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Executive Education

The Impact of Digitalization on Higher Education

Professor Pierre Dussauge is diving into the new world of online learning. “The digitalization of higher education is still evolving,” he notes. “But the sooner we, as educators and learners, start working with these tools, the better we will understand how they can best enhance learning and optimize their use.” Interview:



Digitalization deemphasizes the top-down dissemination of standardized knowledge. As an educator, you go from disseminating knowledge orally, via in-class lectures, to putting it online in a variety of formats, including written text, videos, quizzes, and so on. While, almost by definition, oral lectures are prepared in advance, providing such content online frees up class time for more discussion.

I see the increased emphasis on interactive learning and discussion as one of the primary advantages of digitalization, since for me it’s the more interesting part of learning.” 


But there are other advantages too. Notably, digitalization opens up higher education to people who wouldn’t be able to afford or access it otherwise, such as people living in remote locations. Similarly, digitalization makes it possible for some people to pursue higher education with less disruption to their lives. Individuals who are already managers in a company, with heavy workloads and important responsibilities, may find that online learning makes it easier to combine their professional and family commitments. The possibility with online learning to access your sessions when you want and learn at your own pace is a major advantage for many students. It all very much depends on individual learning styles and short or long-term professional goals.”


Pierre Dussauge

Pierre Dussauge


“To answer this question I think you first need to bear in mind the three key missions, or objectives, of higher education:

  1. Creating new knowledge (i.e research)
  2. Dissemenating (reasonably well established/understood) knowledge
  3. Mentoring (in smaller group settings like PhD programs)"


The digitalization of higher education mainly affects the second segment: dissemination,” Pierre explains. “The truth is that online teaching is enhanced in some aspects but also downgraded in others. You can compare online learning to a textbook, but textbooks in which people will also be talking to you and asking you questions. However, unlike a textbook, online learning provides more tutoring and guidance as well as a rhythm (thanks to deadlines), with greater incentive to be assiduous about covering the material.

It is true, though, that an online setting does not provide certain elements of the in-class experience - notably, a lack of personal connection. In a classroom, there is a lot of interaction between participants, so people get to know each other and learn from one another. Having met someone physically increases personal connection far more than is possible online, even with webcasts and video conferences. Such limitations are why, for me, ideally online learning should not be a substitute to in-class learning but rather a complement to it.



The beauty is in finding the right balance between online and in-class learning, and the best way to make progress is to experiment with different combinations,” says Pierre. “The world of online learning is constantly evolving, and it is hard to predict where it is all going, with digitalization set to affect different disciplines in different ways. If we wait for it to be perfect before we get involved, then we will never get involved, which would be a pity. It’s a matter of familiarizing oneself with digital tools and platforms and using trial-and-error to figure out what works and what doesn’t.



Pierre was approached in December 2015 about the interest of HEC Paris Executive Education in launching a series of online learning certificates. “It was good timing,” he says. “I had just ended a four-year term as Dean of Faculty, so I was open to taking on a new project. I took it as an opportunity to get involved in the world of online learning.”

The ONLINE CERTIFICATE IN STRATEGY, was launched in September 2016. “It follows the same format, with three four-week courses, used by HEC Paris Professor PASCAL QUIRY in his ONLINE CERTIFICATE IN FINANCE. The Online Certificate involves a significant amount of course work and participants only receive the certificate if they pass all the exams. The Online Certificate in Finance has shown that the program creates a strong bond among the participants with many of them meeting up after classes to work on specific aspects of the course and network. "It’s a high quality and challenging program, which is enabling many people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access my courses, for reasons of affordability and logistics, to participate. Shifting to an online setting forced me to rethink how I present information.