Scrap Learning

Sometimes we fail to learn. Sure, we go to training. But that is where we misstep.

We expect to return from training smarter and more skilled than ever before. But without any kind of regular and frequent reinforcement of what we learned we are likely to forget up to 90% of it, and fast. This goes for any kind of event where knowledge transfer takes place, be it classroom training, a seminar, a coaching session, e-learning, or reading a book.

I’ve heard this loss of new knowledge and skill referred to as “scrap learning.” Just like in production where pieces of raw material get scrapped if not used (i.e. scrap parts), in learning pieces of unused knowledge and skill get scrapped. What a waste of time and money. A poor investment if you ask me.

So what can we do to protect – better yet, gain – a higher return on our investment?

Before the learning event occurs, take this simple step. Engage with yourself, and your leader if he or she is sponsoring your attendance, to set expectations about why you are attending and what you want to learn. If there is no goal, you may end up focusing on nothing at all.

Use these simple questions to guide that discussion with your leader or with yourself:

  • Why am I taking part in this activity?
  • What will I do during it? How?
  • What will I do after?

Following the activity have another conversation with yourself, or your leader, to see how you did relative to your goals. Better yet, write it down or share it with a third person. We remember more when we take these extra steps.

Also, quickly look for opportunities to use what you gained from this activity. The more you use, the more you retain.

Third, monitor your progress and seek feedback from others as it relates to the application of new knowledge and skills. This feedback should be timely and, when possible, in-the-moment.

Use these simple questions to guide your post-activity reflection:

  • Why did I take part in this activity?
  • What do I do during?
  • What did I gain?
  • What will I do now?

Learning in the real world is not like learning in the movie The Matrix where the protagonist, Neo, instantly learns how to fight the bad guys by plugging a machine into the back of his head.

In reality, we learn by doing.

Remember how you learned to ride a bike? It wasn’t by sitting in a classroom, reading a book or listening to a lecture. It was by riding the bike. Your dad may have explained the basic mechanics to you first, but it didn’t become real until you started pedaling.

We should not expect that learning is a one-time event.

By engaging in self-reflection before and after a learning event we can reduce the chance of scrap learning and maximize the investment in ourselves.

What have you tried to make the most of learning?

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2 thoughts on “Scrap Learning

  1. Thanks for this piece Alan. When I teach leadership and the change model I use, Solution Focus, I have the learners engage before the learning by doing a pre-session learning needs assessment. At the session I have the leaners regularly develop ideas as to how they will use the ones that are relevant to them, and the first steps action plan back at work. Finally, I get them to think of a follow-through activity to later assess what’s worked in the learning, (especially if the group works for the same organization).

    I also think training firms need to change their evaluation formula from ‘likeability’ scores – usually about the training process – towards learning outcomes.

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