How do humans learn and The 70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development

howHow Do Humans Learn?

Have you ever thought about how you acquire new information and ways of doing things?


We learn from the things that happen to us – our experiences. For example, we learn that if we don’t hold on to the bannister on a set of stairs or escalator we could fall we learned that lightning is generally followed by a big noise – thunder, we learn how and when to laugh, smile or even dance by watching others. We can say that we have learned these things because we have acquired them and appropriate responses to and for them – we anticipate the noise and may cover our ears when lightning flashes across the sky, we smile or laugh under the right learned circumstances. We learn to modify our behaviors based on what we know or see and learning is acquiring relatively permanent change in behavior through experience.

Learning applies not just to humans, but also to animals. For us humans, learning extends beyond the scope of proper education and just like for an animal, humans need to learn about their environment, indeed learning about the environment is important for adaptation and survival.

Types of Learning

There are two different types of learning – observational and associative learning.

spy glassObservational Learning

Observational Learning is learning by watching others engage in different behaviors. From the examples above, you probably have learned to dance by watching your teacher demonstrate some dance steps to you. You also probably have learned how to cook by watching your mother demonstrate the process in your kitchen as a child.

Make connectionsAssociative Learning

Associative Learning is learning by establishing connections between events. [See also frequency and recency]   Conditioning is the method for teaching associations, and there are two types of conditio ning – classical and operant conditioning.

Knowledge 24Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning is the method teaching associations between two different stimuli. From the example above, we learned the connection between lightning and thunder because they almost always occur together. Because of this, whenever we see lightning, we anticipate thunder.

carrot and stickOperant conditioning

On the other hand, operant conditioning is the method of teaching associations between behaviors and consequences. Operant conditioning uses rewards and punishments to strengthen or weaken behaviors. From the example above, you might have learned the connection between telling a good story and gaining credibility and respect from friends or to hold on to the bannister on stairs from the memory or fear of pain from a fall.

Factors that Affect Learning

How the forgetting curve impacts on learning … read more

How your mood effects retention… read more

Most of the time, learning occurs in not-so ideal situations. Have you ever had problem remembering names when you are very tired? do you know how to tell if a plant is poisonous or not? Probably not – is the answer. This is because there are biological, cognitive and cultural factors in learning.

How Humans Learn

Here is a schematic representation of the process provided by Dr. Robert Greenleaf and Doris Wells-Papanek, M.Ed. (2007). It is totally logical process for understanding, retention, application, and transfer in humans.

how we learn - Source: Adapted from “Memory, Recall, the Brain & Learning”

All humans, regardless of gender, age, or environment, learn through the senses. We gather all the sensory inputs – most are discarded immediately. Our capacity to learn is largely determined by the level of our conscious attention to our senses. The more we are aware of what we see, smell, taste, hear, touch, or gather from the tone or mood of a situation, the more likely we will process information on a thoughtful level.

If a sensory input is perceived to be interesting and applicable now to our immediate circumstances, or spikes our curiosity with novelty, the more likely we will choose to attend and engage in a learning process.

Your Central Nervous System actively considers, filter, regulates, and integrates relevant sensory input into short-term (working) memory. This central nervous system rapidly gathers, organizes, interprets, and makes sense of the inputs, [see thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahnman] to prepare our body and to take action and adapt based on the need or circumstance.

The Short-Term (Working) Memory Process “draws” from long-term memories to link prior knowledge and previous experiences with new information for understanding. The more humans can relate to what they are learning, the more likely new short-term memories will link with prior knowledge or previous experiences and therefore result in new understandings. Our working memory “draws” from long-term memories to seek connections, make new meanings, create mental visualizations, and recognize familiar patterns, which in turn prepares the brain to establish relationships, organize information, create categorize, and consider new understandings.

The Long-Term Memory Process retains memories such as ideas, thoughts, interactions, feelings, and visualizations of events that become connected in the brain when “pulled” into working memory.

Throughout life, the human brain develops critical connections between short-term and long-term memories, which in turn expands our ideas, thoughts, interactions, feelings, and visualizations of past, present, future, or imagined events. As the brain “pulls” retained long-term memories into working memory, further consideration is given to select thoughts. The frequency and levels of intensity of the activities strengthens connections, which in turn creates associated neural networks. Sorting and consolidation of the day’s events take place during sleep. The brain never stops processing, activity occurring 24/7 regardless of the state of conscious mind.

DIY Learning occurs when humans apply and transfer new learnings to other and varied circumstances. When learning environments and conditions engage multiple connections to the brain, humans are more likely to make greater attempts to process, take action, and apply new learnings, which in turn increases long-term memory and sustained understanding.

Innovative learning outcomes are more likely to occur when humans explore authentic ways to transfer new ideas and feelings to other and varied circumstances. The process of creating multiple links, neuronal connections across many lobes and modules provides a rich opportunity for increased recall, transfer, insight, and applications reaching beyond the confines of the subject matter into real-world problems that require reasoning, problem solving, and communication.

The 70:20:10 Model


Doing – 70%


Observing – 20%

Learning 2Tradional knowledge acquisition – 10%

The 70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development is a commonly used formula within the training profession to describe the optimal sources of learning by successful managers. It holds that individuals obtain 70 percent of their knowledge from job-related experiences, 20 percent from interactions with others, and 10 percent from formal educational events.

The model was created in the 1980s by three researchers and authors working with the Center for Creative Leadership, Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert A. Eichinger, were researching the key developmental experiences of successful managers.

The 70:20:10 model is considered to be of greatest value as a general guideline for organizations seeking to maximize the effectiveness of their learning, and development programs through other activities and inputs. The model continues to be widely employed by organizations throughout the world.

The model’s creators suggest that hands-on experience – doing (the 70 percent) is the most beneficial for employees because it enables them to self-discover and refine their job-related skills by trial and error, make decisions, address challenges and interact with influential people such as bosses and mentors within work settings. They also learn from their mistakes and receive immediate feedback on their performance.

They also suggest that employees learn from others (the 20 percent) through a variety of activities that include social learning, coaching, mentoring, collaborative learning and other methods of interaction with peers. Encouragement and feedback are prime benefits of this valuable learning approach.

The hypothesis further suggests that only 10 percent of professional development comes from formal traditional instruction and other educational events.

How relevant is the 70:20:10 model in the Internet age?

The arrival of the Internet, and the current proliferation of online and mobile learning technologies, has altered views of the 70:20:10 model.  At the minimum, the model does not reflect the market’s fast-growing emphasis on informal asynchronous learning, particularly from the internet and shared video content.

Whilst the traditional model’s specific ratios do not reflect fast changing current learning opportunities, it does remains generally consistent with the developmental experiences of many individuals. Thus, the model continues to serve as a valuable guideline on how to employ various developmental experiences.

Top ten tips for more effective learning: – Read more here

Always remember there is…

More Than One Answer