful and effective managers.

Their observation was that learning occurred 70% from doing challenging and difficult jobs. Learning came from other people (mostly a boss) 20% of the time. 10% of the learning came from courses and reading. The conclusion was to extend learning beyond our traditional classroom/course paradigm.

A number of later interpretations and adaptations to this model have said that the “70” can be viewed as being workplace learning and performance support, while the “20” might now mean social learning, informal coaching and mentoring. That leaves “10” as being “structured learning” in a more traditional way.

It has critics, some of whom question the lack of empirical evidence that it works.

If you point to Google as an example of its success, you would also have to add a footnote that nowadays Google’s “20% time,”
which actually allowed employees to take one day a week to work on side projects, “effectively no longer exists” according to an article that sourced some current and former Google employees.

So what happened to it?

This famous Google perk became for many employees just too difficult to schedule. Taking time off from their core jobs to work on independent projects was hard.

Has the 70:20:10 model moved at all into classrooms?  When I have spoken to classroom teachers at all levels, I almost always hear interest and enthusiasm for a 70:20:10 or 80:20 model for their classroom. Take the writing teacher who would love to have students spend time writing what they really want to write. That could be on a blog or social network. It could be to work on their novel or write poetry, even though they were in a course that focused on the essay. Maybe it wouldn’t even involve writing. But the problem in implementing it would be TIME. Where does it fit? What do we drop from the curriculum. We have so much already to cover. Perhaps the closest we have to the model is in an elementary classroom that allows time to play.


And so, is it that the 20% only exists in time away from the classroom or office?

And is that so different from all the other special personal projects we have in our lives?

How many of us plan to do those 20% tasks on the weekend, on vacation, or when we retire?

This weekend I have been at a poetry writing retreat. Personally, I do find time to write during my work week, but a surprising number of people need this “away from the world” structured and yet unstructured time to write.

It would be sad if all of that innovation and creativity never happened because we couldn’t manage our time so that there was time for it.