Knowledge Management Issues: The Corporate College is dead, long live the Corporate College!

Job-security and Corporate Training departments are both dead, and that’s one part of the new millennium that takes some getting used to.

The Ivy(ory) Tower of Corporate Education

For those of you who can remember the 80’s, most medium to large sized IT firms sported flashy in-house colleges – sometimes even accredited to confer diplomas and degrees. Some had sprawling campuses, catered dining, and mass accommodation.
One that I attended for three months at a time had several mainframes in fully-equipped computer-rooms just for training. Every Friday the dinner had live entertainment, and often a massive ice-sculpture as part of the seafood buffet.

Oh, those were the days!

Then the commoditization wave hit and other forces gusted up, margins dropped, and suddenly the lights of corporate academia started to flicker and blink out.

The trouble was that it was expensive to run a college, and although everyone agreed that a well-trained workforce is desirable, when tough times arrived it was difficult to justify the overhead.
The colleges first got pillaged of their budgets and staff, and next got folded up completely.

It was a typical scenario: the trainers first got put onto billable training hours, and then got turned into consultants and became road-warriors.

Another problem was that taking people out of their day-job for up to weeks and months at a time to attend courses costs a lot of money too, and it is very difficult to juggle calendars to accommodate days of away-time for study. Getting people together does of course have benefits beyond just training, but these intangibles are very difficult to put on a balance-sheet and tend not to rate very high when budget time comes.

The final straw was that although they could measure retention (embarrassingly low), it was excruciatingly difficult to show on-the-job improvement as a result of training, and keeping the training fresh was a nightmare in logistics and cost.

The need for a highly skilled workforce didn’t go away however, and a crucial determinant of corporate survival remains having talented and skilled staff – and since things change often and fast, a need for ongoing training.
On top of that, people who keep abreast of the innovations and concepts and methods of their domain, tend to be the innovators and be highly productive – So while the corporate college and “training department” have died, the need for training did not.

The Corporate College Returns

The corporate college is coming back, though just in a ghostly virtual form – In the new millennial corporate college, there are no instructors and there is no college, and the student is a self-motivated seeker.

The days of the level-I student who needed to be sat down and taught in a classroom style are mostly over and gone – few firms can afford people who need to be taught. Instead the pressure is on acquiring and keeping staff that at least can get on with learning at their own pace from materials they are given (Level II), but increasingly the drive is to have staff who seek out learning opportunities and materials (Level III).
It is fast becoming a condition of employment that the individual is at least a Level II learner.

The learning opportunities available are increasingly in the form of self-paced eLearning provided from a variety of large course-vendors who have development budgets that run into millions of dollars per year and use the latest techniques.
These (somewhat cheesy) modules are often several times more effective than class-room instruction in knowledge retention, and are usually served in suitably palatable chunks that can be accessed via the web and 24×365.

Blended with selected Instructor-Led Training (ILT) and in-house practical instruction, eLearning makes it possible to not just provide Just in Time Training, but also to make it immediately relevant to the daily work.

The Corporate College is back, and it brings with it Employment-Security and an opportunity for the self-directed learner to flourish.
The student becomes a learning-participant.


1. A typical scenario is that a single eLearning course of 4hrs equates to a full day of ILT, and where ILT yields around 10-15% retention rate after 60 days, eLearning can get 40% with no repetition, and because it can be used in an ongoing fashion, retention climbs to up to 90%.

2. Cost of ILT typically runs to $900-1,200 a day per person, whereas eLearning licenses go for under $700 per seat per year. If one calculates a typical staffer meeting corporate training goals of 10d/year, the difference is $8,300 per person for a less effective solution when using ILT. Seen a different way, for the price of one person’s ILT, you can provide 13 people with as much learning as they can do in a year

3. eLearning does even better when surrounded by web2.0 social media, and introduces an element of timelessness in which learners can see the contributions of previous learners, and current activity can draw back previous participants.


Matthew Loxton is the director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management. Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web, and has an aggregation website at
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by Mincom, but they should be.


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One Response to “Knowledge Management Issues: The Corporate College is dead, long live the Corporate College!”

  1. Nick Milton Says:

    My guess for the future of the corporate college will be the amalgamation of training (ILT and eLearning) and on-the-job knowledge sharing.

    There will be a close link between the virtual “corporate college” and the communities of practice and the development of work practices and procedures. There will be a constant feed of content from the communities and after action reviews, into the reference materials and the training and learning materials. There will be a blurring of the boundaries between “reference” and “learning”.

    There are a couple of examples of this now. Think of how the Army TRADOC links doctrine and training. Think of how Shell links the Shell Wiki, the Shell communities and the Shell University.

    I would love to see this organisationally blended learning become the pattern of the future.

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