Skillsoft Blog

Advice on Avoiding Scrap to Make e-Learning Effective

We are pleased to bring you a guest blog post today from John R. Mattox, II, Ph.D., director of research for KnowledgeAdvisors, a learning measurement software and solutions company focused on improving the effectiveness of learning.

By John R. Mattox, II, Ph.D., KnowledgeAdvisors

What is Scrap Learning?

Scrap learning is learning that is lost after training.  Three great minds give us context and provide a better understanding of the concept:

  • Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist, and in the 1880’s he elegantly demonstrated that memory fades exponentially with time.  By extension the knowledge and skills gained during training fade as well.
  • B. F. Skinner, a behavioral psychologist, stated, “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.”
  • Lastly, Brinkerhoff extended the idea and provided the label, scrap learning, by focusing on application.  If learning is not applied, it is lost.

Building on this notion of lost learning, KnowledgeAdvisors began using a single question to assess scarp using the Metrics That Matter® system.  The following question is a standard item on a post-event evaluation:  “I will be able to apply what I learned within: 0 – 1 week, 2 – 4 weeks, 5 – 6 weeks, I intend to apply, I will not apply.”

Mathematically, scrap learning is computed by summing the percentage of people who apply training within six weeks and subtracting that from 100:

Scrap learning = (100% – (sum of percentage responses from 0 – 6 weeks)).

Results from Metrics That Matter® indicate that scrap learning is 65% on average across corporate universities.

Avoiding Scrap with e-Learning

Here are two effective ways of minimizing scrap with regard to e-learning :  apply effective design principles when developing training and engage managers in the learning process.

  • Design
    • Apply design principles when creating learning. Do a thorough needs assessment.  Ensure the course is relevant to the needs of the learners. Provide core knowledge and enhance skills that are needed on the job.
    • Timing: Chunk information appropriately:  Finding time to participate in e-learning is difficult.  Chunk the learning into reasonable, consumable bites so it is efficient and timely.
    • Technology: Use an appropriate platform: Learners are getting more savvy with higher expectations of quality.  Learners will not suffer through pages of pages of text when interactive options are available.
  • Manager engagement
    • Check in with learners before training to set expectations. Manager should explain,  “This is why you are going to training, “  “Here’s what I expect you will learn,” and “Here’s how you will apply what you learn…”
    • Determine if the attendee is ready to go to training.  Does the person have the pre-requisite knowledge and skills to gain value from training?
    • Stay engaged after training: Inquire about training and whether knowledge and skills were acquired.
    • Follow up on expectations:  Check to determine if expectations were reasonable. Set a plan to apply learning.
    • Provide performance resources: Assign projects that allow learners to apply their new skills.  Provide tools (e.g., software), budget and staff as needed to achieve the goals.  Provide reinforcement and coaching to guide performance.

For more detailed information about reducing scrap learning and manager engagement, please see the following articles:

Training Industry Quarterly:

Manager Engagement: Reducing Scrap Learning (Fall 2010)

CLO Magazine:

Learning and Manager Engagement (March 2011)

Manager’s Responsibility in Learning (July 2011)

Also, please join SkillSoft’s Global Director of Loyalty Strategy Kieran King, as she hosts a webinar on scrap learning, Maximizing the ROI of Learning:  Five Techniques to Reduce “Scrap Learning,” on August 30 at 11:00-12:00pm EST, 3:00-4:00pm GMT.

To register for the webinar please visit:

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