L&D trends to watch: Why build a digital academy?

Nov 14, 2022

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What is a digital academy?

We've always been focused on one thing: helping organizations build digital academies. But what do we mean when we talk about “academies” in the world of learning and development?

Academies help companies bring people together to learn things in groups that they can’t learn by themselves. Alongside a cohort, learners move through content designed to spark reflection and discussion about real business topics and interact with their peers around the issues that matter to their day-to-day work.

Rather than a "Netflix of learning," this is a highly curated experience where everything is designed to drive learner engagement and deepen skills and capabilities that will make learners more resilient, agile, and impactful in their work.

Why create a cohort-based academy?

Nowadays, almost all of the skills and capabilities employees need to learn to thrive in office jobs are in some way related to being part of a team. These aren’t skills you can learn in isolation.

Instead, you need an academy, and a well-designed cohort within that academy, learning together, moving through content that spurs them to engage with each other to further deepen these new skills, debating and discussing along the way. Check out our post on why cohort-based learning is gaining popularity now for more on how collaborative learning helps answer some of today's biggest skills gaps and business challenges.

When do I need a digital academy?

There are generally four key scenarioes where we find that an academy is a useful learning solution:

  1. When you're preparing your teams for a business transformation
  2. When you want to strengthen the capabilities of a particular function––for example, the capability academy we worked with AB InBev to create for their global marketing function
  3. When you need to upskill managers, who need social learning to support the development of the highly social skills necessary for their work today
  4. When you want to transform key career moments into powerful learning and employee experience opportunities, especially around onboarding or career development

For all of these scenarios, academies tend to be very effective learning solutions because learning together in groups is much more effective at supporting the mindset shift and behavioral change that leads to real impact in learner careers and ultimately, the business.

Why should learning academies be digital?

Our academies are digital not just because it’s easier and less expensive to build an academy this way (although it is!), but because it actually makes the learning better. Digital means that “where” and “when” is flexible, but people are still getting the benefits of learning together in a group. This simply works better for the way companies are run today, and also means that people from all over the world can learn together. You can take a look at our 30k-person academy for human resources, the Josh Bersin Academy, to see what this looks like in action.

How do you build a digital academy?

So how do you actually build an academy? Here’s how it typically goes: someone at a company or an organization sees that their employees need new skills in a particular area. Let’s say they have a marketing team across many different countries, and it’s difficult to get them to collaborate. They come to Nomadic and describe the challenges they're facing. Then, we work with them to build their own marketing academy, designed to help their marketers develop the skills and work together in the ways they need to be successful.

Once we’re all set up and people start learning, the company can measure that success based on the goals they’ve set up. Also, they’ll start noticing the difference pretty quickly, because the work will just feel a lot better. That’s one of the best parts.

Best practices for digital academies

There are a lot of details to making an academy work. (We could write about this for MANY pages, and trust me, we have! If you're in the mood for a deep dive, have a look into our cohort-based learning hub to explore best practices for creating learning cohorts.)

But zooming out a bit, the really important part of how we approach our learning and content design and implementation is that everything we help companies do is based on research and our experience helping companies and organizations build academies.

Generally, here are a few best practices for academies to keep in mind. An academy should be:

Digital academies for organizational transformation

When well-designed, cohort-based learning academies spur and support organizational transformation in several ways. One, by teaching skills and capabilities that help support business transformations, whether it’s digital transformation, agile transformation, or instilling new processes across global teams. Across clients, industries, and regions, it's been amazing to see how academies can solve some of today's toughest business challenges.

Additionally, academies can help instill a learning culture across your organization. They elevate the strategic role of learning within the organization because they ensure L&D efforts are directly supporting the most mission-critical transformations, and drive impact that’s not just related to learning metrics, but to business metrics, ultimately helping grow revenue, surface new business insights, break down silos, and increase employee retention.


Ready for a deeper dive into the story of one digital learning academy? Read our case study with PepsiCo, which pivoted to digital learning for its marketers during the Covid-19 pandemic, soon realizing that digital learning academies would become their North Star well beyond the days of travel restrictions and lockdowns. Download your free copy today.

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