Knowledge is the new currency, and it can buy anyone a new future 

15 September 2022

Dil Sidhu examines some of the key issues when creating a digital campus strategy. 



Knowledge is power! A phrase recognisable on a global basis and by every culture because there is a direct link between knowledge, skills, training, and a better socio-economic outlook. This applies to individuals, organizations, and governments. Who does not want to be part of the ‘Knowledge Economy’ after all?

It’s estimated that the global education sector has a total accessible market value of over US$2.2 trillion split into three key segments, the degree student (undergraduate and graduate), the professional learner (enterprise, government and not-for-profit) and the general learner (primarily individuals looking for knowledge to upskills, reskill or just out of interest).

As the world grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic, online became the primary channel for learning delivered on a worldwide basis. While the pandemic has subsided and many learners are returning to the face-to-face method, online learning has proven it can be remarkably effective but also able to reach learners across the globe. The new normal will be a blended approach of in-person and online with innovative technologies also pushing the envelope into augmented reality, virtual reality and the metaverse.

The world’s most lucrative online learning markets (where online education is highly valued by employers, accessible but also costs the most) are the United States and Western Europe. However, online learning has helped to create access for learners around the world to connect with content that many would never have dreamed to access. Today, online learning platforms can provide learning opportunities in the form of open courses, or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Professional Certificates, Bachelor’s degrees and Master’s degrees. These are available from leading academic institutions as well as industry content providers that include Meta, Amazon Web Services, Google IT, IBM, The Economist, Amnesty International, National Geographic, The Smithsonian, and many others. All available online and priced to be accessible to a global learner audience.

With many new ‘EdTech’ start ups coming onto the market to compete with the existing platform players, academic institutions and industry players, there are some key elements that need to be considered.

These include Content, Provider, Credential, Commitment, Cost, and Career Consequence. A major advantage is to create content that leads to millions of registered learners to whom latest content can be marketed. This will be one of the measures that separates the new platform arrivals with the current large players. Current platform giants include Coursera (c.100 million registered learners in 190 countries), and edX (c.41 million registered learners in 196 countries). Between them they represent content from the most prestigious academic and industry brands on a global scale.

While learners are also aware of the skills that will get them that new role, a better role, or a promotion, they also recognise these big ‘brand’ content providers as of value to their resume – and brand names that a new employer will recognise.

The world cannot afford to build the number of new higher education institutions required to educate a growing population, and online learning provides a scalable solution.

An academic institution should look to online as a supplemental channel to on-campus learning and a path to earn additional revenue, manage resources, and learning outcomes in a more efficient and effective way. There are academic institutions who earn over $US50 million per annum just through their online content (without any cannibalization of on-campus programmes). In terms of resources, why not avoid capital expenditure involved with building larger lecture halls when online can teach thousands of students. In addition, why not provide skills that employers value through an online channel which could lead to a higher employability outcome.

For industry partners who create content the motivations are a little different. Industry partners want to create ecosystems for their content, use the content as a marketing tool to attract future talent and, in some cases, have their content become part of the degree curriculum.

Ideally for an academic institution the growth of online learning should be part of the ‘Digital Campus Strategy’ rather than an isolated project. It is also important to know and be able to judge the offers from different edtech platform providers as not all will be around in their current state. Finally, online learning can also help an academic institution create social impact by being available to the local community, alumni, and other stakeholders who will benefit from the knowledge.


Dil was Senior Advisor with edX (online learning founded by Harvard & MIT) and the former Chief Content Officer with Coursera (online learning founded by Stanford University faculty). He has also worked in academia in the US and UK (Vice-Dean, Columbia Business School and Chief External Officer, Alliance Manchester Business School).

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