Mind the gap: investigating the transfer of digital capabilities from the classroom to the business in SMEs


Digital transformation is a game changer for businesses and economies. But SMEs, which play a major economic role, lag behind larger firms in developing digital capabilities.

Learning institutions that offer management courses and skills training have emerged as a popular initiative to address SMEs’ capability deficit.

However, such courses and skills training typically over-emphasise individual learning in digital capability development. Little attention is paid to the social, political, and cultural contexts of SMEs that impact the transformation of that individual learning into organisational capabilities.

This research thus investigates the approaches that SMEs take to facilitate organisational anchoring of digital capabilities gained through learning institutions.

Research overview

This project will involve an 18-month collaborative inquiry that investigates SME practitioners’ digital capability development experiences. Specifically, the project will involve:

  • Developing a theoretical and methodological approach to inquire into how SMEs experience digital transformation and the motivations, aspirations and expectations in pursuing digital capability development through learning institutions
  • Exploring how SMEs seek to transfer the individual-level digital capabilities acquired at learning institutions into organisational-level digital capabilities
  • Investigating enablers and barriers to transferring digital capabilities acquired from learning institutions to the organisational level
  • Generating theoretical and practical conclusions and recommendations to support digital capability development in SMEs.

The results will benefit scholars interested in capability development and digital transformation in SMEs, and will enable policymakers and involved institutions to develop better evidence-based capability development schemes to improve digital transformation outcomes for SMEs.

This project is funded by the BA Leverhulme Small Research Grants scheme.