Instructional Design

70/20/10, Blended Learning, and Ecosystems

Lots of buzzwords in the title of this post! And, my, the controversy surrounding a couple of them lately! I’ve been casually observing the conversations around these topics, and I have decided to insert my two cents. I love that we are becoming more comfortable with questioning what we do and how we do it in L&D, but I often wonder if many of us are carrying hammers and everything looks like a nail. I would like to add my perspective at the risk of being flogged by my colleagues. Here goes…

First, I see these three things (70/20/10, blended, and ecosystems) as somewhat synonymous. Yes, synonymous.

Let’s start with “blended learning,” which I believe (or maybe I hope) will be an archived term at some point soon because learning ecosystems will replace it. In a recent Twitter chat about blended learning I realized that we are not all in agreement about what it is, which is the theme with many of our instructional strategies these days. Is it a blend of delivery modalities? Is it distance learning? Is it a variety of multimedia in one solution?

Once upon a time, blended learning was thought to be as simple as an ILT with an eLearning component, as a pre-req or as a more integrated part of the entire ILT, etc. But technology has allowed for so much more! We can give learners information when they need it, how they need it, and where they need it. We can deliver the right content at the right time with the right device. Unlike the days when blended learning was simpler, we now have a myriad of choices for delivery modalities.

Hence, the learning ecosystem. Blended learning is, perhaps, an outdated term now because it may oversimplify the instructional strategies and goals. As I said in my 2016 Compass: ecosystems are, essentially, blended learning solutions on steroids. But we still have to agree on what it means to “blend” a solution. I’ll define it as many types of solutions in concert, used intentionally and mindfully in the best interest of the learner’s needs and for the business objectives. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

It’s amazing how 70/20/10 has gained so much attention. It’s as if we decided very suddenly that it was worth questioning — attacking, even — which I think it’s kind of cool, but it also concerns me when we start to vehemently oppose theories like we have done this one. 70/20/10 serves as a guideline, not as a dictator. To me, it’s not meant to be as rigid as some are defining (and opposing) it. It’s healthy for us to remember that when we design our solutions we should have a balance, a blend, and a variety to them…and 70/20/10 provides that guidance. Remember that for those who are new to the profession, theories such as this one can serve as a great foundation, and we can and should be mindful that theory is often different than practice.

For what it’s worth, in a previous life, I would have questioned the 70% portion, and maybe even the 20%. Previously I would have asked how we track it. xAPI is changing that. (And that’s for another post on another day, but I think it’s the holy grail for L&D.) I digress…

We live in an ISD world where you can have an eLearning solution, an ILT, a performance support piece on an iPad or phone, beacons, augmented reality, social learning platforms, gamification, and lots of other cool stuff. And, hey, it’s OK create an “old fashioned” paper-based something-or-other if a situation deems it appropriate. And, now, we can do so much more than just ILT or eLearning or paper-based stuff. Butshould you have these things? A needs analysis will give you the answer. We have to be judicious and strategic…maybe more so now than ever before.

So what? Well, just as the picture at the top of this post suggests, whatever we call this strategy it’s about giving the learners a balance of the right information at the right time with the right device or delivery modality. Our goal should be to pack a metaphorical bag of ‘stuff’ for them to use when they need it — and only because we know they will need it in XYZ context (because we did an analysis). That’s not to say we should be creating something for every device and for every possible need or “just because we can”…that would not be good. Conduct your needs analysis; talk to your target audience and learn from them about what info they need, when, and how. Then, build your ecosystem (which is a blended solution on steroids) and use that 70/20/10 stuff that’s so hotly contested as a guideline ! C’mon, you know you want to…


I am a nerd about instructional design and I love a good intelligent, professional discussion about this stuff! Let’s keep this dialogue alive. Please comment with your thoughts.


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