5 Steps to avoiding Scrap Learning

People learn daily whether consciously or unconsciously. Learning is one of the most potent weapons for individual and organizational change. However, a good chunk of learning is wasted.

Different pieces of research have been carried out on Scrap Learning. However, two have stood the test of time. The first is research by Rob Brinkerhoff in 2004. He found that about 20% of learners never apply what they have learned back on the job while 65% temporarily apply what they have learned but go back to their former ways of working. Clearly, about 80 – 85% of learning is Scrap Learning.

The second is a 2014 CEB (now Gartner) research titled “Confronting Scrap Learning”. This research shows that 45% of all organization’s learning ends up not being applied back at work. In other words, learning does not translate to increased productivity and performance.

In our findings, over 80% of learning ends up as Scrap Learning, aligning more with Rob Brinkerhoff’s research. Even if we choose to be conservative, at least half of the learning investments and half of employees’ time spent in formal training produce no value for the organization and the employees

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5 steps to avoid scrap learning
Table of Contents

What is Scrap learning?

“Learning has always been one of the secret weapons of the world’s highest-performing companies,” says Josh Bersin, Industry Analyst and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte.

With so much change happening around us, learning remains one of the most critical tools for navigating change. Although organizations develop and deploy learning content, much has not been realized from these initiatives. In fact, there is a serious disconnect between Learning and Development (L&D) activities and overall business objectives. Most learning programmes are not aligned to organizations’ business needs and priorities.

So, what happens to the contents that have been absorbed during learning? To what extent are they applied to real-life scenarios? The simple truth is: much of the learning that takes place in organizations is not applied back at work – learning is wasted!

Scrap learning, a term coined by a company called Knowledge Advisors, refers to learning that is delivered but will not be applied by the learner on the job. In other words, Scrap Learning is the learning acquired or developed that is not applied to the job.

There are several factors that result in Scrap Learning some of which include:

  • Misalignment of learning with business priorities
  • Low organizational support
  • Not enough support materials for learning or training
  • No accountability – ‘I don’t care’ attitude towards learning or training
  • No time to apply – “Too busy” what has been learned
  • No metrics to track learning
  • No training or learning goals
  • Lack of manager engagement
  • “I-know-it-before” attitude towards learning
  • Irrelevant learning content
  • Learners not motivated and recognized
  • No appropriate learning action plan
  • No feedback or follow up on learning progress and application
  • Lack of visibility of learning systems
  • Manual training and learning administration processes

Steps to avoid Scrap Learning

1. Know the set of competencies to be developed

It is not enough to learn. Whatever you are learning is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. Before undertaking any learning endeavor, it is important to identify the skill set to develop. For instance, a learner may decide to sharpen presentation skills. In this case, the learner knows the specific learning need. In another example, a learner may meet a superior e.g., line manager or supervisor to identify learning needs and associated competencies. So, whether the learning is self-inspired or not, identifying competencies to develop sets the right foundation for effective learning endeavors.

2. Understand the expected performance outcome alongside success metrics

One popular saying is very apt, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ Before setting out on a journey, it’s good to know the destination. Having understood the competencies to be developed, the next step is to establish the learning outcome. In establishing the learning outcome, attention should be paid to setting SMART metrics. For instance, if you are trying to develop ‘Speed Typing’ competency,, a SMART performance outcome is being able to type 600 characters per minute.

3. Know the performance gaps that exist

Having understood the expected performance outcome, the next thing to do is to uncover skills or competency gaps. A skills gap is the difference between the skills required for a job and what you possess. For example, if your current typing speed is 275 characters per minute, and the ideal is 600 characters per minute, then you know the gap that exists.

To know your skills gap, you need to perform a self-assessment and possibly validate your skills with a third-party. A third-party in this case could be your line manager, supervisor, mentor, or anyone who you think can provide you honest feedback about your skills. Whatever the situation, the goal of identifying skills and competency gaps is to help you uncover your unconscious and conscious incompetence while driving conscious and unconscious competence using fact-based skills gap analysis.

4. Create an action plan to close the identified skills gap

Remember the saying “what gets measured gets done?” This applies to learning and development activities, too. A personalized development plan should consist of step-by-step actions or activities required to close the identified skills gap. Learning action plans together with post-learning evaluation help put learning actions into perspective. As an example, if you want to start typing at 600 characters per minute, then it is important that you know the first thing to do, the second, the third, and so forth. This means there is a clear roadmap to developing typing speed.

5. Evaluate learning outcome

It is important to evaluate what you have learned and how it impacts business outcomes. Training evaluation surveys, direct on-the-job observations, and changes in behavior are some of the ways to evaluate and track learning. It is good practice to ensure that all action plans, learning steps, and performance outcomes are ticked off. While others may be involved in evaluating your progress, it is imperative you take the driver’s seat of all your learning – from the planning stage to the feedback stage.

What to do next

What is next for individuals

It is important to follow the above-mentioned steps in your learning and development endeavors. Do not just study and thrash. Use what you have learned. In planning your learning and development, you may use Trello or a tool as simple as Microsoft Excel in creating a checklist and planning learning cadence to help you track and monitor learning progress. It is worthy of note that business analysis competency helps you to effectively analyze where you are and where you want to be as regards learning. When planning the learning cadence and steps, you will find project management useful.

If you still struggle with developing an outcome-based learning programme, you can consult knowledge-matter experts.

What is next for organizations

In order to design learning and development activities, the entire organization should be involved, including employees, line managers, subject matter experts, and L&D departments. Ultimately, the goal should be to commit to measurable improvements in the employee’s capability and the company’s performance.

Using Laudah, organizations can perform training needs analysis by identifying the best solution to performance problems and creating a realistic plan with practice scenarios that may or may not include formal training. This ensures that resources are expended most effectively where they can have the greatest impact on the performance of the organization.

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