Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Learning by doing

Is learning by doing better than learning through courses?

Recently I reacquainted myself with a common formula used among trainers. It is the 70-20-10 model for learning and development. The model is based on research back in the 1980s on what were the most significant learning experiences for effective leaders.1https://trainingindustry.com/wiki/content-development/the-702010-model-for-learning-and-development/.

The research showed that leaders learned most (70%) through hands-on-experience at work when they accepted challenging assignments and worked on problem-solving. This included learning from taking risks, experimenting and making mistakes.

The next greatest source of learning (20%) came from working with others. This would include collaborating with others, giving and receiving feedback and receiving coaching and mentoring. The last 10% was learning through educational courses, seminars and books.

the 70:20:10 model

from https://702010institute.com/702010-model/

Since then, this model has gained a lot of traction in the business world. In fact, I discovered that there is a 70-20-10 Institute which works with organizations to strengthen their learning and development strategies based on the insights from this model.

Value of training courses?

This low number for what we typically call “training” or “education” was a surprise to most. But this research was not saying that training courses were of little value. Instead, we should interpret it as saying that coursework (book-learning) is only a small part of the training or learning process.

In fact, the courses only result in true learning when they are combined with on-the-job experience and coaching. Now a training course can include challenging on-the-job assignments in which you actually have to practice what you are learning in a live ministry situation. Our SEND U online course for supervisors has several of those assignments.

So is learning by doing better than learning through taking courses? No, that is not what the 70-20-10 model is saying. Instead it is saying that learning through taking courses is much more effective if it is combined with learning by doing and learning by working with others. In fact, when we think about training, we should start with what can be learned on the job, rather than thinking first of what kind of seminar we should plan.2See recommendations of the 70-20-10 Institute in their white paper.

Objections to the 70-20-10 model

Many have argued that the 70-20-10 model percentages are incorrect. Some more recent research says that 55-25-20 might be more accurate.3See https://www.td.org/insights/growing-talent-development-firms-70-20-10-redux Some types of work require much more formal learning (i.e. brain surgeons) before you get to any on-the-job training. But regardless, we can’t really argue against the significance of learning from taking on a challenging assignment and receiving feedback on our work.

Jesus’ training of the 12

When we look at how Jesus discipled the Twelve, we see the same emphasis on learning from doing new tasks and stepping into challenging situations. He was never satisfied with just telling them what they needed to know. He sent them out two by two to practice what they had heard and observed in Jesus’ ministry. Much of their learning happened as they:

  • tried and failed. e.g. I brought him to your disciples but they could not heal him.4Matt 17:16
  • made suggestions to Jesus and received correction. e.g. do you want us to call down fire from heaven and destroy them?5Luke 9:54
  • dealt with challenging assignments. e.g. you give them something to eat.6Mark 6:37

The IGP and the 70-20-10 model

All the members of my mission organization are expected to develop an Individual Growth Plan (IGP) each year. I suspect that most of our IGP learning activities will focus on the 10% (reading books, training courses, academic study) or on the 20% (learning from coaching and mentoring). This has been true of my IGP. I plan learning activities that involve reading and listening. My IGP generally has not included activities that force me to step out and do something new (with the risk of failure).

So how should the 70-20-10 learning model influence our Individual Growth Plan? Where do we put the 70% in our IGP?

Annual Ministry Plan (AMP)

In our SEND system, the IGP connects closely to the Annual Ministry Plan (AMP). We ask each of our workers to create an AMP prior to writing their IGP.7See the AMP/IGP Guide on the SEND U wiki. The Annual Ministry Plan goals should focus on new initiatives, new challenges and new projects. These would be above and beyond the regular responsibilities already listed on one’s job description. So, the 70% (the challenging assignment) should be placed in the AMP. The IGP then describes the learning that will equip the worker for their challenging assignment in the coming year. Our annual ministry goals for the year should drive the type of learning we will pursue in our IGP.

Accept new challenges

This is not only true because we want the learning to benefit the organization that pays our salary. This is true because the best learning happens when we take on challenging new initiatives, and then receive coaching and training that helps us make sense and deepen the on-the-job learning. The AMP and the IGP are tied together, not just for convenience, but because they are truly a learning package.

So, let’s not forget about the 70%, which is the most valuable of our learning experiences. I am thankful that I have been given a few “challenging assignments” recently that are forcing me to learn things that I have not done before. Overseeing our new SEND Global IT department has thrown me into new types of discussions and decisions. These are very different from discussions and plans for guiding new missionaries in spiritual formation.

Due to COVID-19, we stayed in Taiwan for twice as long as we had anticipated, as we were not able to return home to Ukraine. This experience of living for an extended time in another foreign culture in which I did not know the local language stretched me. If we did so again, I should probably sign up for learning Chinese!

What new challenges could you take on this next year as a learning opportunity? How could coaching or mentoring (the 20%) help you succeed in this new challenge? What type of training or reading (the 10%) would further support you in this learning? For a 100% learning solution, we need all three components.

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1 Comment

  1. rodbargen

    Another insightful and helpful article. Thanks Ken.

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