Perspectives on management learning in the digital economy

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About the project

The actual and potential impacts of the digital economy on the nature of work have attracted growing academic interest as they present us with the opportunity to completely transform the nature of work, both for the benefit and detriment of society. This impact explains why the digital economy is considered as a grand societal challenge―a global issue that is sufficiently complex that it cannot be tackled by any one single entity. Consider the effects different elements of the digital economy have had on job precarity, income insecurity and the invention of the so-called “gig economy.” Yet, the digital economy has already brought about new conceptualizations about the importance of creating brand value through cooperation and collaboration. This is significant, as grand societal challenges can only be tackled through the concerted efforts of like-minded partners. The connectivity afforded by the digital economy appears to facilitate the emergence new types of organizations, such as multistakeholder partnerships, needed to take on grand societal challenges.

However, if the digital economy is a grand societal challenge that has a great influence on the nature of work, it can conceivably also be brought to serve the greater good through multistakeholder partnerships. Yet, this invites us to consider a) what skills are needed to manage multistakeholder partnerships that can bring about positive societal transformation, and b) how higher learning institutions can design programs that will allow for the management learner to acquire related knowledge and skills.

Key findings

  • Management research on the effects of the digital economy has largely focused on five themes: managing precarious work, managing inequality, managing disruption, managing social and psychological impacts, and managing change.
  • Much of the published research has, however, examined key themes in silos―most targeted objects of research associated with the digital economy ignored how they influence the nature of work.
  • New forms of work brought about by the digital economy―such as zero-hour contracts, nonstandard work, contingent work, on-call work, job-sharing platform-mediated work, portfolio careers, app work, capital platform work, atypical or informal employment arrangement, project-based work, small-scale employment arrangements and microwork―have also received limited attention.
  • Potential beneficial effects of the digital economy―such as producing technology-complementing skills, extending social protections, reducing revenue disparity, and the potential for the digital economy to increase brand value through collaboration and cooperation efforts―are also understudied.
  • More research is needed to examine how business schools need to adapt their curriculum to bring about a digital ecosystem that helps the many rather than blindly maintaining a digital economy that benefits the few.

Policy implications

  • Research on the skills and knowledge needed to manage multistakeholder partnerships needs to be encouraged by funding agencies.
  • Higher education in business needs to design learning environments, such as project-based or service learning, that will help students acquire cooperation and collaboration skills and the knowledge needed to manage multistakeholder partnerships.
  • This would imply translating funding models for higher education that encourage or reward developing the short-term employability skills demanded by today’s employers, to focusing on the acquisition of the long-term cooperation and collaboration skills needed to take on grand societal challenges.
  • This could imply developing policy and funding mechanisms that encourage project-based and service learning, as these are recognized methods for acquiring collaboration and cooperation skills and knowledge.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Andrew Webb, PhD, assistant professor in international management at the Sprott School of Business, and academic director of the Sprott Student Consulting Group:

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, the Future Skills Centre or the Government of Canada.

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