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5 EdTech Trends Shaping Business Education — From Artificial Intelligence To Virtual Reality

Educators are exploring the disruptive potential of tech such as deep learning and data analytics

Thu Jun 16 2016

The edtech trend on the tip of everyone’s tongue at this year’s EdtechXEurope event is artificial intelligence.

By harnessing the power of AI and deep learning, educators can glean insights from the vast quantities of data hoovered up from their students. AI could also help lecturers make better decisions and could improve student retention rates, according to experts.

“AI is a tool to make better sense of data,” says Satya Nitta, director of education and cognitive sciences at IBM.

The world’s top online learning platforms are working with business schools such as Yale SOM and Duke Fuqua, and are offering advanced analytical tools to help them refine and enhance student learning.

Julia Stiglitz, director of business development at Coursera, says: “Data is an amazing resource for teachers, who glean detailed feedback on how learners are processing information.”

Meanwhile, virtual reality is immersing itself into elite schools like Stanford GSB. MIT Sloan, for instance, has trialled Google’s Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR devices.

“The next generation of VR — that’s going to replace the traditional notion of sitting in front of a computer,” says Peter Hirst, associate dean of executive education at MIT Sloan.

Below, BB explores five edtech trends that are shaping the future of business education.

Artificial Intelligence


Already, there are signs that educators are exploring AI’s disruptive potential. At Colorado State University, for example, online students and tutors are using AI powered by Cognii, an edtech company, to improve learning and assessment tools.

“Most edtech products will have an AI or deep learning component [in future],” says Jozef Misik, managing director of Knowble, a language tech start-up whose products are built on AI.

AI could help online learners self-asses, increase connectivity in global classrooms, and create social simulation.

Yet most of the breakthroughs in AI have been made outside of education and pioneered by companies like Google, Amazon and UPS.

“There are limitations,” says Hongbin Zhuang, CEO and co-founder of Emotech, a London robotics start-up. Problems include the uncertainty of how humans learn, and fears among faculty that they must be retrained or could be displaced completely.

Big Data


Edtech platforms and universities are increasingly exploring advanced analytics.

Edx is conducting research into how big data can help answer key online learning questions, such as the best ways to teach complex ideas, and which parts of a course are best taught in person instead of online. “We are…Developing best practices to enhance the student experience and improve teaching and learning,” says Nancy Moss, a director at edX.

Big data can help learners find the right courses; customize them to their needs; keep them on the right track; and potentially showcase their work.

Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, an online learning company, says: “The potential of online learning to deliver more effective learning experiences that are better targeted, I think, are huge.” 

But there are ethical issues involved with gathering student data. Edtech companies have been criticized for what could become an intrusive level of surveillance. 

Mike Feerick, CEO of ALISON, says the online learning business operates a “code of best practice”: “We take data privacy very seriously.”

Virtual Reality


The Virtual reality market will hit $70 billion by 2020, according to Taiwan-based research group TrendForce. Opportunities for its application in education may be huge.  

“It’s one experience to read a case study, and another to virtually live it,” says Anne Trumbore, director of Wharton Online, the business school’s digital initiative.

Robin Teigland at the Stockholm School of Economics, says she has taught two groups of executives using Gear in a VR initiative sponsored by Samsung. “If you think about the money being pumped into it by Facebook, Google or Alibaba, developments are coming,” she says.

But the market is still in its “early stage”, says Sander Martinec, CEO of Smart2VR, a virtual reality platform.

Limitations include access to expensive hardware, software, and content. “With virtual reality you have to get the technology in the hands of the student — that’s a hurdle,” says Patrick Mullane, executive director of HBX, Harvard Business School’s online learning initiative.

Mobile First


Julia Stiglitz at Coursera, anticipates rapid growth in mobile and tablet learning. More than 50% of Coursera users already learn through mobile.

Julia says handheld devices are increasingly becoming “the platform of choice and a necessary tool”.

Accordingto UNESCO, six billion people now have access to mobile phones and digital devices. “As more people get online for the first time or are able to get online daily on smartphones and tablets, more people have access to online education,” says Oliver Cameron, VP of engineering and product at Udacity. “Mobile education makes it possible to truly learn from anywhere, anytime.”

INSEAD, the business school, last year launched a mobile learning platform for business, which signed up Accenture and Microsoft.

Peter Zemsky, INSEAD’s head of innovation, says: “Being a leader in digital management education in general is increasingly important….Especially as business schools are teaching [students] how to adapt to changing technologies.”

Blended Learning


In business education, a mixture of bricks and clicks may be king. “Blended is an important approach because it allows us to provide flexibility, but to still have an intimate, high-touch environment,” says William Lamb, dean of Babson College’s business school.

Babson runs a highly-ranked blended MBA program. Many other top schools have embraced this approach, such as IE Business School, Warwick Business School, and Kelley School of Business.

“Tapping technology to innovate in the classroom and create a unique, transformative educational experience for students is currently a challenge for ESADE and for most business schools,” Josep Franch, dean of ESADE Business School, said recently.

Digital group Udacity is opening bricks-and-mortar study locations, starting with New York, Los Angeles, and California.

Shernaz Daver, Udacity’s chief marketing officer, said in a blog post that, during a trial, blended students had a 30% increase in project submissions and were three times more likely to complete their course.