Want To Eliminate Scrap Learning?

Start by involving managers in the process of training. Coach them on how to prepare people to come to class. And help them develop learning implementation contracts.

In my most recent presentation at ATD ICE (my 41st year in a row presenting), my topic was “Results-Based Creative Learning Strategies.” For more than 25 years, I’ve been hammering home the importance of transfer of training—that training is a process, not an event—and that the purpose of training is to deliver results. But just because I’ve said it doesn’t mean people have listened to, learned, and applied it.

This feeds into the work Bob Brinkerhoff and others have done on Scrap Learning. My simplified definition of Scrap Learning is: learning that is delivered but not applied back on the job. Several different studies suggest that the average scrap 90 days after training is completed is between 45 and 80 percent. When I share this with trainers, they are most often in denial—this can’t be true for my training!


But when we start discussing what could cause training to be delivered and then not used, we come up with a list of common causes. And the light bulbs go on. Why do I share this? Because the first step to solving a problem is to recognize that there is a problem. How many of the following (answer honestly now) impact your current training programs?

  • Wrong participants sent (people who are not qualified; people who simply need training hours to fulfill professional development requirements, etc.)
  • Low learner motivation (participants who are required to attend training; participants who see no connection between the content and their jobs, etc.)
  • Low organizational support (no or little opportunity to apply or practice after the training; pulling participants out of class because of job demands, etc.)
  • Poor participant prep by manager (the manager treats training as an interruption to the job rather than an investment; the manager reluctantly sends people and spends no time emphasizing the value of the training to both the participant and the organization)
  • The content is not directly relevant (there is no time taken, before, during, or after the training to make practical connections between the learning delivered and its application on the job)
  • Inadequate support materials (no cheat sheets or job aids to help apply knowledge and skills back on the job)
  • Insufficient practice (trainers dump and demo content but provide little time for participants to practice so they feel comfortable using what they’ve learned back on the job— this fits with my old story of thinking I could drive a stick-shift car because I had watched my Dad do it for years!
  • Delivered at the wrong time (delivering tax update training to accountants during tax season; training people on new software six months before it will be deployed, etc.)
  • Examples don’t connect (using business-to-consumer sales examples when training business-to-business salespeople; using face-to-face customer service examples when delivering training to call center reps who only talk to customers by phone)
  • No time to apply back on the job (people return to work and are so busy with other responsibilities that they don’t have the time to use the new content and skills they were taught during training)

So the question is: Do you want to eliminate Scrap Learning? If you answer, “Yes,” then you can start by working to minimize any and all of the things I’ve listed in this column. But more than that, start involving managers in the process of training. Coach them on how to prepare people to come to class. Help them develop learning implementation contracts so participants return from training with action plans. Provide plenty of reflection time, action planning, and actual practice during your classes. These few things will go a long way toward eliminating scrap.

Until next time—continue to add value and make a difference.

Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAE-Speakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” and his newest book, “The Master Trainer’s Handbook.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.