“Employers and industry are increasingly expecting learning to be delivered online,” says Ian Myatt, director of educational enterprise at the University of Birmingham.
Developments in technology-enhanced learning, or edtech – means more and more MBA and masters programs are being offered online. And while employers once questioned the credibility of online courses, the tide is changing.
Birmingham Business School is at the forefront of this change, developing a host of pioneering distance learning initiatives including an Online MSc in International Business and the Online MBA, the world’s first and only 100% Online MBA to receive full AMBA accreditation.
The program’s learning objectives and outcomes are the same as the campus-based course; the academics are of equivalent calibre, the subject matter is near-indistinguishable, and when students graduate the certificate they receive is the same. For employers, there’s no distinction.
It’s a pioneering approach which has helped Birmingham to extend its reach into new global markets. On the Online MBA and MSc combined, 63% of students are international, and the courses are comprised of 86 different nationalities.
Ian is at the center of digital innovation at the university. He previously spent 15 years at the BBC, masterminding the creation of catch up TV and radio service BBC iPlayer and online learning resources BBC Bitesize and iWonder, before joining the University of Birmingham in August 2014.
We spoke to Ian about innovations in technology-enhanced learning, dealing with the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and how online programs are disrupting the traditional classroom-based model.
How are you developing edtech at the University of Birmingham?
My background is very much in digital product management and delivering online experiences that people really enjoy.
With that in mind, I’ve tried to adopt a more product-orientated approach to how we design and deliver programs; to think about the wider student experience and how to join the physical and online aspects of learning together.
It’s not just about the core educational experience. It’s also about the extra-curricular side; the networks you strike up and the experiences you gain.
Will you incorporate virtual reality into long-distance learning?
I can see genuine functional benefits where working within a virtual world can have a massive impact.
But I don’t want it to be gimmicky. We’ll evaluate the best technologies coming out and identify where we think we can add genuine value.
Actually, we’re already using virtual reality as a way of letting people see what our physical campus looks like. It’s a great way to immerse yourself into the University of Birmingham experience.
Do you see the rise of MOOCs as a challenge or an opportunity?
We’ve designed and delivered our own MOOCs, and we can absolutely see how MOOCs fit into our offering.
The beauty of a MOOC is it can whet people’s appetites to a subject: a percentage of those people who take a MOOC may well then pursue further paid courses, and ultimately a degree.
MOOCs help us to reach new audiences and to get our learning products and research out there as well; extending the reach and the impact of the university globally.
What makes Birmingham Business School’s Online MBA unique?
The University of Birmingham has a global footprint. It was the first civic university in England and we have alumni in virtually every country in the world.
[The Online MBA] is a fresh and new product that draws from Birmingham’s great tradition. This is not a campus-based course that we’ve just put online; we’ve built this from the ground up, taking on board the current online environment and latest technology that we have available.
What are the main benefits of studying online?
People studying online often work alongside their studies, meaning they consistently apply their learning.
Plus, the online environment can ensure a consistently high-quality product and experience no matter where people and staff are based.
Can online programs ever provide the same level of interactivity and networking opportunities as traditional classroom-based programs?
It’s not about trying to replicate campus-based experiences like for like; it’s about trying to find equivalent ways of interaction.
There’s no doubt that with Skype, video and audio conferencing, messaging services and shared documents, there are many ways in which you can collaborate with each other online that are actually more efficient and effective than in a face-to-face environment.
Are online business programs a threat to the existence of the traditional classroom-based model?
In certain markets, maybe. The needs of both students and employers are changing; they’re demanding more flexible methods of delivery that can fit around busy schedules.
Increasingly, we’ll see a shift to more flexible ways of learning, opening up learning to a whole new market, and potentially shifting the existing market in that direction too.