Building a more diverse, global, lifelong learning community during pandemic

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Although the impact of Covid-19 on undergraduate- and graduate-level education has been examined in some depth, its effect on professionals seeking to bolster their knowledge and skills has probably not been looked at as closely.

Over the past year, professionals around the world were forced to pivot to remote work or, in many cases, they lost jobs due to the adverse economic effects of the pandemic. In response, many took advantage of this unusual time to build, enhance, or upskill their capabilities, particularly in the context of a demand for adaptive and more innovative solutions for organizations to survive and thrive during the pandemic and beyond. This unique set of circumstances, along with restrictions on travel at the global, national, and local levels, created an unprecedented demand for online or virtual educational programs that could deliver measurable results.

“At MIT Professional Education, we took a proactive approach to meet the continuing global hunger for new, cutting-edge knowledge, at a time of a complete cutoff of traditional, in-person learning. We stepped up our online blended learning programs addressing high-demand technical and human skills topics for professionals around the world,” says Bhaskar Pant, executive director of MIT Professional Education. “Further, in keeping with our core objective of increasing diversity and expanding accessibility to MIT knowledge for learners globally, we not only leveraged the power of facilitated online learning, but added programs in multiple languages to meet the needs of those whose native tongue was not English. As a result, in spite of the pandemic, we added thousands more to our learning community, breaking previous records – allowing us to further MIT’s mission of disseminating knowledge, and working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges.”

Meeting the educational needs of technical professionals globally

More specifically, MIT Professional Education, through its facilitated online learning programs or Digital Plus Programs (DPP), offered courses designed to help technical professionals acquire skills in emerging technology areas such as machine learning, smart manufacturing, and innovation.

“Today’s global organizations recognize the need to embrace emerging digital technologies in order to transform workforce development, upskilling, and reskilling – whether it’s artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, development operations, big data, internet of things, smart technologies, Industry 4.0, or something not yet developed,” says Clara Piloto, director of Digital Plus Programs. “Through our holistic certificate programs, we bring together knowledge in digital transformation and human skills to help prepare professionals to face the challenges of tomorrow more competently.”

Expanding diversity among learners

Through a concerted effort to increase diversity and female representation among its learners, MIT Professional Education, through DPP, increased the percentage of female learners in 2020 to an average of 30 percent, with some courses attracting close to 40 percent, compared to an industry average of 25 percent for STEM courses. In addition, by offering programs and certificates in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, DPP grew its online program enrollments by 140 percent in 2020 – breaking down language and gender barriers to provide the best of MIT to a population of more than 12,000 professionals from around the world.

“MIT Professional Education is truly advancing innovation and raising the bar for both the delivery and impact of online learning,” says Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “In a world where virtual learning has so dramatically evolved over the course of the past year, MIT Professional Education has not only implemented transformational offerings for learners across the globe, but significantly expanded the diversity and breadth of their online community.”

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