Digital Technologies and the Future of Work

Module description

How we work, and the nature of the work we do, is being re-imagined. New digital applications, the maturing of automation, and the emerging transformations facilitated by artificial intelligence, have all prompted innovations that impact on every area of our lives. This module focuses on the potential of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ to offer creative opportunities for the restructuring of employment practices, and will explore the factors that influence the impact of change at both macro and micro levels.

In preparation for their own working lives, the module will also guide students in developing their own digital literacies. Via a social learning pedagogy, they will develop strategies to find and evaluate online sources of information both individually and collaboratively, and interrogate the ways in which they curate their digital lives and communicate with others within virtual environments. 

There are no pre-requisites for this module, and it’s open to students from outside the Business School, regardless of campus location.

The module is taught in a blended format, with plenary sessions at the beginning and end of the module. Most of the teaching and learning takes place on our virtual learning environment, and students will be expected to make regular contributions via online discussions throughout the module.

Full module specification

Module title:Digital Technologies and the Future of Work
Module code:BEP2120
Module level:2
Academic year:2020/1
Module lecturers:
  • Dr Lisa Harris - Convenor
Module credit:15
ECTS value:


Duration of module: Duration (weeks) - term 1:


Module aims

This module challenges you to consider new technologies and their impact on industrial and commercial processes, reaching beyond the hyperbole to establish reasoned and informed views on the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. In parallel we aim to encourage you to articulate the implications for work, communication, and community. As the module is offered in a blended format, you’ll experience learning in an online environment, which itself has similarities with working modes that are becoming increasingly common.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. explain how, across different professions, geographical and virtual environments, technological innovation can facilitate changes in working practices.
  • 2. evaluate the extent to which technology can both help and hinder productivity and wellbeing in the workplace
  • 3. discuss how technological innovation may impact both positively and negatively upon certain sectors or groups of individuals.
  • 4. provide evidence of your own development in understanding how technology may impact on your own future career, and those of your peers.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. critically evaluate academic and other sources of information to reach objective conclusions.
  • 6. explain and evaluate the impact of technological advances across business and personal contexts.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. demonstrate an ability to develop and maintain an argument and persuade others of its validity.
  • 8. articulate an understanding of how communication modes in an online context require specific skills.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Online interactions and contact through Virtual Learning Environment16Engaging with the module cohort and educators online.
Reading and preparation for assessments54Background reading to support engagement
Production of portfolio and video/poster74Preparation through reading and writing/collation of portfolio content.
Face-to-face class activities6 (indicative, subject to student feedback)Plenary sessions

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Online interactionsVarious1-8Online (from peers and tutors)
Plenary session discussionThroughout class contact1-8Verbal (from peers and tutors)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio of written work- 1. Portfolio of written work based on a student’s own online contributions and reflections on those of others. Will also include an extended piece of writing on a specific topic (for example, exploring the potential impact of one of Schwab’s 23 ‘deep shifts’). 703000 words1-4 5, 6Written
Short video or poster- 2. Choice of (a) a short video or (b) a poster on a student’s choice of profession and how it has been, and will be, impacted by technological change.203 minutes or 1 page1-3, 5,6Verbal and written
Weekly contributions- 3. Weekly contributions to online discussions: at least one comment and two responses to those of others.10At least one comment and two responses to those of others7, 8Online (from peers and tutors)

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Portfolio of written workPortfolio of written work (80%)1-8August
Short video or posterShort video or poster (20%)1-3, 5, 6August

Re-assessment notes

Deferrals – the reassessment is 80% Portfolio and 20% poster or video, and where a student has been absent and unable to complete weekly contributions, the student will be expected to refer to the contributions of others within the module forums.

Referrals – if the 20% poster/video component has been passed it carries forward, and if failed it must be completed for 20% of the referral mark. The remaining 80% is a new Portfolio.

Syllabus plan

In the first teaching week students will meet face-to-face with each other and tutors on the module for an overview of the topics to be covered, and to explain the learning and assessment approach. This session will include activities to build cohort identity and understanding, setting the tone and ground rules for online interactions throughout the term. Embracing the principle of working alongside students in the co-creation of knowledge, tutors and students will also use this week to make choices about areas to focus on during the module. Separate sessions will be held in Streatham and Penryn, with the potential of linking by video-conference.

From week 2 the learning will take place entirely online, starting with readings and activities that take a macro-level view of the technological advances that may affect employment in the future. Through weeks 4-10, students will explore a range of topics, for example:

  • Mega Trends
  • 4th Industrial Revolution
  • 23 deep shifts and tipping points
  • Employment, Automation and AI
  • Job for life? Fragmentation and the gig economy
  • Society, Community and Connectivity

In week 11, after each student has uploaded a short video or poster, tutors and students will reconvene to debate and discuss the potential impact of technology on the future of work, and to reflect on the experience of engaging in online learning. The final teaching week will involve online interactions and opportunities for students to seek guidance from each other and the tutors in bringing evidence of their learning together into a portfolio for assessment.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. WW Norton & Company.

Bloem, J., Van Doorn, M., Duivestein, S., Excoffier, D., Maas, R., & Van Ommeren, E. (2014). The fourth industrial revolution. Sogeti VINT, Groningen.

Chui, M., Manyika, J., & Miremadi, M. (2015). Four fundamentals of workplace automation. McKinsey Quarterly29(3), 1-9.

David, H. (2015). Why are there still so many jobs? The history and future of workplace automation. Journal of Economic Perspectives29(3), 3-30.

International Labour Office. (2017). Future of Work. Inception Report for the Global Commission. Retrieved from

Manyika, J. (2017). Technology, jobs, and the future of work. McKinsey Global Institute. Retrieved from

Manyika, J., Chui, M., Miremadi, M., Bughin, J., George, K., Willmott, P., & Dewhurst, M. (2017). Harnessing automation for a future that works. McKinsey Global Institute. Retrieved from

Schwab, K. (2017). The fourth industrial revolution. Portfolio Penguin, London.

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