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MIT Expands Virtual Classes For Execs

MIT's Sloan School of Management will expand use of a virtual platform in its executive education program.

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In a baby step toward a more virtual education experience, MIT's Sloan School of Management will expand use of a virtual platform, AvayaLive Engage, in its executive education program.

"I'd like us by this time next year to say we're running five or six of our courses using the platform," said Peter Hirst, executive director of executive education at Sloan.

Other universities use AvayaLive Engage, but Sloan is the first to integrate it into a live class environment. (Full disclosure: I am a contributing editor to the MIT Sloan Management Review.)

Sloan professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Alex "Sandy" Pentland have twice used AvayaLive Engage to teach a two-day executive education seminar on big data. In October, the two professors will reprise their big-data seminar with a majority of students attending virtually, rather than in person. One other executive education program also has been taught in AvayaLive Engage.

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Beyond adding courses, Hirst said the Sloan School's executive education program was working to find new ways to work with students and companies within AvayaLive Engage. Among projects underway or being discussed are ones that will:

-- expand use of the platform to do follow-ups with executives who attend the seminars;

-- develop special class sessions for a 16-week program run for Indian executives, who after returning from an opening session at MIT will use AvayaLive Engage for weekly 90-minute sessions;

-- use the platform to create preparation sessions, so executives attending seminars are more likely to have done their prep work ahead of time;

-- create online-only versions of the executive education courses;

-- and build a version of the MIT Beer Game, a supply-chain simulation, inside the platform, providing a more immersive experience for executives.

Hirst said that the IT demands of the platform were minimal. MIT is not hosting its own platform, so it has "no Sloan IT needs at all," he said. IT did need to step in to help with browser issues because some students' work computers would not accept the browser plug-in needed to run the application. IT also had to help with firewalls, some of which blocked ports needed to run the platform.

The Sloan School's executive education program originally used the AvayaLive Engage platform to run follow-up sessions, where executives checked in with an instructor for advice on how to incorporate techniques presented in a seminar into their jobs. That was the primary use of the platform, Hirst said. "One of the problems I was trying to solve is, to parody the experience of executive education, you come for two days, you get exposed to all these great ideas, it's all fantastic, and you get back to the office and you try to implement the ideas, and it doesn't quite work the same way."

Using AvayaLive Engage for teaching came about when Hurricane Sandy threatened what was supposed to be a two-day seminar with Brynjolfsson and Pentland. Instead of canceling, MIT used the platform to teach a hybrid online-offline version of the seminar. "Nobody has done what we did, which was connect a virtual classroom and a real one in real time," Hirst said. "I don't know if we would've tried it, either, except for there was a hurricane."

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