How to set up a Learning Academy?
There has been a number of MNCs who have set up their regional headquarters and along with it their learning centres here in Singapore over the past decade. Notable names include Four Acres by Unilever, AXA University, BNP Paribas Campus and UBS University just to name a few. Obviously, having a large campus helps tremendously with the branding of the organization and is an excellent employee value proposition for it sends a strong signal to potential talent that they take development very seriously. If you are thinking about setting up an academy or learning function for your company, here are four key considerations you might want to consider before jumping onto the bandwagon.
What would be the focus of your academy in terms of curriculum? From Leadership and Management development, Professional skills to Technical training, do you have an established curriculum framework in place for the type of programmes that you intend to conduct? Beginning with the end in mind, who are the target audience for your programmes and how will these programmes contribute to the strategic goals and objectives of the organization? Having a curriculum roadmap or pathway in place for the various roles and job families of the organization will help guide development conversations and steer the development of the employees towards the right solutions.
Let me provide an analogy, suppose you would like to visit a new country which you have not visited previously and you decide to take up an organized tour package. One of the first things you would be considering when selecting a suitable tour package would be the itinerary, which provide details about the activities and geographical areas that you would be covering on the various days of the holiday. Having a curriculum roadmap or pathway serves a similar purpose; it helps to provide an overview of the learning journey that an employee would take. Is it absolutely necessary to take a guided tour? Not at all, there are those who might choose to take a “free & easy” approach and customize their tour itinerary according to their requirements. Similarly, a learner can choose to customize their learning solutions or development plan according to their needs, but having a learning roadmap helps to take some of the guesswork out of the equation and simplifies the learning process and thereby makes it easier for the organization to focus on those competencies it wants to develop for their cohort.
One of the biggest challenges faced by learning teams would be the availability of suitably qualified and credible trainers and facilitators for their programmes. It helps tremendously when you have a pool of subject matter experts (SME) for the programmes you intend to conduct. However, not every SME is an engaging facilitator and you really do need both technical knowledge and facilitation skills to be able to make a lesson come alive and create a positive learning experience for your intended audience.
Hence, most companies tend to rely on their internal SME for any company specific technical training, where they would have access to experienced staff to do the delivery, especially if they are in a specialized field. Of course, most would invest in some form of adult learning training such as Train-the-Trainer or facilitation courses to help the SME be more effective in engaging their learners.
As for Professional and Leadership programmes, depending on the size of the organization and their learning teams, some companies might opt to partner with external learning providers who are able to provide that specialist knowledge and expertise on a needs-based basis, especially if they do not have the delivery capabilities internally. This approach provides a lot of flexibility and is much more scalable. By adopting this approach, organizations can avoid incurring fixed staff costs and they can scale up and down on the number of programmes they intend to run depending on actual demand. When demand is high, they can organize more sessions to meet the learning requirements and they can scale back if necessary when there is relatively less demand.
Learning professionals know that a lot goes on behind the scenes in terms of preparation and logistics to create a seamless and positive learning experience for learners. Training does not just simply ‘happen’ as it is commonly assumed. Somebody somewhere would have devoted the time, energy and resources to make it happen and it calls for a whole lot of coordination and governance to ensure the entire learning process operates efficiently.
For instance: programme scheduling, booking of suitable training venues, confirming the availability of trainers, enrolment and registration of participants, updating of attendance records post session, administering post course evaluation to learners, tracking of continuous professional development hours, and the production of statistics for data analysis just to name are all examples of key learning processes in most organizations.
Some organizations go a step further to collate statistics for evaluation purposes at a programme and facilitator level, so as to obtain greater insights into learning consumption patterns, emerging trends and overall learning effectiveness of their programmes. Again the key question is who will be looking after this area in your company?
When most people talk about learning academies, more often than not, they will automatically associate it with the physical infrastructure alone and for good reasons, for this is the most visible aspect of the academy. Organizations would have engaged and partnered with architects and designers to take into consideration the most optimal environment for learning purposes, creating dedicated spaces that are conducive for networking, collaboration and learning. As appealing as this option might be from a brand perspective, it is not without its challenges. The first of which being the cost involved in such an endeavour and the second being that the novelty factor of such a facility tends to wears off rather quickly!
In addition, with advances in technology and digitization, more companies are adopting learning strategies that harnesses the benefits of these technologies in learning. Learners can now choose to learn on the go anytime anywhere on their mobile devices and just in time when they require the information and knowledge. More learners are choosing to pick up whatever information they require in bite sized modular chunks that facilitates ease of learning and adoption instead of waiting several months for a formal course to be conducted in a traditional instructor led classroom type manner. A common employee complaint of the lack of time and being in resource lean team structures is also driving this trend towards self-paced learning. Therefore, when it comes to infrastructure, I hope you include technology as an important consideration.
If and when classroom training is required, you might want to consider renting venues on a needs based basis. This option provides a high degree of flexibility and is scalable according to the organization’s training requirements.
And there you have it, if you are considering setting up an academy or a learning function for your organization, I hope the above four key pointers help to provide you with a quick overview of what you need to consider to make your organization learning a success.
Best of luck and happy learning!