Prof Dheeraj Sharma: Facilitating Transformative Learning Experiences

Prof Dheeraj Sharma
Prof Dheeraj Sharma

IIM Rohtak, like all the other IIMs in India is carrying the legacy of transformative education. At the heart of this transformation is the noble pursuit of its Director Prof Dheeraj Sharma. Prof Dheeraj aims to impart high quality management education and training.

Till his high school, Prof Dheeraj’s only ambition was to join the army. He qualified and even joined the National Defense Academy, Khadakwasla, to fulfill his dream. However, destiny had other plans for him. It was the time when the corporate sector in India started to boom and provide a window of opportunities in business world. Consequently, Prof Dheeraj pursued higher education with a desire to work in corporations. It was only a chance meeting with a US based Indian professor that made him drawn to pursuing a career in academics.

He taught his first class as a doctoral candidate in the US, and it turned out to be an exhilarating experience. Later, with the guidance of several top management professors and his hard work, he researched a novel area. These transformative interactions kindled a similar deep-seated passion for fostering intellectual growth and facilitating transformative learning experiences by becoming an academician. Engaging with students in the quest for knowledge not only stimulates his intellectual curiosity but also allows him to inspire others to embark on their scholarly journeys.

Tackling Adversities Effectively

At the beginning of his doctoral studies at Louisiana Tech University in the U.S., Prof Dheeraj experienced a pivotal moment when he was assigned to teach a class and he felt nervous because of his non-American accent and little knowledge about US business. He also recalls how the class size was almost a hundred. Instructing these many students, most of them were older to him, was a big challenge for Prof Dheeraj. However, this incident imparted a crucial lesson in ensuring the relevance and relatability of his teaching materials. Subsequently, Prof Dheeraj recognized the necessity of anchoring his teaching methodologies in research and realworld examples. To achieve this, he devoted considerable effort to delving into the literature on markets, consumer behaviour, and brands, enriching his instructional approach and fostering a deeper understanding of the practical applications of academic concepts. Towards the end of that course, he received appreciation from many students, some of them are still in touch with him.

Ideal Integration of Technology

The role of Prof Dheeraj was integral in adapting to changes and bringing innovation during the pandemic. The shift from face-to-face to online learning was a huge challenge for IIM Rohtak. The institute primarily utilizes case-based pedagogy, requiring discussion. To ensure a high quality of education during the COVID-19 pandemic, IIM Rohtak leveraged its learnings from delivering online courses and invested in digital infrastructure to replicate the physical classroom digitally. This included techenabled classrooms with computers, audio-visual equipment, smart interactive boards, simulation-based learning platforms, and online internships.

Unlike many institutions whose faculty delivered lectures through studios, IIM Rohtak conducted online case discussions with faculty present in the classroom, similar to pre-covid days. The faculty wrote responses on whiteboards, and the camera moved automatically to match the faculty’s movements. A large screen in front of the faculty enabled them to ask any student and engage in discussion. Online learning platforms were used to connect the learners and faculty members. Features like break-out rooms were leveraged to ensure effective group discussions. IIM Rohtak’s proprietary e-learning platform was developed and leveraged to conduct assessments, share teaching material, and facilitate intellectual interaction through discussion boards.

Nurturing Diverse Cultures Under One Roof

IIM Rohtak’s remarkable student diversity is one of its greatest strengths. The institute firmly believes that academic, geographic, and gender diversity in the classroom helps make the learning process inclusive. The institute under the guidance of Prof Dheeraj has successfully sustained a high level of student diversity in terms of regional, gender, and academic representation.

The institute has a record-breaking representation of 78% females in its latest PGP 14 Batch. The pan-national character of IIMs and its outreach activities have ensured representation from 24 states and UTs. IIM Rohtak has an enviable collection of adjunct faculties from multiple countries and different walks of life, such as the armed forces, central government, and corporations. It also has nearly 33% representation of females among fulltime faculty. Converting a problem into an opportunity, the institute reached out to global academicians during the COVID-19 pandemic, who continue to be associated with IIM Rohtak, providing the institute with an enviable assortment of diverse distinguished foreign academicians as guests and visiting faculty. The institute has actively promoted quality education among diverse and marginalized people by having programs for women from rural J&K and the northeast.

Prioritizing Research

Director Prof. Dheeraj believes that research is one of the most important parts of the work of an academician. Consequently, Prof. Dheeraj believes his most significant achievement was publishing his work in FT-50 journals. FT-50 journal list contains arguably the most important, impactful, and challenging to publish. It is a rare treat even for the most prolific management researchers to produce an article in journals listed in the FT-50 list. In the field of business management, one must be able to produce and publish impactful research.

It is no surprise that many articles by Prof. Dheeraj have been published in FT-50 journals. The research that he values has found resonance with industry and society.

In addition, Prof. Dheeraj was able to contribute to the development of IIM Rohtak. In 2017, IIM Rohtak was operating out of one rental building, and today, it has a state-of-the-art 200-acre campus. Between 2017 and 2024, the institute has had a fivefold increase in the number of students in various long-duration programs. Faculty research output in top journals has increased more than tenfold between 2017 and 2024. The Average salary for on-campus MBA students nearly doubled between 2017 and 2024.

Continuing the Rich Legacy

IIM Rohtak offers consultancy and executive education to many managers, corporations, governments, and PSUs, among others. Its executive education consultancy revenue increased nearly tenfold between 2017 and 2024. Finally, only 9 female students in the batch graduated in 2018. In the last four batches of the MBA, it had more than 50% female students; in the 2023 batch, the institute had a record of 78% female students. The aforementioned, by any means, are not insignificant achievements.

Prof. Dheeraj has big plans for the future of IIM Rohtak. Over the next ten years, he foresees education transforming greater personalization and accessibility, driven by significant breakthroughs in technology. Integrating virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and adaptive learning systems will profoundly transform the learning process for students, enabling them to customize education to suit their unique requirements and preferences. The improved access to information is increasingly shifting the role of educators from content providers to mentors and facilitators. This trend is going to accelerate in the coming years. Prof. Dheeraj aims to continue providing mentorship and guidance, leveraging technology to enhance communication and collaboration between academe, industry, and government. His role is to act as a catalyst for innovation and continuous learning, enabling students to thrive in a rapidly evolving world. Prof. Dheeraj is an inspiration not just to students but also to educators aspiring to bring meaningful changes in the field. His advice to new educators embarking on their careers in education is:

  • Pique your and students’ curiosity: An educator needs to be curious himself/herself and facilitate class discussion in a way that arouses students’ curiosity.
  • Prepare, plan, and be Practical. Prepare sessions in advance, plan the flow of content, and engage with veteran teachers to master the craft of teaching. Make learning contextual. Observation is the best way to identify research problems, and discussing research problems in the classroom is one of the best ways to demonstrate implications of academic learning. Therefore, bring your and others’ research to the classroom.
  • Positive relationship: Foster positive relationships with your students, colleagues, acquaintances, and mentors. These connections will support you professionally and personally throughout your life.
  • Passion: Remember why you chose a career in education and stay passionate about positively impacting your students’ lives.