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What’s next in online learning? Technology trends to look out for in 2018 and beyond

Approximately 80%¹ of business professionals believe that online education could help to enhance their career prospects and as technology marches forward, universities (including the University of Birmingham) have increasingly adapted programme delivery methods to cater for those who wish to study online.

We’ve been looking at five technology trends set to enhance online postgraduate education in 2018 and beyond:

1) Personalisation

While ‘big data’ – data in such a quantity that its analysis can reveal valuable insight - offers companies a more customised experience for their consumers, universities also now use big data to seek a more customised experience for their students. At the University of Birmingham, we work to utilise big data to track student progress and understand where their weaknesses lie:  

We can make the learning pathway more rewarding: we can give constant and immediate feedback you can’t always get in a face-to-face environment,” explains Dr Daniel Chicksand (Director, Online MBA).

Okay so if we already do this, what’s new?

By using data, we’re looking to adapt our study material based on a whole range of information gleaned through the analytics. We increasingly personalise the online learning experience through simulations and adaptive learning techniques.

For example, as part of the Online Masters of Public Adminstration, we included an interactive simulation designed to help students apply their learning directly to the scenario at-hand. Students can personalise what they have learned and relate it to their own point of view.

2) Artificial Intelligence

Even if we may not realise it, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already all around us. From virtual assistants (like Siri and Alexa), to Netflix’s ability to recommend shows, AI is behind many of the devices we use every day.

In the near future, students may be able to seek advice from a virtual assistant to gain immediate feedback, use a chatbox for technical help or have their assignments graded instantly by AI algorithms.

In addition aspects of gamification may also be introduced, using programmed algorithms to add an extra layer of student participation to the learning experience.  

Recommended read: Webinars reveal what it’s like to study online

3) Virtual Reality

There is evidence to suggest that online learning could be taken even further than a synchronous seminar tutorial.

Eventually, virtual reality (VR) headsets and holograms could transport students to real-world environments to undertake investigations and deconstruct live case studies. Imagine that you’re visiting a start-up in Silicon Valley and working with peers to formulate a new business proposal, only to remove your headset and be thousands of miles away in the comfort of your living room! The future of online education could well be heading this way.

4) Mobile

Given that more than 90%² of 18 to 44 year olds own a smartphone, it’s unsurprising that digital programme content is set to become increasingly optimised for mobile. 2018 looks set to enable students to access their reading and assignments from anywhere and at any time:

“Online students have small gaps in their life when they can study; when they are waiting for flights, travelling for work or staying in a hotel room when deployed remotely,” says Dr Michael Shulver (Director, Online Content, Online MBA and Online MSc International Business).

While it may not be possible to complete your entire online degree from a mobile phone, we understand the importance of mobile accessibility and will continue to incorporate it into as many elements of our programmes as possible.

5) Incorporating MOOCs into the online learning environment

The next stage of the online learning evolution could see MOOCs and online degrees increasingly offered side by side.

MOOCs are a great way to introduce further online study if you’re unsure whether it’s right for you. At the University of Birmingham, we offer a range of MOOCs and webinars to whet people’s appetites for learning:   

We see MOOCs as a way to support and strengthen our existing offering,” explains Dr Roshan Boojihawon (Director, Online MSc International Business).

The availability of MOOCs are only set to increase and one day soon, you might be able to join a MOOC which forms part of one of our 100% online degrees and trial the course content before you apply! You might even be able to use your studies as part of your application to prove your eligibility.

To learn more about our programmes and how to apply, please fill out the ‘request information’ form or call us today using the number below.


¹ OVERTON, L. (2016) In-Focus: The Consumer Learner at Work. Towards Maturity [online] Available at: <https://towardsmaturity.org/2016/02/01/in-focus-consumer-learner-at-work/> [Accessed 27.12.2017]

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