Reinforcement as Part of a Holistic Instructional Design Strategy: Part 2

This is the second post in a three-part series on Holistic Instructional Design Strategy written by Lois Goldsworthy. Lois is an Instructional Designer at Axonify with over fifteen years of experience in the fields of Learning and Instructional Design.


Last time, I talked about the learning continuum and how each component is an important part of a holistic learning environment. It’s easy to see how formal learning fits into the learning environment, but where do the other two components fit in our learning designs? To answer this question, let’s take a look at the Learning Longtail.

A few years ago, I was introduced to the 70-20-10 model and the Learning Longtail. While I understand and agree with the concepts behind these models, there has typically been very little provided in the way of practical application. First a quick refresher in case you haven’t run into these models before.

The 70-20-10 model suggests that the greatest amount of learning occurs through practical on-the-job experience – the 70% – with 20% through coaching and 10%, or the least amount, through formal learning. Visually, the concept would look something like this:


For me, words like “informal” learning and “social” learning conjured up vague thoughts of learning designs that included such social tools as Twitter and Facebook. Undoubtedly, these technologies, and others like them, have a useful role to play in engaging and motivating our learners – I would point to last year’s CSTD conference as a perfect example, where keynote speaker, Eric Wahl, used Twitter in giving away one of his paintings and attendees were encouraged to Tweet their thoughts, impressions and comments throughout the conference, leading to a great experience.

But as a learning professional dealing with what are typically constrained time and resources, how can you keep the Learning Longtail in mind when creating learning programs for your users? As learning professionals, we’re really in the business of the 10%, aren’t we?

Great – but what does that mean in practical terms?

For years, no one I asked could answer this question, so the Learning Longtail remained a vague concept that seemed like it had potential to be the next big thing in learning if, in fact, it could exist in the learning environment – a bit like the Loch Ness monster of training and development.

But here’s where a holistic instructional design strategy comes into play. In reality, each of the areas of the learning continuum significantly overlaps the others; in other words, one does not begin where the other ends.

So, maybe the graph above should actually look more like this:


Note that knowledge retention fits right in the middle, supporting both formal learning and performance support, as part of a holistic learning solution. What does this mean in practical terms? I’ll finish up this series next time with some ideas to help you fit knowledge retention into your learning environment.

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