What Is Scrap Learning and How Much Is It Costing Your L&D Department?

There’s a billboard near my house that’s my current favorite piece of outdoor advertising. It reads, “HOLY SCRAP, WE’RE 100!” and promotes a recycling company.


Photo from Lamar Advertising's Facebook page

I love the play on words, using “Holy scrap” instead of “Holy crap” as a company that recycles, you guessed it, scrap metal. 

Unfortunately, when you combine “scrap” and “learning,” it’s not such a delightful bit of wordplay.

Scrap Learning: A term for when employees consume training content but fail to apply it on the job, resulting in wasted resources and lost productivity for the organization. 

Unsurprisingly, scrap learning is a big problem in corporate training. 

What Causes Scrap Learning?

  • Lack of Strategic Alignment: When training programs aren’t aligned with strategic objectives and business needs, that training becomes irrelevant, and any knowledge gained is wasted. 
  • Inadequate Course Design: Poorly designed courses—courses that suffer from insufficient focus on learner needs, inadequate practice opportunities, or insufficient support materials—are unlikely to result in significant knowledge retention or behavior change. Well, scrap!
  • Ineffective Instructional Delivery: Instructor performance issues, such as unengaging delivery, using examples that don’t resonate, or a lack of personal expertise on the subject, can lead to scrap learning.
  • Unclear Learner Direction: Employees may not understand the learning objectives or choose courses irrelevant to their roles without proper guidance. Instead of letting employees waste their time on irrelevant training, align training programs with job roles and business needs.
  • Insufficient Support and Follow-up: Learners may not retain or apply skills due to inadequate support and follow-up after training, including insufficient practice opportunities and lack of feedback on their performance.

Knowing WHY your learning isn’t being applied is the first step toward minimizing scrap learning and optimizing the effectiveness of your training programs. 

Keep reading if you need help convincing your stakeholders that a training effectiveness analysis is necessary. These numbers will make them shout, “Holy scrap!”

The Financial Impact of Scrap Learning

A 2014 study by Gartner (then CEB Global) found that an estimated 45% of delivered training was not actually applied on the job, turning it into scrap learning. 

Another study, done by Rob Brinkerhoff, a professor at Western Michigan University, found that:

  • Nearly 20% of learners never apply what they learn in a training program back
  • 65% try to apply what they learned but end up reverting back to their pre-training habits

These statistics paint a depressing picture: nearly half of the money and time spent on training is wasted on content not applied on the job.

To calculate the cost of scrap learning, organizations need to know two key metrics:

  1. The total annual cost of all L&D programs, including administrative, development, delivery, technology, and travel expenses. 
  2. The organization's overall scrap learning rate, which can be determined through measurement and analysis.

Organizations can calculate the annual cost of scrap learning by multiplying the total L&D spend by the scrap learning rate. The chart below provides examples. 

Total L&D Spend

% Training Not Applied

Cost of Scrap Learning

$1 million



$2 million



$3 million



That’s a lot of money to be wasting!

Tracking scrap learning at the program or course level can also provide valuable insights. While calculating the exact cost for each program may require some assumptions, monitoring the scrap learning rate for high-volume courses allows organizations to identify and target the areas with the greatest opportunity for improvement. 

By quantifying the financial impact of scrap learning, organizations can build a compelling business case for investing in strategies to improve training effectiveness and minimize wasted resources. Organizations might choose to prevent scrap learning by investing in custom-built courses instead of off-the-shelf courseware. By opting for custom solutions, L&D managers can drive effective learning and superior learning outcomes. 

ELB Learning will help you build better learning experiences through our custom eLearning course development for corporate staff development. Let our training and development specialists help you increase employee productivity with upskilling courses that will engage them from start to finish.

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