In today's rapidly changing business landscape, organizations must continuously upskill and reskill their workforce to remain competitive. This is where learning academies come in. Learning academies are an effective mechanism for providing ongoing training and development for employees while ensuring that the learning aligns with organizational strategy and performance goals.
According to an article by Lee Lazarus and Janine Kurnoff, traditional corporate universities such as GE's Crotonville, McDonald's Hamburger University, and many others have evolved into learning academies that leverage technologies and data to deliver more personalized learning pathways to employees. Learning Academies are becoming increasingly popular because they provide a curated approach to learning and development by offering a range of courses and programs that are designed to align the specific performance goals of the organization with the learning needs of its employees.
Learning academies are particularly effective at developing skills in areas such as leadership, communication, storytelling, and problem-solving. These skills are essential in today's workplace in particular, because they enable the workforce to differentiate themselves from AI, which is rapidly evolving and permeating every business sector. A recent McKinsey report stated that "employers are increasingly looking for employees who possess soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking." Learning academies help employees develop these skills and improve their overall performance.
One of the key benefits of learning academies is that they provide an aligned approach to Learning and Development. Learning and Development teams can partner with subject matter experts and business unit leaders to align the learning experiences and ensure they drive business goals. Business units can define such alignment needs and ensure that the learning experiences line up with business goals and the broader organizational performance goals. Academies make learning experiences available to employees through the same courses and programs, which means that everyone is working towards the same goals. This can help to create a culture of continuous learning where employees are encouraged to take ownership of their own development.
As most learning academies are led by business units in collaboration with Learning and Development teams, they are constantly evolving and adapting learning to the business's needs. Business unit leaders are on the front lines of designing and delivering products and services to meet customer needs. As such, they have first-hand knowledge of how the business has to evolve and adapt to meet these customer needs. Learning and Development teams can help business units remain adaptive by identifying the skills employees need to move the business forward and have first-hand knowledge of what learning material is available for each of those skills.
Learning academies can provide learners with self-assessments that offer employees the agency and confidence to self-evaluate and decide how to take action to leverage their strengths and build upon their opportunities for improvement. While not psychometric tools, self-assessments can be developed in-house and deployed rather quickly in specific content areas, deliver customized reports for each employee providing insights into their self-perceived strengths and weakness, and offer a personalized, curated learning pathway to each respondent who self-assessed.
Another benefit of learning academies is the continuous curation of new content by the business unit, which can help foster a learning culture, cultivate lifelong learners, and ultimately decrease the skill gaps within an organization. For example, as new technologies and processes are introduced, employees need to develop new skills to keep up. Learning academies help to bridge this gap by curating and providing Learning and Development opportunities that are aligned with the needs of the organization, on a continuous basis.
By centering on learner needs, preferences, and wants, learning academies help to increase employee engagement and retention. When employees feel that their employer is investing in their development, they are more likely to feel valued and engaged, which in turn leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, lower levels of employee turnover, and ultimately better business performance results. As discussed earlier, learning academies offer curated learning experiences that are tailored to the individual needs of employees, taking into account their specific skills, interests, and goals. By providing employees with access to these types of learning opportunities, organizations give employees agency and empower them to take charge of their own professional development. This enhances the employee's experience  and leads to a sense of ownership and pride in their work, which, in turn, can increase engagement levels.
Peer-to-peer or cohort learning  enables employees to learn from each other. This technique has been increasingly popular, whereby learners are encouraged to work in groups and discuss topics among themselves. Peer-to-peer learning fosters a collaborative environment that encourages interaction and engagement. In contrast to traditional lecture-based learning, where students are passive recipients of knowledge, peer-to-peer learning provides a platform for students to actively participate in the learning process. This approach allows learners to share their knowledge, opinions, and experiences with one another, cultivates diversity of thought, and leads to a broader and deeper understanding of the subject matter. In their HBR article , Kelly Palmer and David Blake highlight how peer-to-peer learning cultivates the "learning loop," whereby learners acquire knowledge and skills, practice what they learned, receive feedback, and reflect on all they learned. Peer-to-peer learning allows individuals to share their unique experiences and viewpoints, which can broaden their understanding of a particular topic. This exchange of information enhances the learning experience and fosters social cohesion and empathy among the learners. Additionally, peer-to-peer learning promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as students work together to tackle complex issues.
Learning academies are a valuable construct and approach for organizations looking to improve their Learning and Development programs. They offer alignment, curation, adaptability, engagement, and peer-to-peer learning, which can help employees develop the skills they need to succeed in today's ever-changing workplace. By investing in learning academies, business units can customize and curate continuous learning for their employees, and organizations at large can foster a culture of continuous learning, reduce the skill gap, and improve employee engagement and retention, all of which drive customer satisfaction and business performance results.
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