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The Future of Corporate Academies

Over the years, the term “corporate academy” has cycled in and out, and it is definitely on the rise right now. I’m often approached by clients about them, so what exactly is a corporate academy, why are they on the rise, and what does the future have in store for them?

What Is a Corporate Academy?

A corporate academy is a body of instruction or a learning experience that helps prepare someone for a job or a role in an organization.

We have worked with a lot of customers to create, for example, a marketing academy. A marketing academy builds up the capability of marketing expertise in an organization, for everybody from a marketing associate to a brand manager. A marketing academy enables all those folks to better do their jobs and has the goal of improving employee engagement and performance.

The Current State of Corporate Academies

Many corporate academies are beginning to pull in more modern learning trends, but generally, their current state is in line with the legacy view of corporate academies, a traditional content-driven academy with 100- and 200-level content.

Much like traditional college syllabi, these academies often have a very clear progression, are content-centric, and are created to bring large masses of folks through a consistent learning experience. The problem with this legacy view of corporate academies is that this approach doesn’t always take you to where you need to be and improve your ability to do a job.

The Future of Corporate Academies: 3 Key Elements

Three important dimensions define the evolution of the corporate academy.

1. Tying Skills Taxonomies to Work Output

Across all aspects of learning and development, we’re seeing many discussions about skilling, upskilling, cross-skilling, and reskilling. People want to create skilling infrastructures that enable us to build roles and job functions predictably. The question is not just, “What are the skills that I need to be an effective brand manager?” for example. Instead, we are beginning to ask, “What do I need to know to produce this specific work product, like a brand plan?” Everything in the academy should reflect the skills that enable a brand manager to perform the actual functions of being a brand manager.

Taking that last step to consider and integrate work truly related to a job role removes us from just exploring passive knowledge and enables us to move toward active application. The learning experience goes from being a fringe element of an organization to being woven into the culture.

This shift to an active application changes behaviors and drives results in a given field. It creates deeper learner engagement, too—we’re not just asking people if they learned specific information but are having them apply their new knowledge to something relevant in their field.

2. Learner-Centric Approaches

The traditional approach to corporate academies has been very content centric. That approach usually focuses on sequencing content in a way that progressively provides new information. But we are now seeing much more personalization regarding job roles and learner needs. Learners are also now taking a more active role in their learning experience by identifying what they need to learn.

Additionally, learners often go through these academies with others. Being part of a social collaborative learning group is an important part of engagement and accountability. Because of these shifts to being more learner-centric and to bringing in authentic job-related learning experiences, academies are now enabling learners to take accountability for their journey, resulting in more engaged learners.

3. Curating a Range of Content Sources

The rise in learner-centric designs is pushing us to think more creatively about how we’re building content for these learning experiences. Historically, when we started an academy, we used to think that we had to create everything from scratch, but now we’re able to bring in a range of content sources.

So, you might have some user-generated content from inside the organization, you may buy some content that’s unique in your industry, and you may also be able to open source some of the content. A corporate academy no longer needs to be an absolute build. We are now sourcing content to curate a learner experience that’s held together by performance-oriented outcomes, activities, and achievements.

For more information on corporate academies, check out my latest appearance on GP Strategies’ Performance Matters podcast.

About the Authors

Matt Donovan
Chief Learning & Innovation Officer
Early in life, I found that I had a natural curiosity that not only led to a passion for learning and sharing with others, but it also got me into trouble. Although not a bad kid, I often found overly structured classrooms a challenge. I could be a bit disruptive as I would explore the content and activities in a manner that made sense to me. I found that classes and teachers that nurtured a personalized approach really resonated with me, while those that did not were demotivating and affected my relationship with the content. Too often, the conversation would come to a head where the teacher would ask, “Why can’t you learn it this way?” I would push back with, “Why can’t you teach it in a variety of ways?” The only path for success was when I would deconstruct and reconstruct the lessons in a meaningful way for myself. I would say that this early experience has shaped my career. I have been blessed with a range of opportunities to work with innovative organizations that advocate for the learner, endeavor to deliver relevance, and look to bend technology to further these goals. For example, while working at Unext.com, I had the opportunity to experience over 3,000 hours of “learnability” testing on my blended learning designs. I could see for my own eyes how learners would react to my designs and how they made meaning of it. Learners asked two common questions: Is it relevant to me? Is it authentic? Through observations of and conversations with learners, I began to sharpen my skills and designed for inclusion and relevance rather than control. This lesson has served me well. In our industry, we have become overly focused on the volume and arrangement of content, instead of its value. Not surprising—content is static and easier to define. Value (relevance), on the other hand, is fluid and much harder to describe. The real insight is that you can’t really design relevance; you can only design the environment or systems that promote it. Relevance ultimately is in the eye of the learner—not the designer. So, this is why, when asked for an elevator pitch, I share my passion of being an advocate for the learner and a warrior for relevance.

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