horses for courses

The phrase comes, of course, from horse racing. Some horses are good at boggy ground, some prefer the going to be firm underfoot. Put the right horse on the right track, and they will prevail. This neat rhyme proved to be so popular around racetracks that it took on a life of its own, with the first recorded use being in 1898, and even by then it was fairly well established. —BBC America

The statistician George Box said that — essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful — I have to say that some very useful models have helped me in my work. The 70:20:10 model is a useful model I have used for many projects. 

First of all, the 70:20:10 model only looks at workplace learning. Important learning also happens outside of work and perhaps even in spite of work. Therefore it is not just what happens in our work teams, or even our professional communities of practice, but all of our experiences, hardships, and social connections that makes us who we are. But we cannot measure these factors or add hardships to see what happens to people. Instead, we can use the right horse for this course — to improve organizational performance.

“I noticed one particular pie chart: “70-20-10” it said at the top of the page, but below, the chart had 5 different areas: “challenging assignments” took up just under 50% of the circle, with roughly 40% split between “other people” and “hardships.” A final 10% was split between “formal coursework” and “personal life.” I was confused.

“What is this?” I asked Cindy [McCauley], only to have her confirm my suspicions: These were the original results from the CCL research question, “Where do key development learnings come from?” That data found that “hardships” were equally important to “other people”, and that lessons from one’s personal life aided development in an essential way. And yet, I’d never heard of the 50-20-20-5-&-5 model.

Cindy explained: the originators of the model dropped hardships and personal life events because organizations had little control over them. Coursework could be replicated, mentors could be assigned, but who could guarantee hardships? Or more importantly, who would want to? After dropping those 2 pesky categories and doing some simple recalculations, the model shook out at the now-trusty 70-20-10 breakdown.” —CCL 2017-11-28

Even reducing the focus to addressing workplace learning through experience, exposure, and education is still a challenge in many organizations. Systemic barriers abound, such as incentives, pay, individual performance measurement, conflicting priorities, or a lack of resources. Applied correctly, a performance-based learning approach can significantly improve organizational performance, as this case study in nursing care shows.

However, connecting learning inside and outside our workplaces is a different challenge and may require a different model like the one below. It has been used to connect parents and professionals in a Listening & Spoken Language non-profit organization. The more diverse our stable of horses, the more courses we will be able to race.

working smarter with pkm

3 Responses to “horses for courses”

    • Harold Jarche

      Thanks, Joitske. My understanding of the original research is that they looked at hardships beyond the workplace. I agree that challenging assignments at work are important for professional development.

  1. Carl Haggerty

    Hi Harold,
    Thank you for sharing this, I really connected to the worker smarter with personal knowledge mastery model. Like most models, I find they seem to appear at the time you need or are ready to explore and make sense with them 😉


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