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EdTech: Big Data, Virtual Reality & Five Online Learning Trends To Look Out For

B-schools are driving innovation in online learning

By  Marco De Novellis

Tue Aug 22 2017

The days of whiteboards and ink cartridges are over. Developments in educational technology – or edtech – are revolutionizing the business school experience.

Virtual Reality (VR) headsets are in classrooms. Big data-crunching devices give students live feedback on their progress.

And, with flexibility in high demand, more and more learning is being delivered online.

In July 2016, the Online MBA offered by Birmingham Business School became the first 100%-online MBA to be accredited by AMBA. Its Online MSc International Business is set to follow suit.

Today, online learning is increasingly seen as a direct alternative to taking a traditional classroom-based course.

In a survey of over 2,000 professionals, UK research firm Maturity found that 80% of professionals think online learning can help them further their careers.

Here’s 5 online learning trends to look out for:

1. Personalization


The more data business schools can capture about their students, the more they can tailor programs to match their students’ needs. So, big data analytics is key.

In March this year, Daniel Chicksand, director of Birmingham’s Online MBA, revealed that the business school is working on a new research project, exploring how big data can be used to drive more personalized learning online.

Daniel told BusinessBecause: “Online, we’ve got the analytics. 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 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.”

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

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We’re already talking to robots. We shout down the phone at mystery cold callers. We test our patience with automated customer services.

Soon, business schools could be using Artificial Intelligence chatbots for admissions purposes; addressing prospective students’ questions. We could even see virtual tutors dealing with students’ queries, and elaborate algorithms used to mark students’ work.

3. Immersive Learning

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Today’s online learning environments are every bit as interactive and immersive as the classroom. On Birmingham’s online programs, groups of up to 25 students connect with tutors and lecturers in fortnightly ‘live sessions,’ two and a quarter hours long.

Virtual Reality promises to take things to the next level. In five years’ time, we could see students interacting via holograms in online study locations of their choice. Imagine putting on a headset at home and entering a class full of students in London, New York, or at Google in Silicon Valley.

4. Mobile


91% of 18-to-44 year olds in the UK own a smartphone – according to Deloitte’s latest Mobile Consumer Survey. A third of UK smartphone users reach for their phones within five minutes of waking up in the morning.

Mobile is massive. And b-schools are making sure their online learning courses are fully compatible on desktop, tablet, or mobile. The use of mobile is likely to change the way people learn, with more emphasis on gamification – learning through games, competitions, and point scoring.

5. The rise of the MOOCs


On the surface, the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) represent a threat to the established business schools model. They’re free – available on platforms like edX and Coursera – and widely-accessible. Why study a paid-for MBA online when you can do one for free?

Well, an accredited MBA degree from an established institution is much more valued by employers. And MOOCs have a famously high drop-out rate – it’s hard to study online alone and without the supportive infrastructure of a business school.

Business schools have been quite clever with MOOCs. The University of Birmingham is part of FutureLearn, the first UK-led MOOC learning platform. By releasing its own MOOCs, Birmingham can build its brand globally, reach new markets, and share its expertize.

“We see the MOOCs as a way to support and strengthen our existing offering,” says Roshan Boojihawon, director of Birmingham’s Online MSc International Business.

“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 as a Russell Group institution.”