Digital transformation still in the early stages

In the digital world, digital devices and technologies are everywhere, connecting people in their social and professional lives. What are the implications for higher education institutions?

How can they best prepare students for the digital world, not only by delivering cutting-edge knowledge about the opportunities and challenges technology offers, but also by making students fully digitally competent for new jobs that do not even exist today?

The digital world demands that higher education institutions adapt their teaching and learning. Delivering up-to-date knowledge about new opportunities in the digital world is a must for any higher education curriculum. New technologies are transforming the learning process.

Digital changes are happening at such an unprecedented pace that digital literacy is necessary from a young age, and, beyond initial higher education, for retraining purposes so that citizens remain fully active in society.

Impact on industry

In industry, those changes demand a strategic approach by companies – and in some cases they are setting up their own training initiatives. The World Economic Forum published a step-by-step guide to digital transformation for companies in January 2018. It highlights that companies need a digital strategy to integrate digital transformations in their business model reviews.

Furthermore, such transformations require changes to or the establishment of new ‘enablers’, such as data and analytics, IT systems, operating models, and people and culture.

The most crucial enablers identified are organisation and culture, meaning that training and retraining the current and future workforce are vital. How such transformations are achieved is key. Companies like Equinor (formerly Statoil) have responded to the need to increase their employees’ digital literacy by creating their own digital academy.

The changes brought by the digital age are clear in many sectors. HealthTech is increasing its use of digital very quickly to improve the delivery of care and encourage stronger patient engagement. The global MedTech industry is massive, delivering new highly sophisticated medical devices for diagnosis or monitoring purposes to treat all types of medical conditions.

More than €50 billion (US$58 billion) has been invested worldwide in FinTech since the beginning of this year. Digitalisation in the energy sector is changing the use of fuels, electricity and grids and has a wide impact on industry, transportation and buildings.

RegTech offers technologies that facilitate the delivery of regulatory requirements more efficiently and effectively than current capabilities, while e-government offers better public services to citizens and corporates.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to transform productivity, boost economic growth and provide ‘returns’ for societal developments. According to a 2017 PwC report, 45% of total economic gains by 2030 will be the result of product enhancements and stimulating consumer demand. AI will drive greater product variety, increased personalisation, attractiveness and affordability over time.

Despite the economic benefits, it is clear there will be social costs and education needs to address these. Jobs will disappear with the rise of AI and job automation and the social consequences will need to be managed.

The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy created an Inclusive Innovation Challenge to not only incentivise business executives and social scientists to create new technologies but also to make these benefit the many in society, and not just a few.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) runs projects around citizenship in the digital age and publishes ISTE Standards about the skills and knowledge needed for the digital age for school students, educators, education leaders, coaches and computer science educators.

Major cultural transformations are needed in society and inside organisations to ensure that we benefit from the full potential of these technological changes.

The impact on teaching

In his 2015 article “Why the Education Sector is Ripe for Digital Disruption”, Rob Buckley points out that education processes and structures have barely changed over the past decades whereas other industries have been highly disrupted.

He argues that at higher education level the two main reasons are, on the one hand, the “shortage of educators with the necessary skills in both teaching and the domains being taught” and, on the other hand, “the time it takes a student to learn and understand a subject in sufficient depth and breadth to be able to use it in practice”.

Buckley predicts that it will be the role of the lecturer that will mostly be changed during the next revolution of tertiary education.

Building on distance learning platforms, virtual learning environments, learning management systems, MOOCs (massive open online courses), SPOCs (small private online courses) and flipped classrooms, the sector will include learning analytics, adaptive learning technologies and gamification in order to create individualised, tailored, accelerated and more effective learning.

A similar approach is described in an article published earlier this year in Global Focus, the business magazine of EFMD – the Management Development Network.

David Pontoppidan, commercial executive at ViSiR, a Mannaz digital learning company, and director of corporate development at learning and development consultancy Mannaz, and David Everhart, senior vice-president of the international division of Mannaz, see learning as a journey and focus on the social, collaborative and interactive elements and on people analytics.

The role of the teacher will transform into that of a facilitator who will also be a coach and mentor to the student and will teach with flipped classroom and gamification methods, they argue.

Other examples of digital initiatives by higher education institutions include Vlerick Business School’s Learning Innovation Centre, which allows all students to take a learning journey with three stages (Engage, Reflect and experiment, Ripple). Learning journeys include different types of learning from online to learning labs, an online social platform and a “Venture Talk” initiative where inspirational and impactful stories are shared.

The one-year Johnson Cornell Tech MBA is offered with a redesigned studio-structured curriculum covering data science and marketing, business models, start-up finance, tech strategy and negotiations. It aims to produce visionary ideas that respond to particular needs and to use technology to reinvent the way we live and work.

The IE Business School’s WOW Room, that is, the ‘Window on the World’, breaks with the traditional onsite, blended and online education models to transform the learning experience through elements that include artificial intelligence, simulations in real time, big data analysis, interactive robots, emotion recognition systems and the presence of experts using holograms.

Initial investment costs

Digital initiatives are at an early stage of development in higher education. This may be in part due to the high initial investment costs that many higher education institutions find difficult to make as their funding is increasingly more constrained.

Besides, technology is so quickly outdated and digital infrastructure requires heavy maintenance costs to remain at the leading edge. Still, such initiatives will grow in the years to come as the demand for specialised expertise increases and user-friendly technologies become more affordable and widespread.

Nadine Burquel is an international higher education expert and director of Business School Services at EFMD. Anja Busch is international accreditations officer at EM Strasbourg Business School, University of Strasbourg, France.