How to Set Up a High-Impact Corporate Learning Program—Starting With a Corporate University


Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on May 10, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version

In today’s increasingly competitive world, companies are continually looking for ways to evolve and transform their organizations. Executives are now counting on their leaders to develop businesses that can rapidly respond to change and address specific business challenges through employee learning and development.

The corporate Learning and Development (L&D) industry is more than 140 billion U.S. dollars in size.1 With the development of digital content and tools, educational programs and training courses are being reinvented for instant online access— enabling businesses and employees to learn like never before. Corporate universities are one of the resources companies are adopting to promote learning among employees.

Although not a new concept—General Electric was considered to have created the first corporate university in the 1950’s—corporate universities seem to be making a comeback. It’s certainly worth the investment, as organizational culture is usually addressed through individualized learning opportunities. A survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that the number of formal corporate universities in the United States doubled and grew to approximately 2,000between 1997 and 2007. Today, you’ll find them at more than 4,000 companies all over the world³.

One of the most common goals behind a corporate university is to provide the training and development needed to keep corporations and employees competitive in the marketplace. In order to achieve that, the focus is mainly placed on developing practical skills that are not usually part of core university or college curriculums and working under the belief that by benefiting employees individually, the entire organization benefits.2

Defining the role of the corporate university is more than just placing a logo on company training courses and materials. They usually have two distinguishing features: 1) A dedicated facility (whether brick and mortar or online), and 2) a curriculum tailored to the company’s overarching strategy.3

Benefits of a Corporate University

Creating an L&D program can offer both your company and your employees many benefits. Here are just a few.

  • Continued Education/Career Advancement. A corporate university can inspire employees to learn and develop new abilities and skill sets. It can promote ongoing learning by producing a framework that includes certification programs and career advancement opportunities through continued education.
  • Employee Retention. A significant number of employees will choose to remain at a company that allows them to develop and grow, along with career advancement opportunities. Employee retention is an important cost-benefit for companies as the average cost of hiring a new employee is around US $4,129.4
  • Enhanced Company Brand. Corporate universities offer multiple marketing opportunities to promote an organization’s brand and image. Such branding can go beyond employees and include partnerships with other companies and educational institutions.
  • Great ROI Potential. Although creating a corporate university requires an investment, the return can be quite significant. This can be achieved through employee development and retention, knowledge management and improved team results.

First Steps to Setting up a Corporate University5

  1. Determine with the senior executive team how learning supports the organization’s strategy and vision.
  2. Identify how to align training activities with organization’s initiatives.
  3. Create a corporate university name, logo and brand.
  4. Develop a vision, mission and value statement.
  5. Determine key initiatives and how you will measure success.
  6. Identify the best program experience platform to help achieve the corporate university’s goals.
  7. Work with your marketing team to create an internal marketing and communications plan for the corporate university.
  8. Create a rollout plan and ensure that it touches every part of the organization.

Tips on Managing a Corporate University

Here are some key points to consider in order to keep your initiative running smoothly and efficiently:

  • Make marketing a core component. Work closely with your marketing group to brand your corporate university.
  • Operate like a business.
  • Create detailed plans and assign clear owners to each task.
  • Use the power of recognition—remember that individuals like to be recognized, so maximize this power to drive the success of your initiative.
  • Embrace technology—by using the right technology, learning can become continuous, immediate, and dynamic.
  • Think of learning as an ongoing process—learning should be a process and not just an event or one-time training program.
  • Consider offering certification or degree programs—offer long-term development plans for employees, with the opportunity to obtain a professional certification or corporate university degree.
  • Evaluate learning initiatives— determine how to define and measure success, considering the company’s business goals and strategies, what the company strives to achieve in terms of human resources (retention, development, etc.), and how it impacts customers and stakeholders.
  • Build communities of practice—a “community of practice” is a group of people who come together to capitalize on their collective knowledge on a given job role or function within a company. They can be formal or informal and often use some type of technology to enable collaboration.

Today’s corporate universities hardly resemble the dull training programs of yesterday. By shifting the focus away from the organizational benefit and placing it on the individual benefit, corporate universities help learners realize the advantages of continuing education. Developing a curriculum that truly focuses on the individual is the best way to extract both the raw talent and the potential from each and every employee.



1The Disruptive of Digital Learning – 10 Things We Have Learned [PDF]. (n.d). Deloitte Development 

2 Fayad, A. The Corporate Shift: Why great companies invest in custom learning. Retrieved on February 20, 2018, from

3 The Economist. Keeping it on the company campus. Retrieved February 20, 2018, from

4Average Cost-per-Hire for Companies Is $4,129, SHRM Survey Finds. (2017, May 19). Retrieved April 03, 2018, from

5Site Staff. Corporate Universities: A Powerful Model for Learning. Retrievied on February 20, 2018, from