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EdTech: Birmingham To Transform Online Learning With Big Data And Artificial Intelligence

Birmingham Business School is exploring the use of new technologies to personalize the online learning experience

By  Marco De Novellis

Thu Mar 2 2017

Birmingham Business School is exploring the use of artificial intelligence and advanced big data analytics in its delivery of distance-learning programs. A new research project will examine the ways in which the latest technologies can be applied to foster more personalized learning online.

“We are pioneering a new way in the delivery of fully-accredited online MBAs and master’s programs,” says Roshan Boojihawon, director of Birmingham’s Online MSc International Business.

“The likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Spotify, they are all using intelligence-based systems to push people towards certain products and services that would appeal to them. We want to see how we can use data analytics to provide more intelligent support to our students.”

Birmingham already stands out as a business school at the cutting-edge of educational technology – edtech – innovation. Last year, its Online MBA became the first and only fully-online MBA to be accredited by AMBA. Its Online MSc International Business is set to follow suit.

Across Birmingham’s Online MBA and Online MSc International Business, 63% of students are international with 47 nationalities represented. 47% of students are men.

With new developments in artificial intelligence, the plan is to bring students together in a more personalized learning environment; to replicate and better the tailored support offered by tutors in an offline course.

“Online, we’ve got the analytics,” explains Daniel Chicksand, director of Birmingham’s Online MBA. “We can see exactly where students are in the program, how much time they’ve spent on a particular page, and how they navigate through the learning experience.

“We can make that learning pathway smoother and more rewarding for students. And we can give them that constant and immediate feedback that you can’t always get in a face-to-face environment.”

With the rise of new technologies, the days of the lonely long-distance learner are over. On both Birmingham’s Online MBA and MSc, fortnightly ‘live sessions’ connect tutors, lecturers, and groups of up to 25 students, in an immersive online learning environment. The sessions are two and a quarter hours long.

“The future is for more flexible learning programs,” says Daniel. “The Online MBA is in no way an easy option. The expectations for students are the same. In fact, students have to be more self-motivated and organized to fit their studies around their work.

“Employers see the Online MBA in the same light as the face-to-face program,” he continues. “Our Online MBA is growing in numbers year on year.”

Roshan doesn’t see the rise of free alternative online courses as a challenge to an established, and accredited, business school model. The University of Birmingham produces its own Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). It’s part of FutureLearn, the first UK-led MOOC learning platform.

“We see the MOOCs as a way to support and strengthen our existing offering,” he says. “There are lots of online providers out there. The market is crowded and noisy. To emerge out of that noise, we have the stamp of quality from AMBA, and are also a Russell Group institution.”