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The 70/30 Principle: Rebalancing the learning equation

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This post is by Victoria Halsey, an expert in workplace learning and author of “Brilliance by Design: Creating Learning Experiences That Connect, Inspire, and ENGAGE.” She is vice president of applied learning at The Ken Blanchard Cos. Contact her at vicki.halsey (at)

The traditional approach to workplace learning and teaching is beyond old school — it’s broken. As a result, organizational intelligence is suffering at a time, on the heels of the Great Recession, when we might need it most. The corporate-training market in the U.S. is worth more than $100 billion. Still, according to a workplace survey by the American Psychological Association, only 44% of working Americans said they are satisfied with their employer’s training and development opportunities.

I propose a new framework, a learning model that, unlike our broken traditional approach, sets people, and their companies, up to succeed.

The 70/30 Principle: Rebalancing the learning equation

Imagine yourself in a traditional workplace-learning environment. Who’s doing the talking and moving around? Who’s got the ideas? Who’s excited, eager and energized? It’s the teacher, the teacher and the teacher. The fact is, though, whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.

The 70/30 Principle represents three shifts that, together, turn our traditional learning model on its head. In rebalancing the learning equation, the principle shines a light on the learner, not the teacher; swings the emphasis to how, not what, teachers teach; and stimulates active, not passive, learning. The result is that teachers truly energize and engage learners and, better still, turn learning into action.

  • Learners do 70% of the talking and 30% of the listening. Learners, not teachers, must be center stage, actively learning. This can’t, and won’t, happen when you are doing most of the talking and learners are doing most of the listening. Shift your focus from talking to listening.
  • Teachers spend 70% of their preparation on how they will teach and 30% on what they will teach. If you’re like most teachers, you devote more time to preparing your content than to figuring out how you will teach that content. Shift your focus from what you will teach to how you will teach, creating various activities and embedding best learning practices into your designs.
  • Learners spend 70% of their time practicing and 30% of their time being taught. To embed learning, let learners practice. Shift your focus from teaching to practicing.

How to E-N-G-A-G-E learners and bring out the brilliance in everyone

A six-step learning model, based on the most recent discoveries in neuroscience, ENGAGE has high designs: to revolutionize traditional workplace learning and teaching.

  • Energize learners. To truly engage learners, you must energize them early and often. From the start, and even ahead of time, stimulate curiosity, stir up desire and shine a light on the topic. There are scores of best practices from which to choose, including e-mailing cool interactive invitations, livening up arrivals with music, placing fun quotes or toys on tabletops and sharing your promise for the day, such as “You will walk out the door with three new skills: _____, _____ and _____.”
  • Navigate content. If you truly want learning to happen, here lies your most significant investment of time and talent: Navigate your content by focusing less on what you teach and more on how you teach. Essentially, you must challenge and involve learners with interesting, interactive activities while addressing multiple learning styles: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (doing). That allows every learner to show up in the way that he or she is smart.
  • Generate meaning. Learning is a relationship between learners and teachers, as well as between content and meaning. This step emphasizes relevance and encourages people to turn “Aha”s into action. Learners determine the significance of content to their work and commit to acting on its true value and purpose.
  • Apply to the real world. Moving from knowing to doing is critical. Here, people practice what they’ve learned in their real-world context while still operating within the safety and support of the learning environment.
  • Gauge and celebrate. Whether your learning design is one hour or one week, it’s important to have people assess how much they’ve learned, helping them not only to review but also to deepen the neural connections. Moreover, it’s important to celebrate those lessons in fun and interactive ways.
  • Extend learning to action. How many times have you learned something and, despite your best intentions, didn’t apply it sooner — or even later? The odds are you needed a little reminder or outside encouragement.