10 Ways to Take Your Corporate University Out of Snoozeville

PING – “Congratulations, your Manager has selected you to attend the Wing-Nuts University!

Save the date! 100 more emails to follow with explicit instructions on what to wear, how to behave, what to bring, and other such instructions that make you want to check in the mirror to ensure you are still an adult capable of making your own decisions.”  Can’t wait to see you…

Yes, we have all been there, done that. Corporate Universities are here to stay (at least in the foreseeable future).  Despite what you may think, this is not going an argument against having Universities.  There are some very good reasons to choose a Corporate University as a learning delivery mechanism.  My argument is, why we have to conduct them so badly.  Why do they have to be 3 days of PowerPoint whiplash?  At this point I am going to point the finger at us – the collective L&D community, we are solidly to blame.

I had a conversation with a fellow L&D director around the concept of a University and we were comparing notes.  I was not just shocked, but shocked speechless at what she was representing as a Leadership University.  Classes on interviewing, EEOC, inventory management, payroll management, employee discipline. Unfortunately, the list went on and on.  Those poor souls had to sit through 3 days of this, in a suit, from 8 – 5…KILL.ME.NOW! I’m certain the students felt the same way.



As you can imagine, I had a few questions:

“What do any of those topics have to do with Leadership?” Leadership requires that you understand the foundations of a business.

“Why were they in suits?” Because we believe if you dress up, the students will take the classes more seriously.

“Why from 8 – 5?” Because those are the working hours of the office.


Upon further questioning, I found out that a fair amount of the philosophy came from the leadership and an obvious antiquated notion of what “school” should look like.  Here’s the rub.  My fellow L&D peep, didn’t correct the leadership or even try to steer them in a different direction.  In her words, her job was to support – and if the leadership felt that strongly she felt her role was to do as asked. Short of making her go through a battery of psychological tests, I let the subject go.  All I know, is that I didn’t get to the status of “Rebel” because I let leadership allow their employees to swelter in a basement classroom in suits. There are some very obvious things wrong here and my guess is that they have a classroom of walking Zombies with no interaction, no real engagement.  I could just visualize PowerPoint, after bad PowerPoint in all its small font and excel spreadsheet glory.

It’s time to take some baby steps people. Let’s beg forgiveness and shake things up.  My guess is that you’ll get improved engagement scores on the “smile” sheets and when you do your 3 month follow- up (you do conduct a follow-up don’t you?) you’ll find people are actually remembering, using and accessing information they have learned. GASP. SHOCK. 



There is a better way and here are 10 Ways to instantly improve your “Corporate University”.


  1. Objectives.  Adjust your point of view.  Do not plan sessions with objectives focusing on “This is what I need to teach”, treat them as “What do the students really need and want to learn”.  Focus on the student, not the subject matter expert. What is so wrong with asking the students at the beginning of the session to set their own objectives? Anarchy I tell ya!
  2. Icebreakers. Generally, they suck. Most are tired, boring and an insult to the intelligence. There are 5 million books on icebreakers, why do we keep using the same three? How about this. What if you had the student create a movie trailer of themselves, uploaded it to Facebook, Google +, YouTube (just to name a few) – then throughout the week you watched a few.  Or play them over lunch or during breaks?
  3. Teach Discernment. Show your learners how to tell the difference between good information and bad.  Between good and better.  Between better and best. Allow for the argument and debate of information being given to them.
  4. Questioning.  Nope, not allow for questions – but allow for questioning.  This is part of #3 – allow your students to question the information given to them. No, you’re not losing credibility. You actually gain it.  Allow for the debate, open it up. Teach them how to research information for the proper argument.
  5. Creativity.  Allow creativity to flow.  Creativity is a key problem solving attribute.  Try something different in your classroom – videography, photojournalism, live blogging, live tweeting, live facebooking. When you allow for one creative door to open, others will follow.
  6. Projects.  Break students into project groups and allow them to formulate new solutions to old problems.  A hackathon for problem-solving.  Give them an hour or two at the end of each day to work on designated problems of the organization.  I’m willing to bet there is a solution out there, a win-win for everyone.
  7. Technology.  I beg of you, please get up to speed with technology. Know that your iPhone isn’t just for selfies. By the same token, know that more than likely, you will have students that will know more than you.  That’s not only okay, it’s great! Let them guide you, let them help the class.  The more you watch and listen, the more you learn.
  8. Play.  Play some games. Here is a trivia game sent over to me by Larry Straining based in QR codes.  FUN. Scavenger hunts using QR codes.  Use Poll everywhere to gather comments as you go, create your own trivial pursuit game based on your company history.  Play video games as knowledge checks.  The choices are endless. The more you play the more you learn – yes, even with adults (especially with adults) and yes, even with compliance training, even with safety! Compliance does not have to equal boring.
  9. Adapt.  Allow for adaptation.  Things will happen, conversations and debates will take you in different directions that your lesson plans or instructor guides dictate, sometimes you just need to wing-it.


10 for 10.  Here are 10 items that every L&D person should know how to do and trust me, knowing these things will enhance your classroom:

  • Blog
  • Use Dropbox or Evernote
  • Develop and sustain a PLN
  • Curate and share information
  • Send large files
  • Use a hashtag
  • Manage your online brand
  • Know the variety of different delivery mechanisms
  • Trouble shoot technology
  • Subscribe to and manage: Slideshare, YouTube, or other dynamic digital media


I’m sure I’m missing something and following my own lesson plan, I encourage you to question and to debate.  For now, I encourage some you to beg forgiveness and “Rebel” forward trying some these ideas on for size.

I would love to read more about what you are doing to make your Universities more active and engaging. Share with us!


Don’t be left out! Feed your curiosity by joining the “Rebellion”!

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Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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