What will online learning look like in the post-pandemic world?


By Tim Landucci and Russell Brooks

SMRS recently had the privilege of speaking at the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). Tim Landucci, our Education Marketing Consultant, together with Russell Brooks, Associate Director for Online Programmes at The London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE), shared their views of what online learning will look like in the future.

Here’s a snapshot of what was discussed:

  • The last 18 months has exponentially accelerated the growth of online learning and the marketplace now has more options, platforms and partners to choose from than ever before.
  • Technology advancement has accelerated rapidly. Innovations such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and cloud-based learning management systems are enhancing the overall experience for students and driving market growth.
  • The online learning market is starting to become a central component to business school strategy and beginning to have a long-term impact on the face of education.
  • There’s a significant increase in media spend with key business education publications and paid search, with key terms such as ‘online MBA’ increasing by 98%.
  • There’s been a notable growth in provision too, evidenced by the scaling of established providers, expansion of online Executive Education provision, partnership development between Edtech companies and business schools, the variety of learning formats and the increased investment in tech.

What are some of the trends shaping the future of online learning?

SMRS performed a piece of research with a panel of 3,500 students at different stages of the online learning process and across different levels (UG, PG, Online MBA, Exec Ed, etc.) The aim? To understand their behaviour and the prospect to student journey experience in order to identify any opportunities or areas for future development for the online learning market in the UK.

The research identified six core trends specifically for business schools.

  1. Where prospects consider studying and where they eventually enrol are often quite different, and normally influenced by institutional reputation.
  2. Campus location matters and over 50% still prefer a business school in a location that is physically accessible to them.
  3. Decision-making is quick with prospects typically deciding they want to study, to starting study within three months.
  4. Settling in and onboarding onto online courses can be particularly challenging for MBA students impacting on overall experience and retention.
  5. 75% of prospects and students experienced a wide range of prices from institution to institution across all course levels.
  6. Post-course engagement is important to maintain networks and encourage advocacy and life-long learning.

What does this look like from a provider perspective?

Russell Brooks from LSE shared his ideas for the future and LSE’s aim to grow their extended education activity. This focused on increasing reach, building the student community, B2B engagement all while maintaining world-class provision.

The current strategy is targeted at early to mid-career professionals who are keen to upskill, and last year they taught these courses to around 9,000 people online. To put this in perspective, on-campus capacity for executive education courses is around 1,000 per year highlighting the accessibility and reach that online learning provides. To scale in a similar way on-campus would be impossible given the constraints of space and faculty.

Russell highlighted that LSE have been broadening their product portfolio over the last few years and reaching different audiences with different types of online course formats – ranging from shorter 3-week masterclasses, 6 to 10-week online certificate courses, a new 6-month career accelerator course in data analytics and a wide range of online UG degrees. These different types of courses appeal to
post-pandemic audiences with an increasing appetite for varieties of online learning options.

Interest and awareness in online learning is soaring

The majority of business schools are raising their game and offering increasingly more sophisticated and high-quality online learning experiences. And as competition increases the need for online marketing needs to increase too.

Russell highlighted that LSE are continually innovating and the longer-term strategy to stay competitive in the future will include investment in:

  • Content marketing – utilisation of a wealth of thought leadership content, targeting and informing across key marketing channels
  • Alumni and community – building loyalty and engagement for lifelong learning
  • Employer engagement – developing long-term partnerships to help upskill and reskill employees at different career levels

Looking to the future

Online learning is fast becoming a central component within business school portfolio. The pandemic-induced digital pivot has not only shifted perception towards online learning, but also increased the range of options available. While the Ed-Tech providers will continue to grow, so too can business school provision for students and organisations. The key is to ensure online learning is part of a long-term strategy and aligned with wider institutional provision.

To watch the full session, click here.

To view LSE’s online courses, click here.