The New Corporate Academy: What You Need to Know and How to Build Your Own

A mainstay of enterprise learning, the corporate academy, is getting a glow up in 2024. Once seen as a way to easily disseminate learning to a company’s workforce, the academy has returned as a collaborative, interactive way to build skills and close the skills gap.

Whether you’re preparing to build a corporate academy, or you just want to know what all the buzz is about, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about the new corporate academy, and how to get started with one.

What is a corporate academy?

A corporate academy — also called a learning academy, training academy, or skills academy — is a specialized training and development program designed by an organization to enhance the skills and knowledge of its employees, partners and customers. Ideally, academies offer a range of learning opportunities in various areas such as leadership development, technical skills, compliance training, and any other necessary skills — all of which align with the company’s business goals and values.

The academy can be based online, involve a combination of online and in-person instruction, or even be a physical campus. In fact, early corporate academies were physical sites.

A quick history of the corporate academy

GE claims the first corporate academy, which was founded in the 1950s as a brick and mortar campus in upstate New York and is still operational today.

While such corporate academies were useful, they were expensive. Only the wealthiest companies could afford to build their own campuses or to send their managers away for weeks to train. Like so many things, that changed when the internet became widely available.

The dawn of online learning brought with it the online corporate academy, which made it possible for businesses of all sizes to create their own online campuses for employee, partner, and customer training. However, it was a rocky road; corporate academies have fallen in and out of favor over the past two decades. Early online learning could be buggy, slow, and wasn’t always engaging. Sometimes, online courses were simply a digitized version of in-person ones, consisting of a few video recordings of live lectures and handouts turned into PDFs.

Online learning has come a long way since the early 2000s. Modules now include more interactive elements like simulations, feedback mechanisms, and the other components to keep learners feeling engaged. So, it’s no surprise that there’s a new iteration of the corporate academy on the scene. This new kind of academy is based on skills and capability.

The rise of the new corporate academy

Recently, Josh Bersin announced a “new breed” of corporate academy:

“I call them Capability Academy systems. They are designed to build skills-based capability academies; they group large audiences into small cohorts; and they integrate content with live events, assignments, collaboration, mentors, and experts. And they can deliver all this at scale.”

Bersin describes a corporate academy that’s led by experts, but collaborative in nature. It combines online content with assignments and coaching and allows learners to not just consume, but also help create training content.

Corporate academies are no longer static depositories for PDFs and lecture recordings. They have evolved to meet the increasingly complex needs of modern workplaces, especially those that have experienced rapid digital transformation since the pandemic. Businesses are looking for more dynamic ways train a diverse (and often dispersed) set of employees, partners, and customers.

What problems can a corporate academy solve?

The skills gap has been a big problem for employers in recent years. Reports show that the talent gap reached a 17-year peak in 2023, with 77% of employers unable to find the talent they need. That trend is likely to continue. The World Economic Forum predicts that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted by 2028; 6 in 10 workers will need to be retrained in the next five years.

The top skills that businesses are looking for are cognitive ones (often referred to as “soft skills”), such as creative thinking and problem-solving, as well as leadership and technical literacy. However, the typical corporate training program often focuses less on these cognitive skills and more on concrete ones like compliance, or hard skills that may be more obviously tied to work-related tasks.

Lastly, academies provide revenue retention opportunities by giving organizations a mechanism through which they can deliver consistent, high-quality product training to customers, to improve customer adoption and lock in customer loyalty.

How to build a corporate academy

For many L&D departments, the idea of setting up an academy can be overwhelming. However, L&D shouldn’t be on their own when it comes to this initiative. Corporate academies are intended to align with the goals of the organization, so leadership should be deeply involved in this process.

Here are the five steps your business can take to begin building a corporate academy:

1. Set learning and business goals

Are you trying to reskill your team? Teach cognitive skills? Develop leadership? Understand what you need as an organization. Learning leaders should collaborate with stakeholders in the C-suite and throughout the organization to determine the company’s desired learning and business outcomes, in order to identify what your company needs from a corporate academy. You can come up with general goals, but it can also be useful to drill down into the specific skills and competencies that can help you achieve the learning and business outcomes your leadership has identified.

2. Identify opportunities for expansion

Many corporate academies are internal, but you may need to train people outside of your organization. Your extended enterprise can also benefit from a learning academy. Take the example of Platform as a Service (PaaS) company Celigo, which created Celigo University for all its employees, prospects, customers, and partners. By creating a corporate academy, Celigo was able to provide a central source of learning for its entire enterprise to facilitate product adoption and enhance customer experience.

3. Develop a curriculum

Use the company’s learning and business goals to develop a curriculum, but avoid the temptation to build everything from scratch! When construction supplier SouthernCarlson created its corporate academy, the company combined bespoke courses – created using the built-in Litmos Content Authoring Tool – with off-the-shelf training content. The prebuilt content gave them courses that they would not have been able to build themselves and helped them go live in only two months. The result? They had more time to focus on developing their unique SouthernCarlson courses.

4. Choose a learning management solution

Look for a learning management solution that gives you the flexibility you need to deliver your content. You should be able to easily create your own content, but also choose from a library of pre-made courses. Collaboration tools are also key, as is the ability to offer both live training and self-paced options.

5. Measure and refine your training content

Your content library should never be stagnant; as your workforce and your enterprise grows and changes, so should your content. When you measure the success of your corporate academy, make sure to also flag metrics that indicate any gaps and areas of improvement. Commit to revisiting your content regularly.

Embracing the corporate academy

Learning & Development leaders have had a lot on their plates lately, especially since the pandemic has disrupted in-person workplace norms and has put online learning at the forefront of corporate culture building discussions. If you’re in L&D, you may be taking on many responsibilities, from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs to leadership development initiatives, to closing the skills gap within your company’s workforce. An academy can centralize these projects and make your job more manageable, while aligning the goals of the greater organization with the learning being offered.

The new era of corporate academies is here, offering organizations a powerful tool to bridge the skills gap and empower their workforce. With the adoption of digital learning platforms, companies can unlock the full potential of their employees through convenient, flexible, and personalized learning experiences.

If you’re ready to take your corporate academy to the next level, schedule a free demo of Litmos LMS. Experience firsthand how this robust learning management system can streamline your training initiatives, enhance employee engagement, and drive business growth.