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Sanjay Sarma advises Advanced Study Program students on blended learning

MIT Office of Digital Learning director speaks on the benefits of online and in-classroom learning.
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Bhaskar Pant looks on as ASP students Nicanor Bailez and Denes Csala talk with Sanjay Sarma (right).
Bhaskar Pant looks on as ASP students Nicanor Bailez and Denes Csala talk with Sanjay Sarma (right).
Photo: Sarah Foote

Sanjay Sarma, director of MIT's Office of Digital Learning, spoke to students in the MIT Professional Education Advanced Study Program about the benefits of online and in-classroom learning on Thursday, Oct. 16. Sarma, the course instructor for the MIT Professional Education – Short Programs course Radical Innovation, is also a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Sarma spoke of the need for blended learning at MIT during the lunchtime talk.

“Most people have a short-term memory of 10 minutes. And an attention span of 10 minutes. This is perfect for online learning because it allows for what we call retrieval learning,” Sarma noted. “When students watch short videos and then have the opportunity to ask questions and get an answer, they are able to move information from short-term memory to long-term. If we make sure they understand the information before they move onto to the next video this allows for mastery learning. By watching videos and taking part in a Q & A session, you force retrieval learning. We can do that for the first time with online learning, and that’s the reason we’re doing online [courses].”

Sarma also referenced MIT’s motto, “mens et manus” (“mind and hand”), noting that it means to practice what you’ve learned. By using your hands, this indexes the knowledge you’ve learned. “Practice, whether it’s in a lab or elsewhere, creates neural pathways in your brain,” Sarma said. “Michelangelo never attended a lecture — as far as I know. But he was one of the greatest artists in the last thousand years. He did it all by apprenticeship.”

“Digital learning both supplements and changes what we have been doing here [at MIT] in the traditional classroom for hundreds of years,” said Bhaskar Pant, executive director of MIT Professional Education. “Digital technology is the driver enabling what is surely going to become a new paradigm in higher education.”

Director of Academic Programs Tish Miller said, “Lunchtime talks provide students in the Advanced Study Program a window into MIT, into areas that are often at the cutting edge of research. It also gives them the opportunity to meet leading-edge thinkers on campus and network with each other, which is important because they themselves will be returning to their organizations in generally new leadership positions.”

Massive, open, online courses or MOOCs, are available to anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection. “MIT launched the first MOOC in 2012,” Sarma said. “We expected a few thousand people to take the course, and over 155,000 students enrolled. There are now 55 other colleges and universities from around the globe using the edX platform to offer their own online courses.”

Sarma also said that MOOCs and Short Programs courses offered through MIT Professional Education aid MIT’s goal of offering lifelong learning not only to MIT alumni but to so many others around the world who have the desire to learn and grow professionally.

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