“Scrap Learning”

New phrase I’d never heard before: “Scrap Learning” is training that is delivered to students that goes unused.  For example, employees sign up for training that has nothing to do with their job just to get out of working, or are forced into this situation by some misdirected “mandate”.  Or they are forced to take a course so far ahead of when they will need the knowledge they forget this knowledge by the time an on-the-job use opportunity rolls around. 

Apparently this is a pretty big problem in large companies and wastes millions of dollars in Training budgets every year.  Reducing / Eliminating Scrap Learning is one way to optimize Training budgets for maximum ROI; if you can get rid of Scrap Learning, you spend a lot less money and get virtually the same impact.  Kind of like segmentation in Database Marketing, right? 

Some estimates of Scrap Learning run as high as 50% of all Training delivered.  One of the easiest ways to reduce Scrap Learning is to simply trigger an e-mail to the employee’s supervisor and get confirmation the employee who signed themselves up really needs to take the course.  Hmmm…

Here’s the problem.  The success of many Training departments is measured by “volume” metrics like the total number of student hours consumed.  If that is your success metric, do you have any incentive to reduce Scrap Learning?

Just got back from the Training 2007 conference.  All sorts of stuff like the above is whizzing around in my head.  The “experts” say one way to drive Creativity is to Learn material outside your own knowledge domain, then try to connect this knowledge back to your own domain.  I have that going on in a big way…

Fear of Analytics is a huge problem in HR / Training; I’m beginning to think this is a pervasive problem across the entire enterprise.  We know this is a culture problem, but the question is, what is the right model for evaluating, addressing, and fixing this problem?  The issue has been addressed here and there for specific applications, but as far as I can tell, not in any kind of comprehensive way.  What can we do about Scrap Learning?  Scrap Marketing?  Scrap Sales?  Scrap Service?

And then, think about what this looks like from a cross-silo view, the Inter-departmental Scrap, the Scrap created because there are not clear metrics channels calibrated so the success metrics of one department do not conflict with the success metrics of another department.

Brother, that’s a lot of Scrap.  Are your metrics aligned with your mission?  Or are you incented to produce a lot of Scrap?

10 thoughts on ““Scrap Learning”

  1. Yes, you are right scrap learning is an issue for big companies, and in fact, the SyberWorks Web-Based Learning Management System has this capability and more.

    As far as addressing the fear of analytics, well, that’s like trying to cure ‘math anxiety’–good luck with that and let us know what you come up with because I am sure it would help alot of marketers.

    Glad you are blogging now, alway have a great newsletter filled with valuable stuff. Best Regards, Mary Kay Lofurno

  2. Thanks for the comment Mary Kay. My brief tour of the Training world was just fantastic and though it seems to be over-populated with a lot of academic theory (which I guess you might expect, we’re talking education, after all) there are a few folks who are pressing the limits and dragging academic theory into the real world.

    Those who might have interests in this area, particularly relative to customer experience and performance measurement, should check out Dr. Peter Honebein:


    and Dr. Dean Spitzer:


    As far as the “analytical culture” thing, I’m workin’ on it, to be sure.  For example, both the folks above have behavioral models that work in their own spaces, but there is something larger out there, I’m thinkin’.  We’re right on the edge of figuring this out, but not quite there yet…

    For example, here is what I want to know: How come it is OK to “fail” at hanging a picture the way I want it hung, and learn from that experience so that the second one I hang is just right?  How come it is OK to fail at playing a video game the first time, knowing that I learn from this failure and go on to do better the next time?  And given this, how come it is not OK to fail at any business task based on realistic metrics?  Why don’t I simply get the same feeling I get with hanging pictures or playing video games, that initial failure is simply a Learning Experience, and that I will do better next time?

    Because in these first two examples I’m doing it on my own?  No business peanut gallery to insult me?  Perhaps.  But here’s the thing, failure in hanging pictures or playng a video game feels very natural to me; I expect it and I am Learning by making mistakes.  Is there any other way to Learn?  When you are a child, how do you Learn not to touch a hot burner on the stove?  Why people would insult me in a business setting for the same Learning behavior (seems to me) is at the root of the analytical culture question.

    For example, what if I am researching new drugs in a big drug company.  I must get pretty used to failure.  I learn from that failure every time, apply this new knowledge, and go on to get it right.  That’s the way research works.  Is there something wrong with that?  Do I get punished for failure, do people ridicule me for failure?  No.  Failure is a Learning experience, and I might fail for 10 or 20 years before I get it right.

    Further, I might never, ever succeed with my drug.  My research might be a complete failure, in terms of commercial success.  But in this context, I have created Learning that is valuable, I have provided a “base” that others can use to grow on, improve on, use to avoid failure.

    And this work has no value?  Really?  C’mon, are you sure that Failure is not a Learning experience?

    Why is there this double standard?  What is the actionable Root Cause of this?  How do we fix this?

  3. Your experience and posts about your trip to the Learning conference really highlights some things for me that are really wrong in today’s corporate world. First of all, how many people actually go to conferences OUTSIDE their own industry or function to see how the rest of the world lives? Very few is my bet. But on the flip side, how many firms would PAY FOR people (like analytics or marketing folks) to actually go to conferences that didn’t fit their narrow industry or job description? Again, very few is my bet. But it’s not just for individual people to get out of their comfort zone for training — the learning/training professionals have to help find the right learning vehicles and push for the funds that are available to go these opportunities — and away from the “scrap” ones.

    p.s. As someone on the other side of the table from the training/learning professionals, I have another name for the training that goes unused and to waste: Crap learning. Training programs that aren’t needed, too basic, and/or poorly delivered. Hats off to the learning pros for putting an S in front of that. :)

  4. Training professionals must get real about what “learning” is and common sense should enter the process at some point.
    I can spend a decent amount of time telling stories of “training” sessions I’ve been made to attend over the years and that, were it not for the absurdity of the content or the lunacy of the delivery, I wouldn’t even remember having attended.
    Like it or not, for most basic to mid-level subject what seems to work for most folks is a traditional learning environment: teacher, classroom, books, assignments
    Ron raises an excellent point: useful learning is not only along the lines of a job description and few companies have the foresight to promote learning outside one’s field.

  5. Gentlemen:

    It appears to me you are both simply bitter and looking for a bar brawl.

    My new friends in Training tell me that there is NOT a quality issue with Training, it is a Measurement problem. You see, the Training is actually quite good, however, the department’s ability to Measure the impact of Training on the business is very difficult. Don’t you know.

    I asked, “Can’t you just do pre- and post- measurement and look for incremental improvement? Why is that so hard?” Well, I was scolded for that idea, you see, there are so many issues that are “out of Training’s control” when it comes to job performance. For example, what if the worker is “sad” for some reason after taking the course (perhaps because of taking the course)? This worker’s performance may be depressed even though the worker took a most excellent course. So you see? There is so much out of Training’s control.

    Sure, they could use a Performance-based approach, where the output of the Training was designed to be something Measurable, but that is a new idea and not widely accepted in the industry, it’s a whacko fringe kind of thing put forth by academics looking to sell books and consulting.

    You see? Right.

    On the topic of cross-silo education budgets (a Marketing person goes to a Customer Service conference, heaven forbid) I can’t tell you how many times I thought about this issue while I was at the Training conference. I have no good answers, I am sorry to say. In a world where it is known that as much as 50% of Training is wasted, but the measurement of success in Training is the volume of course hours taught, I simply shake my head. And I thought Marketing was busted. Yet these same Training folks bemoan the loss of their “seat at the table” in terms of high level representation and strategic contribution to the business.

    I’m starting to wonder if *anybody* is sitting at that damn table. In fact, I’m starting to think the table doesn’t even have any chairs to sit in!

    How did we get to this place? There has to be a way to fix this.

    P.S. I was in an “advanced” session that was talking about “Productivity Dashboards” for Human Capital measurement.  The audience was fascinated by the idea of Revenue per Employee.  They’d never heard of it, but were advised that the “CEO looks at it” and they should track it.


  6. For what it is worth, the original description of “learning scrap” is in The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning (2006) which defines it this way:

    “‘Learning scrap’ is training that goes unused. It is the educational
    equivalent of manufacturing scrap. Like manufacturing scrap, learning
    scrap has a high cost in terms of the direct costs of trainers, travel,
    time, materials, and so forth, as well as the lost opportunity costs of
    having people spend time in programs learning things they cannot or
    will not use. There is also the very real cost of customer dissatisfaction
    when departments invest in training but observe no subsequent benefit.”

  7. Roy, thanks for that. Great that the industry recognizes this problem and understands “hours taught” may not be a great metric for success.

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