The Greatest Issue Facing L&D Today

Scrap Learning

by Ken Phillips

What is arguably the top issue facing the L&D profession today?

The answer is scrap learning or the gap or difference between training that is delivered but not applied back on the job. It’s the flip side of training transfer and is a critical issue for both the L&D profession and the organizations L&D supports because it wastes money and time—two precious organization resources.

Now, you might be wondering, “How big is the problem?”

Two empirical studies, one by KnowledgeAdvisors in 2014 and one by Rob Brinkerhoff and Timothy Mooney in 2008, found scrap learning to be 45 percent and 85 percent respectively in the average organization. To add further credibility to these percentages, I’ve conducted three scrap learning studies over the past few years and found the scrap learning percentages associated with three different training programs in three separate organizations to be 64 percent, 48 percent, and 54 percent respectively. Added together, these five research studies results in an average scrap learning figure of approximately 60 percent in the average organization.

To further highlight the magnitude of the scrap learning problem, consider its effect on the amount of wasted organizational dollars and time. According to the 2018 ATD State of the industry research report, the average per employee organization training expenditure in 2017 was $1,296 and the average number of training hours consumed per employee was 34.1. Using the KnowledgeAdvisors and Brinkerhoff scrap learning percentages mentioned above, you can see in the table below just how much scrap learning costs the average organization in wasted dollars and time.

Cost of Scrap Learning in Wasted Dollars & Time

Average per employee training expenditure (=) $1,296(X) 45% scrap learning(=) 583 wasted $
The average per employee training expenditure (=) $1,296(X) 85% scrap learning(=) 1,102 wasted $
The average number of training hours consumed per employee (=) 34.1(X) 45% scrap learning(=) 15 wasted hours
Average per employee training expenditure (=) $1,296(X) 85% scrap learning(=) 29 wasted hours

Taking all of this data into account reminds me of James Lovell’s famous quote during his Apollo 13 mission to the moon when an oxygen tank aboard the space capsule exploded putting both the flight and crew in great peril: “Houston, we have a problem!”

If you would like to take a crack at estimating the cost of scrap learning associated with one of your training programs, you can use the Estimating the Cost of Scrap Learning Formula below. To gain the most useful insight, you should make every effort to collect the most accurate data possible for each of the input variables. Also, when selecting an estimated percentage of scrap learning associated with the program, variable 4 in the formula, you should get input from several people familiar with the program such as other L&D colleagues, participants who previously attended the program or perhaps even the managers of program participants and then compute an average of their estimates. Gaining the input of others will increase both the accuracy and credibility of the estimate and remove any concerns that the scrap learning percentage is merely your opinion.

Estimating the Cost of Scrap Learning Formula

Wasted Participant Dollars

The length of a learning program in hours _____
X the number of programs delivered over 12 months _____
X the average number of participants attending one program _____
= the cost of scrap learning in wasted time _____
X the average hourly participant salary + benefits _____
= the cost of wasted participant dollars _____ (A)

Wasted L&D Department Dollars

Administrative expenditures (e.g., materials, travel, facility, facilitator, delivery platform, food, etc.) for one program _____
X the number of programs delivered over a 12-month period _____
X the estimated percent of scrap learning (45-85%) associated with the program _____
= the cost of wasted L&D department dollars _____ (B)

Total Cost of Scrap Learning

Cost of wasted participant dollars (A) _____
+ cost of wasted L&D department dollars (B) _____
= total cost of scrap learning _____

With this information in hand, you are now ready to pinpoint the underlying causes of scrap learning and take targeted corrective actions to mitigate or eliminate these causes and maximize training transfer. How to do this will be part two of this blog article.

Speak Your Mind

*