Giving Online Education the Human Touch

ESSEC’s fifth campus is wholly digital—and its creators hope it will match brick-and-mortar locations in delivering personal, human-centric experiences to students.

ONLINE EDUCATION HAS evolved considerably since its early days, but many people still view online learning formats as less personal—and, well, less human—than face-to-face interactions. This perception is something ESSEC Business School seeks to change with its Augmented Digital Campus. Launched in March, this interactive platform will act as ESSEC’s fifth campus, alongside its physical campuses in Cergy and Paris in France, Rabat in Morocco, and Singapore.

The school wanted the platform to deliver more “human-centric experiences,” says Nicolas Glady, ESSEC’s executive vice president, in a video explaining the approach. “We therefore started conceiving this campus not with the course content, but with a comprehensive analysis of the student journey as a whole.”

Students can take courses at ESSEC’s Augmented Digital Campus from anywhere in the world, using any device. All courses rely on the flipped-classroom model, in which students complete readings and assignments, view videos or podcasts, or review student presentations outside of class time. Professors spend synchronous class sessions answering questions and facilitating group discussion and debate. The platform features built-in artificial intelligence that will suggest additional educational opportunities to students based on their personal learning styles and objectives.

During their programs, students are encouraged to seek out as many interactions with their peers and faculty as possible. Using the platform’s dashboard, students can make appointments with personal academic coaches, arrange meetings with mentors, and gather for group projects in virtual meeting rooms.

Giving Online Education the Human Touch

(Photo courtesy of the ESSEC Business School)


ESSEC assigns each participant a partner, or “learning buddy,” at the start of each program. Paired students work through course content together and present summaries of their conclusions to the community. In addition, the Augmented Digital Campus incorporates peer-to-peer learning and assessment—students receive feedback from at least three peers before they submit their work to the professor. Students also can post requests for help to the public dashboard.

The Augmented Digital Campus even has its own currency, called “briqs,” as a way to incorporate gamification to encourage learner interaction. Each student is allotted a certain number of briqs that can be given to other students to recognize their contributions to the community. Students can receive additional briqs by completing faculty challenges over and above their coursework. Briqs can be exchanged in the ESSEC Store for services such as additional coaching or access to events.

ESSEC began testing its digital campus platform in November 2018 with 30 employees of Orange, a French telecommunications company. This inaugural cohort completed a certificate program in big data and artificial intelligence.

In March, ESSEC opened this program to the public, and it will be the first in a series of seven certificate programs.Students can complete these certificates separately or stack them toward an executive master’s degree in digital transformation. The next three certificates in the series include Design Thinking and Agile Methods, the Digital Business Model, and Digital Humanities: Managerial Skills in the Digital Age.

“I didn’t expect such a human experience in a digital campus,” says Carine Rebstock-Fontana, Orange’s international retail director and one of the students in the pilot course. In an online video, she describes using Slack to interact with her learning team, whose members were located all over France. “I had quite a lot of interaction with my team,” she says. It “was a new way to learn and a new way to interact with people.”

Learn more about the Augmented Digital Campus.