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The Future of Corporate Academies

Monday, May 22, 2023

Over the years, the term “corporate academy” has cycled in and out, and it’s on the rise. Clients often approach me 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 organizational role.

GP Strategies has worked with many 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 do their jobs better and aims to improve employee engagement and performance.

The Current State of Corporate Academies

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

Like traditional college syllabi, these academies often have a 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 where you need to be and improve your job ability.


The Future of Corporate Academies: Three 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 predictably build roles and job functions. The question is not just “What are the skills 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 brand manager functions.

Taking that last step to consider and integrate work related to a job role removes us from only 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 content-centric. That approach usually focuses on sequencing content in a way that progressively provides new information. But we now see 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 important to engagement and accountability. Because of these shifts to being more learner-centric and to bringing in authentic job-related learning experiences, academies now enable 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 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 can bring in a range of content sources.

So, you might have some user-generated content from inside the organization, buy some content that's unique in your industry, and possibly 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 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 Author

Matt Donovan is the senior vice president and chief learning and innovation officer at GP Strategies. He is a recognized name in learning, bringing more than 25 years of experience crafting learner-centric solutions and leading high-impact development teams. Not only has he received a large assortment of industry awards, including being named one of Training Magazine's Top 10 International Trainers under 40, his articles are regularly published and presented at a variety of national and international conferences. In his current role, Donovan has collaboratively implemented and grown GP Strategies’ Innovation Kitchen. You will often find him presenting at global industry conferences or writing articles for industry-specific publications.

In his former role as the global leader for digital learning strategies and solutions, Donovan oversaw the multifaceted team responsible for creating an extensive portfolio of engaging learning experiences employed by Fortune Global 500 companies. Many of these courses have received industry awards and recognition.

Donovan joined GP Strategies in 2009 with the acquisition of Option Six. He has an M.S. in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University.

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