During the current Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, we have seen a phenomenal surge in the volume of webinars and e-courses on different social media platforms—including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Zoom, and Google Hangouts. Experts and specialists—both renowned and lesser-known—are sharing their insights across diverse business domains, functions and practice areas such as finance, healthcare, manufacturing, services, mathematics, engineering, law, technology & entertainment, besides on a host of industry-specific skills and competencies. This supply-side abundance marks the onset of a refreshing third wave (maybe we should call it the fourth wave in line with the Industry 4.0 nomenclature): The default era of massive digitisation and democratisation of knowledge and experience.

The best part of this self-springing revolution is the fact that many industry and business thought leaders and knowledge practitioners who earlier seemed hesitant about digital media (some dismissed the very idea) are now stepping forward in large numbers to conduct focussed e-sessions in their chosen spheres.

Institutionalise knowledge

The process of freewheeling dissemination now needs to get institutionalised and democratised without subjecting it to the rigour of arid regulation. The biggest hurdle may be the enormous divide that separates two distinct worlds, which must ideally work in a cohesive fashion to produce desired outcomes. On one end of the gamut are the seasoned experts with the knowledge and experience waiting to be shared at large; on the other are the trendy tech wizards to provide the enabling media to transmit this content and facilitate a rewarding interaction between the makers and takers. With a few exceptions, the former group is primarily comprised of an elderly populace bearing a formal, matter-of-act demeanour, while the latter is brimming with enthusiastic youngsters who swear by their own lingo and maverick ways. Unless the two disparate worlds are bridged in seamless fashion, this revolutionary trend would lack the momentum to make it the new normal of modern-day education.

So, how shall the twain meet? We need highly competent catalysts with good exposure to both worlds and an innate knack of making things happen. These catalysts could help school and university heads from diverse spheres quickly put in place a flexible curriculum of crucial topics, line up competent speakers, and ensure a motivated team of young Turks to provide technical support. If all stakeholders in education sector work with a single-minded resolve to create a digital education system thriving on autonomy and innovation, we can roll out tailor-made Indian courses aimed at enhancing the employability and also spirit of entrepreneurship across agriculture, medicine, sciences, mathematics, business, legal, tax, human resources, marketing—the list knows no bounds. What’s more, we could tailor versions of such courses—may be like the courses offered by foreign universities—according to the needs, sensibilities, and wherewithal of the target audience: whether young graduates, mid-level executives, community stakeholders, or deprived sections of society. The new regime promises a plethora of measurable benefits; amongst other rewards, it could make knowledge delightfully actionable.

Knowledge transition

Today, it is common knowledge that the transition from academia to industry leaves a lot to be desired. The industry is grappling with the fallout of the glaring gap. Even as seasoned professionals are bidding goodbye to their respective employments every year, there’s little or no succession plan to ensure knowledge transfer to the new generation. On the other hand, there are scores of young graduates who either don’t pursue the fields they major in or join the industry with no experiential learning whatsoever. This knowledge vacuum has a direct impact on business—the end-products and services are often below par in quality, or the time to market takes a serious beating. No wonder, industries invariably prefer an apprentice over a degree holder. The firms invariably can’t afford to lose critical time in coping with the steep learning curve of the latter.

Actionable knowledge

Precisely why online education, apart from making the education sector more purposeful and actionable, spells a resounding value prop for the industry. The more thought leaders get on the web, the more companies across the globe get access to a rich reservoir of actionable knowledge. Unlike the earlier era, when a handful of big corporations enjoyed access to fancy-priced proprietary e-learning material, the democratisation of e-learning will now prove market disruptive in terms of its sheer reach to even SMEs/MSMEs and greenhorn startups from India’s smaller towns and cities.

In a markedly knowledge-intensive world of scarce resources and cut-throat global competition, the value of actionable, affordable, and user-friendly content can’t ever be overemphasised. The charm of digital lies in its phenomenal possibilities: Browsers, tablets, smartphones, desktops, smart TVs, laptops, and wearable devices are helping people gain actionable knowledge to continuously help develop and sustain their businesses in almost real time. Admittedly, this digital university won’t replace the conventional institutions; it will complement it by bridging the gap between knowledge and action.

The time is ripe for the architects of this revolution—subject matter experts, tech professionals and industry catalysts including foreign universities—to get going, to think beyond mere academic degrees and build parallel knowledge dissemination, interaction and collaborate for upskilling our people across different age groups, spheres and geographies. The digital route, which is inherently democratic, is the best way to fulfil this mammoth objective. Maybe we have identified the ‘way’; we now need the much required ‘will’.

Views are personal. The author is M&A partner at J. Sagar Associates.

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