Language Training, Learning and Development

Flexible learning for flexible people

Flexible learning has been around for a long time, but do we understand what it means?

Flexibility is not lackadaisical. Training should adapt to learners’ lives and not the other way around.

Laptops and phones with stable internet connections are available to the average learner. There is a growing realization that learning can take place anytime, anyplace. 

For many generation z-ers and millennials, personal and work life are interchangeable. Time management has changed. We have digital calendars to allow us to see when the best time to work is. Research has shown the modern-day employee desires autonomy to create their own schedule—they want to decide where learning fits in. 

Flexible learning also allows companies to be more agile. Plan A is only as good as your plan B. 

Is there a new, flexible learning model that fits the needs of today’s learner?

The 70-20-10 model in Learning and Development

There’s a very popular formula that’s often used in L&D, you may have heard of it:

  • 70% of your learning is through experience (experiential)
  • 20% of your development is through others (social)
  • 10% is through training and/or education (formal)

It’s a great template for employees looking to develop or upskill.

The Center for Creative Leadership created the framework in the 80s. Their model became popular quickly and is still used in most workplaces. It’s simple and easy to understand, with the focus on cost-effective modes of learning.  

Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger expressed their rationale behind the model:

“Development generally begins with a realization of current or future need and the motivation to do something about it.” 

This realization might come from feedback, a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, failing or not being up to a task–in other words, from experience. 

The odds are that development will be about 70% from on-the-job experiences (working on tasks and problems), about 20% from feedback (working around good and bad examples of the need), and 10% from courses and reading.

L&D teams adopted this new way of thinking and started applying it to workplace learning. 

But it’s 2020. And this model doesn’t fit as well as it did 30 years ago.

The criticisms that questioned this way of thinking still ring true today: 

  • the sample size was too small
  • people are unable to self-assess objectively
  • the percentage split was too arbitrary to apply generally
  • no empirical evidence

Over the past 10 years we have also experienced an uptake in casual learning: employees will take it upon themselves to learn.

LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Coursera and other online learning platforms are available to employees to learn on the go. Investing in a long course or a large sum of money is obsolete. 

Learners may now spend more time learning ‘informally’ through these new methods. The need to keep up with trends and new technology is demanding.

As our world continues to change, it is not enough to rely on colleagues or peers for experiential learning. Employees must now take charge of their own future.

The 70-20-10 model is not dead. It’s still a key player in the world of L&D frameworks. 


Is it possible to take this model and update it to be more attractive to the new, flexibly-focused generation of working professionals?

A flexible learning model

I’ve written a lot about why digital is more than just technology. Digital learning is a means to an end, a way of doing things.

What digital is best at, is giving us more options for how we learn.

Digital is not just using a computer or having data, it’s about working smarter not harder. It should encourage social activity amongst colleagues, across departments and hierarchies. Flexibility and accessibility is a key selling point for digital—no need to chain yourself to a desk.

I started having conversations around digital and how it helps with flexible learning. I decided to explore this theme deeper.

In February 2020 I held a webinar with Digital Learning expert Myles Runham focused on changes in learning brought about by personalization. What does personalization mean to learners? What does it mean to the individual? What about global or local teams?


What do you know about your learners? What information do you already have that will help personalize learning? We can use data to analyze and identify behavioral patterns to leverage learning.

We then segment based on teams, departments, demographics, nationality…the list is endless.


What are your learners telling you? What kind of goals do they have? Do they have preferences?

By listening to learner feedback we can start to customize the content according to preferences. We can go even further and start to align against goals and desired outcomes.


The most helpful data point is real behavior. Historic data plus known preferences can help with predicting behavior. But will your predictions come true?

Usually, but not always. User experience is the #1 most important aspect of understanding your learner’s needs.

Could these dimensions of personalization be the new and improved 70-20-10 model?

Although the model predicted a split between each area, it was too rigid. It didn’t take into account a learner base that fluctuates and is flexible and agile.

If we apply the same percentage breakdown across the different dimensions we get:

  • 70% experience
  • 20% customization
  • 10% segmentation

If a learner’s experience is 70% of what makes up the journey, then flexibility has to be a key aspect of the journey. No one learns in the same way, which means one size does not fit all.

We can start to see learning flexibility as another way to make a learner’s journey even more relevant. Even more personal.

This is an important aspect when deciding how to launch a new training project or how to increase engagement. At Rosetta Stone Enterprise we see flexibility as a key part of why our language training is so successful. Our learners have the ability to learn on a mobile phone or a laptop, while also working directly with native-speaking live tutors. More than ever, technology is able to help us advance and keep up with learner demands.

If we don’t continue to meet each learner’s demand for increased flexibility, we stand to lose learners altogether.

We must look to the future for our inspiration and what flexibility can add to the learning experience.

Ready to start your flexible language learning journey within your own organization?

Stephanie Stretton
Language Learning Consultant
Stephanie is a Language Learning Consultant, looking after the European region. She works closely with large corporations, schools, universities and non-profits to help personalize language learning strategies. When not at work, Stephanie is normally at a music concert or trying to improve her drumming skills.