ATD Blog

How Much Is Scrap Learning Costing Your Organization?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What’s the number one issue facing the L&D profession today? Scrap learning. If you haven’t heard the phrase yet, you will. 

Scrap learning, a term coined by KnowledgeAdvisors, describes the wasteland of learning that is delivered but not applied on the job. It’s a critical business issue because it wastes money and time—precious organizational resources. 

How Big Is the Problem? 

Two benchmark research studies help put this issue in perspective. In 2004, Rob Brinkerhoff, professor at Western Michigan University, found that slightly less than 20 percent of learners never apply what they learn in a training program back on the job, and another 65 percent try to apply what they learned, but revert back to their old ways. Totaled this equates to a whopping 80 to 85 percent of scrap learning. 

More recently, a 2014 CEB white paper reported that in the average organization, 45 percent of all learning delivered ends up not being applied. (You can read about the CEB study in the ATD Senior Leaders Blog post, “Build a Learning Franchise to Reduce Wasted Learning.”)

What Does Scrap Learning Look like at the Individual Organizational Level? 

Two statistics from the ATD 2015 State of the Industry Report help bring this issue into focus:

  1. average per employee training expenditure
  2. average number of training hours consumed per employee. 

The 2015 SOIR reports that these two figures were $1229 and 32.4 hours, respectively.
Applying these stats to CEB’s 45 percent scrap learning figure, you can see that $553 of the $1229 is wasted money and 14.6 of the 32.4 hours is wasted time. The picture becomes even more bleak when we apply these stats to the Brinkerhoff research, which shows that $983 of $1229 is wasted money and 25.9 of the 32.4 hours is wasted time. (See Table 1.)


Table 1: Scrap Learning at the Organizational Level


CEB (45%)

Brinkerhoff (80%)


$1229 X 45% =
$553 wasted


$1229 X 80% =
$983 wasted


32.4 X 45% =
14.6 hours wasted

32.4 X 80% =
25.9 hours wasted

Whether it’s 45 percent or 80 percent, think about the resources wasted in planning and delivering training—and the lost opportunity from training not applied!

What’s the Solution?

Enter Predictive Learning Analytics™ (PLA), a new methodology for peering into the future.

PLA gives you the ability to identify which learners are most--and least--likely to apply what they learned in a training program back on the job, as well as identify what obstacles are preventing participants from applying all that they learned. 

Want to learn more about Predictive Learning Analytics™ and how it can add value in your organization? Join me at the ATD Core 4 Conference on September 29-30 in New Orleans for the session: Boost Training Transfer Using Predictive Learning Analytics.   

About the Author

Ken is the founder and CEO of Phillips Associates and the creator of the Predictive Learning Analytics™ (PLA) learning evaluation methodology. He is also a measurement and evaluation master, having spoken and received rave reviews at the ATD International Conference & EXPO on measuring and evaluating learning issues every year since 2008. He also has presented at the Annual Training Conference and Expo every year since 2013 on similar topics.
Ken has pooled his measurement and evaluation knowledge and experience into workshops and presentations for L&D professionals. All the sessions are highly engaging, practical, and filled with relevant content most L&D professionals haven't previously heard. In short, they are not a rehash of traditional measurement and evaluation theory.
Before pursuing a PhD in the combined organizational behavior and educational administration fields at Northwestern University, Ken held management positions with two colleges and two national corporations. Also, he has more than two dozen published learning instruments and articles to his credit. Ken is also a contributing author to five L&D books and the author of the recently released TD at Work publication titled, "Evaluate Learning with Predictive Learning Analytics."
Ken earned the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance CPLP® (now CPTD) credential from ATD in 2006 as a pilot pioneer and has recertified five times, most recently in 2021.

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