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Corporate Learning Marketplace Ripe for Higher Education’s Picking

AUDIO | Corporate Learning Marketplace Ripe for Higher Education’s Picking
In order to capture more of the corporate learning marketplace, higher education institutions need to be forward-thinking, flexible and adaptive to employer needs.

The following interview is with Bob Mosher, chief learning evangelist at Apply Synergies. Mosher has been active in corporate and professional learning for nearly 30 years and has worked with a variety of learning leaders, including Microsoft. In this interview, he gives his insights on corporate training and professional development, discusses how colleges and universities have grown in this space and how employers currently perceive them. He also shares his thoughts on how higher education institutions can capture a bigger part of this growing marketplace.

1. What are the elements most major employers look for from their corporate training providers?

I think the answer’s in the question; it’s that they’re looking for a partner.

In the old days, we called things “outsourcing” and there was much more of a “hand off” mentality to that relationship. I think in the last several years, as most [learning and development] departments have become better at being more strategic and aligned with the business outcomes of their companies — not seen as the training wing of the building, per se, anymore — the relationship with their partners and those who they outsource with has become much more of a partnership.

They’re looking for a vendor that will be more than just a content or a classroom provider and more one that will partner with them in the success of the business, … be a true performance consultant and help them map those services to the services that [learning and development] is trying to provide.

2. How successful are higher education institutions at meeting the professional development needs and expectations of employers?

The ones that are doing it well have been very successful at that. They’re realizing they have to take less of an academic approach to what they provide and more of a business approach.

There was a time where organizations went to higher [education] for an accredited perspective. … It was more of a “check the box” kind of idea; an extended degree programs and tuition reimbursement type of a view of higher ed.

More and more, higher ed organizations are realizing — and some I know of have built a separate business model around this — that they are partnering more directly with these learning institutions. … It really has manifested itself into a true business partnership (and I used that word on purpose) as opposed to a higher ed degree program alone.

3. Why do employers turn to postsecondary institutions for their training needs?

They really bring the best of both worlds. … They both bring the richness that is Harvard Business School, that is MIT. They have the pedigree; that’s a stunning thing in a more traditional brick-and-mortar company and franchise training providers may not have that. They bring a richness of the history and the credibility of their faculty; the “vettedness” or reliability or credibility of their program to corporate, which is hard for them to do. You buy into all that legacy, you buy into the rigor with which higher ed is held to, to go to through their programs. The effective ones lead with a brand.

At the same time, what I’m most impressed with … [in] the higher ed programs being brought into corporate, is that they’re also realizing they have to be careful of the, “Well, you know I am x-institution, so therefore you either get my program as is, or you don’t.”

There was a time where, to ask an organization like that to meet a corporation in the middle and maybe adapt or adopt or tailor or customize that program, frankly, was off the table, because it was by x-professor, it was by x-institution. If it was accredited then there was all that comes with that.

They are now being much more adaptive; bringing all the richness of those programs that they offer in the more traditional sense but, at the same time, layering it with consulting. That puts them in a position that is uniquely “them” and a competitive advantage that a traditional learning provider can’t meet.

4. What kinds of changes can colleges and universities make to better serve major employers?

They’re going to have to take this further, frankly. What we’ve not talked about is the nature of technology. How adaptive can [institutions] be to that? In my world, we talk about what we call the five moments of need. The fact that a learner evolves through not just gaining knowledge — which has traditionally been the mindset of postsecondary ed — they ready the future workforce, they have degree programs that take a learner from A to B. The reality is a lifelong learner in an organization goes beyond B and has to grow through C, D, E and the rest. So, how adaptive can higher ed be to emerging technologies to use their content, customize their content beyond the traditional learning experience or training experience?

The big trends in corporate right now are lifelong learners, enabled learners, self-reliant learners, learning in the workflow, on-the-job learning, performance support. These are the buzzwords of corporate today.

My challenge to postsecondary ed is: to what degree will they embrace and will they be adaptive and flexible enough to take a look at what’s emerging on the corporate side — both in methodology, need and technology — so that they can adapt their content and, in some cases, candidly give up the ownership of their content so that corporate America can take it beyond training. That’s the big challenge of any training/learning organization right now; “How do we, on shorter budgets, in less time, in a world that has really no shelf-life because of the nature of change and the workplace today, how do we partner with a learning partner that gets that and helps us be adaptive, helps us take their content and keep up with change, which is the new normal?”

Unfortunately, fairly or not, higher ed has been stereotyped with being a bit lethargic, a bit slower to act, having a bit more rigor wrapped around being flexible or adaptive. I think the challenge for them will be — beyond this first step they’ve just taken, which we’ve talked about in being more consultative — can they take that through technology and what is now the new learning landscape and keep up? Be adaptive.

5. Is there anything you’d like to add about the growth of the corporate training marketplace and the opportunity that higher education institutions have to be a major playing in this space?

Take a look at emerging technologies. Take a look at mobile. Take a look at social media. MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] are all the buzz on the postsecondary ed side. How can they adapt that to corporate [training]?

I just read a wonderful article on that very thing. It was written on the corporate side, but candidly, it didn’t have a lot of answers; they had questions.

What I really challenge them to do is take a leadership role in this; don’t be a follower, [but] be a leader here. The postsecondary education organizations that do that, that come out and meet corporate where it is, understand these technologies and come with solutions or help facilitate the conversation that’s needed, will be the ones that lead and get the business and shape the next generation of this service versus others who will be followers and may be left behind.

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