For many companies, the events of the past 18 months accelerated the need for organizational transformation.

Not only is upskilling and reskilling a top priority for learning and development (L&D) professionals globally, the softer side of workforce development, including communication, diversity training and resilient leadership skills requires organizations to develop new flexible and immersive training modalities. This ability for a company to learn, unlearn and relearn has never been more vital for business to succeed. In a world that is constantly changing, every right idea is eventually the wrong one. How can organizations develop and future-proof the workforce talent as a dynamic and renewable resource?

The answers might be in plain sight. The upside of the disruption in 2020 was that L&D leaders moved at lightning speed to deliver learning programs to help employees manage through the crisis and stay productive from home. In LinkedIn’s latest Workplace Learning Report, 64% of L&D professionals globally agree that this was the moment learning shifted from a “nice to have” to a “need to have.” Hybrid workplaces — organizations that function with some employees working remotely and some in a traditional office environment — is going to be the way we work for the foreseeable future. That means that the pivot L&D has been making for years from instructor-led training (ILT) to blended online learning — learning experiences with a mix of virtual instructor-led training (VILT) and online learning — is now the status quo.

With this, many organizations are turning toward dynamic, scalable learning environments that are rich in social and collaborative features that aim to develop skills for long-term career advancement. At the forefront of this movement is the rise of corporate education academies. Through these learning environments, there’s a growing emphasis on fostering “human” skills such as communication, emotional intelligence and collaboration. Why is this? Because studies show that human skills are required to drive the change and innovation that power business today. Unlike older corporate learning, these academies use a mix of resources that foster ongoing professional development and are designed to flex on how the modern workforce learns, collaborates and applies skills on the job — whether remotely, in-person or hybrid work cultures.

From Corporate Training to Human-centric Academies

The idea of an internal corporate “university” has been a growing trend for decades, with companies like General Motors and McDonald’s creating company-owned and operated training academies dating back to the mid-20th century. Along the way, as more corporations launched their own learning academies, it’s become clear that these type of dynamic training experiences can lead to increased financial performance for companies. Along with this positive training effect hitting the bottom line, corporate academies are a great tool for getting change to take root in three critical areas.

1.   Creating a Culture of Infinite Learners

In today’s business environment where the rules (and sometimes players) constantly change, companies need to stop playing the game as if it has a distinct beginning, middle and end. Think of it as the difference between playing baseball and playing a video game. The business goal is no longer to win at the game, like baseball (and then you’re done), but to stay in the game and thrive. It is a dynamic game where the rules, characters and storyline can and will change. Getting good at this in business requires on-going training and learning as workforces develop with evolving capabilities that can flex and adapt to the changing needs of the business.

Unlike traditional corporate learning, academies use a mix of resources including shared content from leaders and experts, learning experiences, personalized microlearning, coaching programs and even capstone projects. This continuous learning experience allows an organization to shift away from “one and done,” and instead encourage infinite learning that meshes with the daily workflow. Moreover, if the corporate culture needs to shift, the corporate academy is there to make sure that the shift maintains momentum and gets buy-in.

2.   Use Storytelling to Increase Knowledge and Innovation

The most pressing challenge in training workshops over the past 20 years is how organizations struggle to cross-pollinate ideas, best practices and implement cross functional collaboration that leads to breakthrough innovations. At the root of this is often a lack of storytelling, and as an organization grows larger, adopting outdated technologies and inefficient practices to communicate and share stories with one another.

The cost of inefficient practices is corporate agility. In the past 10 years, major global companies in every product category have lost market share to brands less than five years old. These organizations have less people, less resources and almost non-existent marketing budgets. What they do have is the advantage of small teams working and collaborating with shared ideas, innovations and speed, all things that vex larger companies with lumbering hierarchical structures and complicated processes. Transforming this large organizational conundrum requires a company to adopt agile planning and communication that allows the organization to share ideas, test, iterate, flex, recalibrate and launch products and services with faster development cycles.

A learning academy is a great incubator for this; creating a safe space to take risks by blending student cohorts across the company. Shared storytelling helps generate a valuable interchange of ideas, increases employee relationships across even the largest of companies and often drives more cooperation and innovation in the future.

3.   Transform Career Paths from Ladders to Jungle Gyms

Because we now live in a world where every part of business, from marketing to sales to supply chain to customer service, has been continually reinvented, the traditional upward linear career path has transformed into a lateral jungle gym of opportunities that feed an increasingly shapeshifting generation of workers looking for more diverse challenges. To meet this, L&D professionals are realizing that workforce development is moving from teaching employees “a few new skills” to one of “reinventing how careers are built.” Keeping employees engaged is hugely beneficial to organizations. It can increase productivity, decrease turnover and give employees a sense of purpose.

Corporate universities can be a tremendous force that can help arm employees with a better ability to adapt to a wide range of environments — something that is critical in the increasingly borderless global economy. The next generation of learning directly addresses this by combining the benefits of a capability academy (such as collaboration, learning in the flow of work, assessments, etc.) with relevant examples that directly relate to their day-to-day work. It’s an opportunity for companies to leverage their learning academy to grow their employees’ leadership skills and train people for management or cross functional growth positions, and for certain organizations, create a talent magnet by using corporate academies to help attract the best and brightest at every level.