In March 2017, Birmingham Business School announced it would be working on a new research project, to explore how big data can be used to drive more personalized learning online.
For Ian Myatt, director of educational enterprise at the University of Birmingham, big data analytics could significantly transform the way people learn, but it should be harnessed in the right way to be effective.
“There’s huge potential,” he says. “We strive to provide all students with an excellent experience, but traditional teaching methods make it difficult to customize for personal preferences. However, with online delivery and clever use of analytics, we can more readily accommodate individual learning styles and help them identify areas where they might benefit from a greater focus.”
“Data analytics will help students become more reflective of what they are learning and how they are learning it, allowing them to prioritize their time more effectively.”
At the University of Birmingham, Ian manages a portfolio of online learning initiatives including the delivery of the business school’s AMBA-accredited Online MBA and the Online MSc International Business.
Before Birmingham, Ian spent 15 years at the BBC, masterminding the development of online learning platforms like BBC Bitesize and iWonder. He says that there are many parallels between the challenges the BBC faced with the growth of digital media and the opportunities for distance learning within higher education.
“The BBC, like traditional correspondence courses, used to rely on a linear broadcast model. The same content would be distributed to everyone at the same time without any direct two-way interaction. Digital technology has now enabled distance learning to become far more interactive making it more comparable with the face-to-face campus experience.”
“The next step is how we better utilize learning technologies to create a more seamless blend between the physical and virtual learning environments in which we operate.”
Birmingham is building a state-of-the-art collaborative teaching laboratory which will bring together practical teaching activities across a broad range of science and engineering disciplines.
With a focus on the latest educational technologies, students will have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with theoretical concepts and practical techniques online before entering the physical laboratory, facilitating more enquiry-based experiments. Birmingham’s innovations team is also exploring how virtual and augmented reality can be integrated into the learning experience.
“We shouldn’t be delivering technology for technologies sake though,” says Ian. “The idea of students as co-creators is really important. They are best placed to provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t work. There’s no point in us trying to introduce new ways of doing things if it’s to the detriment of the current student experience.”
There’s no doubt new technologies are changing the way people learn. Birmingham’s Online MBA and the Online MSc International Business are obvious examples. And some business schools are increasingly moving away from a lecture-based study method towards learning by doing, learning by working in groups, even learning by playing games online.
“Universities should definitely be exploring the use of gamification, AI and analytics to inform how we deliver learning material and encourage people to engage with it. But there’s no one way of doing things—there is an increasing diversity of teaching styles that everyone will benefit from differently,” Ian continues.
“What I hope we are doing is extending the range of learning opportunities available and making them more accessible.”