Thursday, May 26, 2011

The 70:20:10 Model of Adult Learning and the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2011 by International Coach Federation

There are many adult learning models which can have great application in coaching and which could improve the client experience, knowledge retention, skill application and eventual goal attainment.

The two that my colleagues and strategic alliances find the most useful are the 70:20:10 Model of Adult Learning and the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.

In this blog post I’ll share some overview definitions, links for you to do further exploration, and some information about how these two models have impacted our coaching product and services offering and organisational policies.

The 70:20:10 Model of Adult Learning stems from a significant amount of research that indicates that:
  • 10% of learning comes from the actual learning event such as workshops, courses, seminars, tutorials and even in some cases reading books and articles and watching videos.
  • 20% of learning comes form informal conversations about the learning content, including sharing ideas, experiences and coaching and mentoring about the learning topic. (Reflective learning activities such as journaling also fit here.)
  • 70% of learning comes from the actual application and practice of the learning information in a real and practical sense, such as on the job usage or in the pursuit of goals. (Active learning activities fit here, including learning on the job without any formal learning event.)
As you can see, coaching is the “connector” between someone attending a formalised learning event and putting the information into practice in a real and meaningful way.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve refers to the decline of memory across time and is relevant in both training and coaching. For training events, participants begin forgetting the information they’ve gained nearly immediately. Of course, participants have the opportunity to retain the memory longer if they engage in activities to immediately put the new knowledge into practical application.

Some of the research suggests that there is a 6-9 hour window before learners forget about 50% of the learning if they haven’t done some practical application steps.

This applies similarly to coaching in that the coachee has a limited window of opportunity to act, at least in part, on the discussion and commitments from the coaching session or the strength of the memory of those commitments will begin to fade away.

If you would like to know more about these, here are some links for you:
  • - This page on our website is dedicated to 70:20:10 and has links to further research, case studies and other information by Charles Jennings, Managing Director of Duntroon Associates. Charles is a world-leader in this area and we are happy to celebrate the work he has done and freely shares with others.
  • - This is Hermann Ebbinghaus’ original piece from 1885, “Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology”
My colleagues and strategic partners are so committed to these models that we have even created some branding around it – seventy20ten™.

Furthermore, we have developed an organisational policy that all of our combined training/coaching solutions must meet the 70:20:10 principles to be effective. We will NOT design any solutions that do not fully meet these principles as we believe that by doing so would not ensure a return on investment for any of the key stakeholders.

For example, when approached to just design/deliver training, if coaching is not included in the design (whether delivered by us or internally or another party), then we refuse the work. In such cases we also refuse to provide a referral to another provider as our policy does not allow us to recommend providers who would be willing to provide ineffective solutions.

We share this information with potential clients and define how these models could work for them to ensure “learning that sticks” and a much greater return on investment.

As a result, we have found that those clients who commit to our policies and are also committed to ensuring quick activity-based learning directly after learning events, that they are achieving amazing outcomes and quite quickly.

Those that decide not to work with us often state that although they get the theory behind these models, that it’s “too much” to ask of their team members when “things are so busy around here.” They frequently comment that they would rather just send people to training events and trust that those who are “go getters” will do something with the opportunity.

When challenged on this and particularly questioning whether or not it is a waste of investment if only possibly 10-30% of the participants will follow through and implement what they’re learning, some very brave and honest clients confess that “that’s just the way training is run around here and effective or not, we’ll stick with this way for now.”

So the impact for us as a business is that the work we do acquire is often more robust, interesting, rewarding and achieving positive outcomes for individuals, groups and organisations very quickly. We also appreciate that we could have a lot more business coming through us if we didn’t have such strict policies. However our reputation for being ethical and best-practice-minded certainly does help us secure “good work” that all of us in the team feel proud and energised to be a part of.

At the end of the day, we’re quite proud of the policy and the outcomes for us as individual training and coaching practitioners and as a team.

Questions for Further Exploration
Being consistent with our own policy, after reading this blog post (10% learning) here are some questions you may wish to consider for yourselves and/or engage with others (20% learning) which could also lead to specific actions or behaviour changes (70%):
  • What have you found interesting in this blog post?
  • What have you agreed with, and specifically what has been your experience?
  • What have you disagreed with and specifically what has been your experience?
  • Who can you share this information with? What beneficial outcomes would you expect for you, them and others?
  • When will you share this information? (What are you committing to?)
    Noel Posus
  • What changes will you make, if any, to your own business model and/or policies? (What are you committing to?)
Noel Posus is the Managing Director and Master Coach for He was awarded Coach of the Year 2008 and 2009 by the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Coaching (and finalist for the 2010 Coaching Business of the Year), where he has also earned the distinction of Fellow Coach (one step above Master Coach) as well as Master Coach from the International Institute of Coaching. To read his bio click here.

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