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Educational institutes can go either digital or dark

Dr. Anupam Narula, Professor of Marketing, Amity University, asserts that the pandemic has come as a reality check for institutes reluctant to recognise and embrace the disruptive impact of digital technologies. He further discusses how universities and business schools can integrate online and in-person learning. 

Anupam Narula

IBT: The past year has seen a massive upheaval for the education ecosystem due to COVID-19. What have been your learnings on the strengths and weaknesses of the online mode of learning?

Dr Anupam Narula: Major world events are often an inflection point for rapid innovation and COVID-19 is an example. The pandemic has disrupted the higher education ecosystem by forcing institutions to move face-to-face classrooms into an online environment. This disruption is here to stay, and the future lies in a new hybrid model of education. Many institutions and educators are innovating, and students are presently facing uncertainty as they try to adapt to new teaching pedagogy and understand best practices.

As per World Economic Forum, even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global EdTech investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach US$ 350 billion by 2025. COVID -19 has acted as a catalyst to accelerate the pace of adoption of online teaching tools. Whether it is virtual tutoringvideo conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage from last 14 months in India.

For those students who have access to the right technology, online learning can be more effective in several ways. Research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. E-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.

The online environment offers unprecedented opportunities for people who would otherwise have limited access to education. The students can participate in classes from anywhere in the world, provided they have a computer and internet connection and there are more points of engagement between both students and educators.

This new paradigm is leading educators to innovate and develop dynamic courses of the highest quality and experiment on teaching methods to develop skills like critical thinking and problem solving. These will be more important for success of students in the future. Educators are mixing teaching methods—including case-based method, group work, video presentations and project-based learning—which help keep students engaged. Incorporating frequent “micro-engagements” or a variety of touchpoints/check-ins such as chat, breakout group activities, and quizzes, works very well for skills assessment and student engagement.

“I believe that educators are required to have balanced approach for online classroom. The Synchronous vs. Asynchronous balancing act need to be done for the best practices for leveraging asynchronous learning to conduct better synchronous sessions.”

At the same time, this medium has certain inherent weaknesses that can pose potential threats to success. The problem is significant in rural and marginalized communities in India. Those students who cannot afford the technology are unable to enroll and only 23% of Indian households have internet accessibility for e-education. This will widen the learning gap across high-, middle- and low-income families. Technology breakdowns are also very common and lack of seamless and reliable services can detract the learner from the learning experience.

Online learning cannot be an alternative for in-person learning, as students miss the community feel of being on campus and networking face-to-face with peers. This learning environment is also not appropriate for more dependent learners. Educators must be properly trained in online delivery and methodologies, otherwise the success of the online program will be compromised.

IBT: How would higher education institutes (HEIs) need to adapt their pedagogies to adjust to hybrid learning?

Dr Anupam Narula: The concept of hybrid learning has been in existence over the last decade, but it got its share of the spotlight in the last few months, due to the unprecedented global crisis brought about by the pandemic. I believe that future of higher education is hybrid and online education will eventually become an integral component of higher education ecosystem.

Universities and business schools should integrate online and in-person learning in the learning process. The experienced educators, strategy and technology can enable customization of course design and content to address students holistically with their individual needs and circumstances. The pedagogies need to be adapted to a new approach, which is learner-centered and involves active learning & processing of information, technology and real-world applications modeled on professional practice.

“The key is to choose the delivery mode that is most effective for the audience, realistic and the education purpose.”

The course design must equip students with basic concepts about the course and the details can be accessed through asynchronous learning with the help of educator or available technology. The course must have pre-work, mentoring during or after teaching, or course or topic resources available for access anytime.

The educators must judge what material to keep in the live sessions (synchronously), what material to ask students to engage with on their own time (asynchronously), and what material to simply cut out to best serve the content and aim of learners to produce the desired performance results.

Educators must ask themselves two key questions to help steer their thinking:

  • How should the educator split the content into synchronous and asynchronous material?
  • How can the educator leverage asynchronous learning to help conduct better synchronous sessions?

The hybrid learning course needs to be tailored to not only different learning styles but also different paces of learning as per credit system of courses in semester or trimester method adopted by HEI’s.

IBT: On a larger perspective, how has the pandemic transformed, or catalyzed previously emerging trends in the industry in the realm of technology adoption?

Dr Anupam Narula: Prior to the pandemic, a paradigm shift towards technology adoption by the universities and business schools was already underway. Current events have accelerated the paradigm, as evidenced by the marked shift in spending towards digital businesses.

Digitization has stepped in to bridge the gaps during the pandemic and without digital tools and technologies, we would have no way to work, shop, go to university, and more. Digital transformation is the backbone, muscle, brain, and heart of the HEIs and business schools during the shutdowns, social distancing measures and in the new normal.

The pandemic is a reality check for higher education institutes that have been reluctant to embrace digital transformation and now find themselves woefully unprepared. These digital laggards are now scrambling to migrate their operations and workforce to a virtual environment.

“I believe that operating digitally is the only way to stay in business as either we go digital, or go dark.”

On the other hand, HEIs that had not only developed digital strategies, but executed on them prior to the pandemic are now able to leapfrog their less nimble competitors. HEIs need to keep on innovating on a continuous basis with adoption of new technologies, otherwise they will be surpassed by those that are heavily investing in new digital capabilities for the post-coronavirus future—a future that looks very different from the world pre-pandemic.

IBT: What implications does this have for the skillsets that students need to successfully compete in the coming years in the ‘knowledge economy?

Dr Anupam Narula: Due to digital revolution ‘World Economic Forum’ has predicted that in less than five years from now, 85 million jobs will disappear and taken over by machines but technological advances like in robotics and machine learning will also create 97 million new job roles and change the demand of skills sets that employers need from human workers.

Students are required to have skillsets that make them adept at analytical thinking, innovation skills, active learning, resilience & flexibility, emotional intelligence, creativity & originality, leadership and social skills, service orientation and negotiation skills to be relevant and in demand in the intelligence revolution.

Market forces and digital technologies have spurred the demand for highly skilled and strategic competent workforce in cognitive technological applications. The skillsets that students need to augment are machine-learning, predictive analytics, and data-mining capabilities with AI in the highly specialized knowledgeable areas like FinTech, Block chain Technology, Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, Encryption & Cyber security, Augmented & Virtual reality, 3D & 4D Printing, Frugal Innovation, Cloud computing, Internet of Things & Connected devices, Robotics, Autonomous transport, Computational Ethics, e-commerce and digital trade through self-service touchless technologies (SSTT), Data driven marketing and Voice search engine optimization (VSEO).

“I believe that in-demand job roles in the coming years will be of AI & machine learning specialists, data analysts and scientists, information security analysts, IoT specialists, FinTech engineers, customer success specialists, digital strategy specialists, cyber security experts, computational thinking experts, computer systems troubleshooters, transport technology technicians, and business services and administration managers.”

In knowledge economy human skills along with technological resources will be a killer combination to perform more professional service work roles. This would create a dynamic inclusive, sustainable, and resilient work environment that will demand massive investment in education & training in upskilling/reskilling of people for lifelong learning capabilities.

IBT: The government has introduced Study in India to encourage foreign students to opt for Indian universities. What are your suggestions on how this vision can be fruitful?

 Dr Anupam Narula: The vision of government of ‘Study in India’ initiative is to increase the number of foreign students to 2 lakh over the next 5 years. The government has approved an expenditure of ₹150 crores for the program, which will be primarily used for brand promotion activities.

The ‘Study in India’ initiative can be achieved by increasing the reach to foreign students through promoting short duration online educational courses on the website https://www.studyinindia.gov.in/. The foreign faculties’ expertise can be used to create  multi-disciplinary ‘Nano professional courses” of one to two semesters in architecture, engineering, management, law, medicine, and other disciplines.

India can leverage foreign faculties’ network under the education ministry’s Global Initiative of Academic Network (GIAN) and Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC) initiative. Under GIAN, the ministry allows top varsities to invite renowned foreign academicians to come and teach at Indian institutions for short durations, while SPARC promotes joint research.

The government must factor quality education, superior accommodation, better campuses, cultural centers, and food for being successful in its mission.

IBT: Recently, we are seeing a huge influx of educational and professional courses where tie ups are being done with foreign universities. How do you view this trend, and how can it help higher education institutions attain global competitiveness?

 Dr Anupam Narula: Strategic tie-ups with foreign universities will push Indian higher education institutions to improve academic opportunities, educational quality, research standards and rankings at the international level.

These tie-ups will help students in having essential components of global perspective of  education through credit recognition and transfer, joint degree programmes, dual degree programmes and twining arrangements.

“I believe that these tie-ups with foreign universities will help to enhance the educational experience for the students and those who will have the exposure will thrive, those without it will struggle in the global competitive market.”

Foreign universities will help to develop contemporary specialized nano programmes of study, with a flexible mix of online and face-to-face instruction, which are in demand by the global industry. They will create an alumni base in India that will help fund yet more sophisticated programmes of research and other activities. This will help to network and establish relationships that will foster global professional opportunities for students.

No one can predict the precise shape that the future will take when it comes to the future of higher education and associated partnerships in India. However, we can be confident that the New Education Policy 2020 promises a future that it will be bright.


Dr. Anupam Narula is Professor of Marketing & Dy. Director (Alumni Relations) at Amity University Uttar Pradesh, Noida, India. Prior to this, he served as Faculty of Marketing at FORE School of Management, New Delhi. A consistent first-class holder, he has done Ph.D. in Economics, PGDBM in Marketing (Silver Medalist) and M.A in Economics. He has to his credit Certificate of Achievement of Marketing course, held at Nanyang Business School, NTU, Singapore. He is an IVEY Business school, Ontario Canada trained faculty in Case teaching and Writing techniques.

 Dr. Narula has a total professional experience of 25 years in teaching, research, and industry. He has presented 20+ research papers in various reputed international and national conferences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Indore, ISB Hyderabad, IIT Delhi, etc. He also published 26+ research papers in peer-reviewed indexed journals and edited books, 30+ contemporary research articles in Brand Equity, Business World, Education times, The Hindu, Financial Express, etc., and 13+ working papers under the aegis of FORE School of Management, New Delhi. He is on the editorial review board of two international and six national refereed journals. He has been invited as an external expert member for various Academic Advisory, Management Consulting Services, and Ph.D. thesis evaluations by various premier universities and management business schools in India and Abroad.

 Dr. Narula has conducted several MDP’s, FDP’s, Executive Education Programmes and consulting assignments for corporates like TATA chemicals Ltd, IRCTC, MTNL, Mahagun Group, Relaxo Footwear, Tata Pigments Ltd, Indian Army, etc. He has traveled extensively in more than 20+ countries all around the globe for various academic and research endeavors.

His area of expertise are Consumer Shopping Behavior, Service Marketing, International Marketing, Digital Innovation Strategy, Strategic Brand Management and Marketing Strategy for Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s).

He can be reached at anarula@amity.edu. Views are personal.

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