Internal universities

Recently I have noticed that many big companies are opening or planning to open their own universities. Others are collaborating with existing universities to give students more practical knowledge. All these initiatives are great and they will undoubtedly help more people achieve greater productivity at work and thus help the society as a whole. This is practically a recognition that learning isn't only the responsibility of the individual—as it was seen previously,—but also of the company as well. Until now education was regarded as a secondary activity and teaching as a time-waster as it wasn't always directly visible how they affect the company's bottom line. In many cases there was either no time for self-education or just 1-2 hours/week just as an excuse that learning is allowed, but—see—it doesn't bring any results. Employees were practically on their own, feeling how in the routine of the day, what they studied for years slowly evaporated. Internal universities can compensate for these tendencies, but to be great, they need to leave employee knowledge and skills at a net positive, which is likely not to be achieved in a few hours per week. Otherwise, existing neuronal connections will weaken and may not be as easy to restore. If employees start to feel neglected, they will eventually leave.

The market often moves at a faster pace than any individual can keep up with its educational efforts. And it doesn't feel good to run after a leaving train. This is why studying needs to be made a collective effort, since this will more closely resemble the market. Every voice needs to be heard, because everyone has something to teach. Many companies realize that having many knowledgeable employees gives them great competitive advantage, especially when it comes to the creation of more innovative products. This also allows the forming of new collaborative relationships that cross multidisciplinary borders. A big knowledge network can be used to attract and retain new employees.

A problem with universities is the notion that people graduate, which may be reproduced internally so, that employees learn only what's required from them to do the next task. This can break the educational effort in many short bursts and thus lessen its power. Learning isn't a one-time event, but an ongoing process. Internal universities where this is neglected won't be much better than regular ones. For people to be more creative, multiple inputs will be needed that go beyond what is considered to be effective by a single boss. It pays to think about education from both a broader and a long-term perspective. The plan that is followed will determine the success of the initiative.

Internal educational efforts need to be adjusted relative to the unique capabilities and wants of the person. This can improve motivation and channel it into the creation of something unique. It's one thing when others determine what you learn and another when you can decide. Mass teaching can have a negative impact on the diversity within the company if people are taught the same. Instead of acknowledging differences, same-thinking will be stimulated.

Educational effort doesn't have to be expensive or require a separate building, unless it's the core activity of a big company. Technology may distract people from the learning experience, so it may not be needed when pen and paper will suffice. Mutual teaching needs to be made a habit that has a time-budget assigned. Calculating time for discussion and reflection would be useful too. A side-effect are the better relationships that form through these. But the end goal—to incorporate this knowledge into a profitable product—must not be lost from sight.

Experience and skills are highly valuable to individuals and can serve as incentives for them to stay even when they don't like other aspects of the company as much. When they decide to leave, their knowledge and skills prevail in the society, finding different incarnations.

Education is far more than simply bringing the theory taught at the university to the practice available in the company or vice versa. It is also about combined performance, effectiveness and societal impact. About touching lives and igniting the spark for growth. About self-recycling and mindset evolution. About respect and recognition.