The adidas Group Learning Campus - a lesson to us all?

With the launch of a series of learning campuses at several adidas corporate offices across the globe, adidas stands to stoke future innovations and cause others to emulate its approach.

This summer will be a busy one for German sports brand adidas. Of the 32 national football teams in the Brazil World Cup adidas is sponsoring eight, as well as sponsoring the tournament itself and supplying boots to many of the world's most high-profile players.But that's not all. This summer also sees the launch of a series of learning campuses at several of the company's offices across the globe. By revolutionising the regular training offer, adidas stands to stoke future innovations and cause others to emulate its approach.

For years, companies have honed and monitored progress of staff with internally managed courses, one-off training days and corporate universities, all of which ticked the box in relation to ongoing professional development. But what adidas is proposing is three-fold and suggests a much better grip on how learning takes place.The man responsible is Christian Kuhna from adidas Group HR. As he says in his blog, the adidas Group Learning Campus consists of three pillars:

  1. Physical learning spaces in all locations
  2. A virtual Learning Campus Online, a platform for collaborative, self-driven and technology-based learning that provides access to learning anywhere, anytime and on any device
  3. And, going forward, the Future Workplace, the personal workplace of each employee, where learning is fully embedded in daily work.

Says Kuhna: "As much as we embrace the digital world and see huge opportunities for learning, we do believe that a combination of digital and physical learning spaces brings both worlds together in a most efficient and human-centred way."Putting people first in terms of how learning takes place will be crucial to its success. Kuhna continues: “According to many studies and models on how we learn, such as the 70:20:10 model by Charles Jennings, only 10% of what we learn happens through formal training. 20% we learn through other people and 70% on the job. So our focus in the Learning Campus is to reflect this 70:20:10 balance in our offerings.”

With the motto 'You Learn, We Grow', the company – with around 50,000 employees globally – is not claiming benevolence. Critics would say 'You Learn, We Earn', but giving the chance for learning in every fathomable area of working life - formally in courses, accessibly online and personally on the job - shows the breadth of learning opportunity is being widened by adidas.To explain how this will be applied in practice, the company has come up with the New Way of Learning, which consists of five principles:

  1. Working is learning and learning is working.
  2. Provide an open and collaborative, connected ‘social’ learning environment.
  3. Leadership means constant sharing, teaching and learning.
  4. Innovation is part of everybody’s daily work.
  5. Create a new culture of self-driven, life-long learning, in which every employee owns his/her career and his/her personal development.

Collaboration and innovation are key to the success of the Group and to create a culture ripe for these to exist, it is recognised that they need to look at how employees teach and learn. This means changing the habit of ploughing money into top down learning.Kuhna says: “What we really want to bring to life is the integrated life cycle of innovation, learning and knowledge retention & transfer…The New Way of Learning (NWoL) brings learning back into the workplace, where it is delivered by colleagues, friends, peers, in teams, online and, above all, in real life. Many of our employees represent some of the youngest working demographics in the world. They are already wired to live and work in a highly connected, digital world. In order to nourish their creativity and hunger to learn, we need to offer them new and more dynamic ways of learning.”


adidas will launch the Group Learning Campus this summer, starting with ‘The Shed’ (pictured above) at the headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany.

The Shed will host collaborative workshops and flipped learning sessions, face-to–face training, individual coaching sessions, informal discussions, lunchtime lectures, speaker series and planned or spontaneous learning events, also integrating new learning methods, technologies and formats. These should be generally open to all employees. The space includes a Learning Café as a collaborative learning space, open to all employees the whole day (with free coffee/tea and free WiFi), also featuring technologies such as an X-box Kinect as well as Apple TV, tablets & mobile devices to casually experience new learning experiences like gamification.

Other physical spaces will include media labs, while harder to reach corners of the company will be issued with kits inspired by the model of pop-up stores in retail. These suitcases are packed with learning content, tools and methods.Perhaps the least tangible of the three elements is the Future Workplace. This is defined by Kuhna as "the personal workplace of each employee, where learning is fully embedded in the daily work: the way our employees work will define how they learn". This idea, along with the principle ‘working is learning and learning is working’, is being worked into the planning of future offices to enable staff to work as they go.

This all began with the collaboration it hopes to encourage: a ‘Blog Carnival’ invited comments on what future learning meant to employees. As well as physical learning spaces and online learning, commenters on the blog asked adidas to make use of existing teaching and learning platforms, such as Coursera and TED conferences. This further supports the idea that workplace learning needs to fit in with workers and they way they already like to learn and minimises the disruption in changing the way employees are used to learning in the workplace.With the project rolled out this summer it could still be some time before the effects are fully realised, but it's clear the adidas Group Learning Campus can teach us all a thing or two about joined up development across multi-region global companies.

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