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What’s next in online study? Technology trends in 2020 & beyond

5 Min Read

With the worldwide e-learning market projected to be worth $325 billion in 20251, the move toward online education continues to increase. Universities (including the University of Birmingham) have increasingly adapted programme delivery methods to cater for those who wish to study online.

We take a look at the five technology trends set to enhance online postgraduate education in 2020 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 are increasingly using 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). For example, we are able to quickly reach out to students who have frequent absences or whose grades are dipping and ensure we offer them support.

We are also working on personalising more content for students, based on factors such as their location or past preferences. This helps keep engagement high and stops the learning experience feeling disconnected or generic – something that is particularly important for online learning.

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.

According to Forbes, it is expected that by 2024 upwards of 47% of learning management tools will be enabled by AI capabilities. Rather than requiring teachers to create a single curriculum for all students, educators will have augmented intelligence assistance that provides a wide range of materials leveraging the same core curriculum, but cater to the specific needs of each student2.

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

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.

“When students read about something, they often want to experience it. With VR, they aren’t limited to word descriptions or book illustrations; they can explore the topic and see how things are put together” says Nick Babich for Adobe.

“Thanks to the feeling of presence VR provides, students can learn about a subject by living it. It’s easy to forget that VR experiences aren’t real — a body actually believes it’s in a new place. This feeling engages the mind in a way that is remarkable”3.

4. Simulations

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

For example, as part of the Online Masters of Public Administration, we include 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.

5. Incorporating MOOCs into the online learning environment

The next stage of the online learning evolution could see Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and online degrees increasingly offered side by side.

By the end of 2019, 13.5K MOOCs had been announced or launched by over 900 universities around the world4.

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 Management).

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. CHERNEV, B (2019) 21 Astonishing E-Learning Statistics For 2020 [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 02.03.20]
  2. SCMELZER, R (2019) AI Applications In Education [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 02.03.20]
  3. BABICH, N (2019) How VR In Education Will Change How We Learn And Teach [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 02.03.20]
  4. SHAH, D (2019) By The Numbers: MOOCs in 2019 [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 02.03.20]

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