Jun 7, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Google the words “digital disruption,” and more than a million hits come back. Google it again tomorrow, and the results will likely have multiplied. Why? Because we’re living in an age of digital disruption, and its potential is growing bigger by the day.

While this is an exciting time for innovation-minded business leaders in every sector, it’s also not for the faint of heart. Wondering whether you’ve got what it takes to navigate the massive changes ahead? Read on for a closer look at digital disruption, why it matters to students, and how you can prepare to take your place at the forefront of industry disruption.

What is Digital Disruption?

The phrase “digital disruption” may be among the buzziest, but it doesn’t mean the same thing to every person. For example, while TechTarget defines it as “the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services,” Gartner proposes it to be, “an effect that changes the fundamental expectations and behaviors in a culture, market, industry or process that is caused by, or expressed through, digital capabilities, channels or assets.”

Technopedia, meanwhile, distills it to its essence:  “Digital disruption happens when advances in technology change our markets and our societies.”

Viewed through this lens, it’s easy to see that digital disruption is all around us. From transportation to finance to the media and entertainment. And while the term “disruption” may have negative connotations, the reality is that digital disruption is all about creating opportunities that make the world a better, more livable place.

Digital Disruption and Higher Education

Certainly, today’s students need to understand digital disruption because they’re tomorrow’s workers. But digital disruption is also happening somewhere much closer to home for college students: on campus. And while the education sector may have been slow to the party, it’s come on strong in recent years. Proposes I-CIO, “A new wave of tech-driven delivery models is presenting the sector with an opportunity to dramatically enhance the quality of learning — and the results that students and businesses can expect.”

Specifically, digital distribution, adaptive learning, virtual teaching, flipped learning, the gamification of education, and online-only courses are a few of the ways digital disruption is transforming higher education.

Preparing for Digital Disruption

We’ve established that digital disruption is very much happening, and that students are already benefiting it. But how can they position themselves to continue to benefit from it as contributing members of the workforce? These three things can help:

1. Be curious, open, and ready to pivot.

While we don’t know what digital disruption may bring, we do know that change is a matter not of if but when. Nina Waaler, a vice-rector for education in Norway, told GoinGlobal, “[Students need to know] that what they are learning probably will not be current when they are looking for a job.” The key to surviving amidst the ambiguity? “Find the mix of factual knowledge and tolls to be open and rigorous at the same time.”

2. Understand and develop the skills you need.

Says Jørgen Ørstrom Møller, an adjunct professor at Singapore Management University and Copenhagen Business School, “Technology opens many windows, but human skills determine how they are used….It is sometimes overlooked that the higher productivity embedded in new technology only blossoms if humans have the skill to manage technology.”  

The takeaway? Determining the skills you need -- and will need -- is paramount. According to Clickz.com, these may include data skills, customer-centricity, and attitude and personality.

3. Commit to lifelong learning.

This also means that the acquisition of skills can’t be limited to the college years -- or even to the middle-management years.  Janil Puthucheary, Singapore’s senior minister of state for education, recently asked, “How do you cope with the fact that the education you have may not perfectly prepare you for your first, second, third or whatever number of jobs?”

The answer, according to Puthucheary? In a world of so much uncertainty the one thing [people] need to take from their education is adaptability – a need to continually learn, be resilient about that process of losing jobs and become comfortable with change and comfortable with uncertainty.”

The digital disruption is here to stay -- whether you like it or not. Which begs the question: Why not like it?  Because while the phenomenon represents major opportunities for a breadth and depth of industries, it also represents major opportunities for the people working in them. Sure, you can sit back and watch it happen around you, or you can step up, embrace the disruption, and be a change-maker.







Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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