6 Causes of Scrap Learning and How to Fix Them

Written by Cristina Hall, Vice President of Marketing | Explorance.

Scrap Learning costs organizations millions of dollars in wasted training. In a previous post, “What is Scrap Learning?”, we defined Scrap Learning and explained how to calculate the Scrap Learning rate for your organization. As we all know, the awareness that you have a problem is simply the first step; the next steps involve determining why the problem exists and how to fix it. This post will describe the most typical causes of Scrap Learning and offer tips to begin reducing it within your organization.

6 Causes of Scrap Learning

  1. Lack of business alignment
    L&D programs should clearly align with the business strategy, but this is often easier said than done. Scrap due to lack of business alignment occurs when program objectives are not in line with strategic goals, or when the deployment of the program does not match the business need.

    Tips for improving business alignment:
    • Review your intake process. Does it include a detailed discussion and documentation of the specific business need and the specific business outcomes that will be impacted if the program is applied correctly?
    • Periodically rationalize your L&D catalog. What is your process to review whether a program or asset has lived its useful life and should no longer be maintained? If you don’t have a structured process for deciding when to stop delivering a program, create one.
  2. Poor course or content design
    Low-quality content may stem from a lack of understanding of the desired business outcome, insufficient focus on designing for the learner population’s needs, too little in-class practice, or inadequate support materials to reinforce the content during class.

    Tips for improving content quality:
    • Conduct an appropriate needs assessment to understand learners’ needs and work environment so that examples and support materials will be relevant to them.
    • Use sound adult learning practices when designing new programs, so that content is engaging for learners, and there are sufficient opportunities for them to practice applying as they learn.
    • Consider adjusting the delivery modality. Learners are increasingly impatient and want just-in-time learning experiences tailored to their specific needs. Are there opportunities to break content into smaller chunks and make them available on-demand via informal or social learning channels?
  3. Ineffective delivery
    Instructor performance issues typically stem from insufficient knowledge of the subject matter, boring or dry delivery style, a lack of examples that help learners connect the material with their day to day job, or poor course pacing.

    Tips for improving delivery effectiveness:
    • Work with instructors on their delivery approach and style and allow them to shadow high-performing instructors.
    • Encourage regular peer-to-peer sharing among instructors that teach the same course, to exchange ideas about which examples resonate or other adjustments that have been made to the delivery.
  4. Unclear learner direction
    Sometimes learners inadvertently choose courses that they don’t belong in or aren’t even sure why they were sent to training. This could be due to unclear communication of course objectives or prerequisites, or because of mandated training that is required but may not be relevant. Sometimes training is given too soon, resulting in a long gap between the training and the learner’s opportunity to apply it on the job.

    Tips for improving learner direction:
    • Look at Scrap Learning by audience segment; are there learners who are attending that shouldn’t be? What is leading them to enroll? Consider adjusting course descriptions to clarify who the course is targeted towards or get manager approval before enrollment.
    • Maintain close alignment with cross-functional project teams where training is a component of the delivery and change management plan. If critical dates, such as the go-live for a new software tool, are delayed, ensure that the training dates move, so there is not a large gap between training and the go-live date.
  5. Lack of learner engagement
    A number of factors drive low learner engagement. Learners may already know the information or may not see the value of learning the material and changing their behavior.

    Tips for improving learner engagement:
    • Consider offering an opt-out opportunity, such as a skill assessment that indicates that an individual is already familiar with the material.
    • Identify the source of low learner motivation and develop a plan to address it. Cross-functional partnerships with the business will likely be necessary.
    • Ensure program materials explicitly tie back to organizational goals and expectations. The course materials and delivery need to provide the WIIFM for each learner.
  6. Low manager support on the job
    Manager support back on the job is a critical influence on the Scrap Learning rate. It’s more difficult for learners to apply new knowledge and skills on the job when managers are not aware of the behaviors employees are trying to apply or do not provide the time or opportunity for employees to practice new skills as they gain the competency.

    Tips for improving manager support:
    • Establish expectations for learners and managers to discuss training objectives before training and set goals for application after training.
    • Design for manager support when planning strategic, high-impact programs. Consider pre-class assessments and a formal post-class communication plan that ensures that learners and their managers have the tools and encouragement they need to ensure the training is applied and positively impacts job performance.

This wide array of potential causes and solutions underlines the importance of understanding the root cause of high Scrap Learning rates so that the most impactful actions can be taken to improve. Knowing which of these elements is contributing most to the Scrap Learning rate is an important first step toward improvement. Users of Explorance’s Metrics That Matter learning evaluation platform can use built-in statistical analysis tools to identify key drivers of Scrap Learning at the course level. This saves time and dollars while dramatically improving the accuracy and efficacy of their action plans to reduce scrap.


Scrap Learning can be reduced and managed with proper attention. Continuous measurement of a balanced set of KPIs, including Scrap Learning, will allow you to track improvements and monitor for unexpected increases so you can minimize wasted learning and maximize training’s impact on critical business results.

Click here to learn more about measuring your L&D department’s effectiveness, including optimizing Scrap Learning.


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