Published on 2015/04/02

Innovation: Key to Expanding Reach in the Corporate Training Space

The EvoLLLution | Innovation: Key to Expanding Reach in the Corporate Training Space
In order for institutions to create truly valuable learning opportunities for corporate partners, educational innovation and growth must be prioritized.

At UC Berkeley Extension, we put a great deal of value into education innovation. New educational tools combined with the needs of a diverse, multigenerational workforce provide the motivation to test new approaches. Of course, innovation takes more than just sitting in a room and thinking of new ways to do things, or even looking at your own competitors. When Steve Jobs wanted to revolutionize Apple, he didn’t look at what Microsoft was doing; he looked at what the Ritz-Carlton was doing.

We look for examples outside the organization and inside to create the best approach to addressing our client’s learning objectives. We tend to do pilot projects to prove the innovative concept and then determine our outcomes from both a financial and student satisfaction perspective.

Innovation also cannot be just a top-down exercise. It’s very important to recognize and encourage ideas for innovation from all levels of an organization. These ideas can be simple changes to business processes to large shifts in strategy involving relationships to customers or vendors. Don’t underestimate the value of simple changes, both in empowering the people who come up with them and in keeping the organization agile and welcoming to change.

We also like to use successful models or processes in one academic program area and try to apply it to completely different academic areas to see if it will work as a controlled experiment. Our Dean (Diana Wu) likes to share examples of how we innovate, or how we focus on quality of student experience, or work more collaboratively in our academic meetings to inspire staff to bring about change.

Getting Past Roadblocks to Innovation

Often, the most significant roadblocks to innovation are fear of the unfamiliar and values that don’t really welcome and encourage change. However, in today’s economy, change and the need to innovate is practically a given. Over the past decade, we have experienced seismic shifts in the technology that we all use. As cell phones have turned into robust pocket-computers and terms like apps, social media and Big Data have become common lingo; it’s hard to dodge the new.

In higher education corporate training, the old way was a “business as usual” mentality. We were characterized by highly bureaucratic processes and a risk-averse culture, and it’s critical we break away from those traits. We’ve taken great strides to work with other groups on campus, to create new and innovative programs to deliver to business, government or non-profit organizations.

We’re now in the process of engraining innovation into our organizational ethos, and trying to leverage that for the purposes of growth and expansion. My role was newly created in mid-2013, so basically everything I tackle requires the organization to respond in new ways. Sometimes it requires some arm-wrestling, but we’re making good headway. I’m lucky enough to work at one of the most innovative campuses in the US and we’re leveraging Berkeley’s strength in online education to explore the opportunities of online corporate learning in all its various forms.

Because we are getting real-time feedback from employers about workforce development needs, our organization is prioritizing the development of innovative “intensive workshops” to spearhead new program development efforts.

How We’re Evolving

We’re doing some interesting work at UC Berkeley to expand our reach and influence in this space. As a starting point, we’re very focused on understanding the needs of employers and are consciously working to improve our knowledge. One way we’re accomplishing this is by attending learning leadership events to hear corporate learning decision-makers discuss their wants and needs. These first-hand accounts of experiences, and also our capacity for form relationships with these leaders at these events, are critical. We’re also volunteering for groups like the Association for Talent Development to further develop our relationships with corporate training organizations.

On the flip side, we’re working to position UC Berkeley as a thought-leader in this space by creating and delivering content around corporate training. We want employers to be able to learn about employee education from us, whether they’re looking to purchase or not. Given the importance of employee development in today’s economy, they will inevitably look for learning solutions one day, and when employers think about innovative and effective employee learning opportunities, we want them to think of us first.

Finally, we’re doing some interesting work in-house to identify potential clients for customized training opportunities. Using our student information system, we’re able to see which employers have a tendency to send their employees to us for individual courses by monitoring whether a student’s tuition is being covered by an organization. If an employer sends us a certain number of employees (especially to a single course), we can assume that they are looking for their employees to develop a specific set of skills. We then work to parlay that into a customized training opportunity built specifically for that employer by reaching out to them and having an open discussion about their needs.

By using technological tools and harnessing relationship-building skills, we’re building the partnerships and the reputation necessary to facilitate our growth as an innovative corporate learning leader.

Innovative Corporate Training: The Road Ahead

The next two years are going to be really interesting in the corporate training space, and we’re going to see some amazing transformations in terms of technologies and business models. We are at just the beginning of a wave of new technologies that will help people learn more, faster, and better. Additionally, educators are beginning to embrace mobile technologies as part of an overall blended learning experience for traditional education as well as professional development and corporate training. Greater use of analytics, both by higher education institutions and employers (especially in the HR and training spaces) will help to provide more real-time and better information to facilitate decision-making about course development and offerings.

It’s hard to project what that will look like from here, but it is exciting.  

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