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How one of the world's top universities is embracing online learning

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How one of the world's top universities is embracing online learning

Imperial College London, one of the world's most prestigious universities, specializes in science, engineering, medicine and business. With 17,000 students and 8,000 staff, Imperial awards more than 6,700 degrees each year.

At the Imperial College Business School, bright minds are working hard to introduce new innovations and ideas to the educational technology, or Edtech, sector. Its Edtech Lab is made up of a range of specialists whose expertise includes everything from software development to research and film production.

As part of its work, the Edtech Lab has developed a Global Online MBA, a two-year part-time program that is delivered in an online format. The MBA uses an online learning platform called the Hub that allows students to access their program materials using a range of devices and track their progress in real time. While the emphasis is on the online aspect of the course, some elements take place on campus.

"We've been running the Edtech Lab here at Imperial College Business School since about 2005," David Lefevre, director of the EdTech Lab, told CNBC in an interview broadcast earlier this week. "We do two things: we build online courses — a lot of them, about 180 — which we deliver to our students and to the general public, and we do a lot of R&D (research and development) into how to make education improved using technology."

Lefevre added that the team at the Edtech Lab thought technology could enhance education in a significant way. While technology is advancing and online learning is developing at a rapid pace, some doubts still linger.

"All of our students have access to online courses, and I think they initially approach it with some trepidation," Lefevre said. "They perceive (it) as, perhaps, they're being short-changed or that they're getting access to something which is somehow inferior. But once they take the courses they become converted and they see the value in them."

Imperial is not the only institution developing online learning platforms. Over the last few years, several massive open online courses (MOOCS) have been developed.

Providers such as edX — which was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012 — offer free online courses from renowned institutions including Columbia University and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The platform provides more than 1,900 courses and its users come from all over the world.

"The major trend that's happening in higher education, the one that's going to have the greatest impact, is the digitization of courses," Lefevre said.

He added that an increasing amount of higher education would be digitized over the next four to five years, which would bring with it all kinds of advantages. "The exciting new tech that everybody's is talking about is AI (artificial intelligence), AI and big data, and these will certainly have a significant impact in a relatively short time frame."

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