The Challenges and Rewards of Online Education

Sanjay Sarma & Karen Willcox
May 31
Taylor Rose MIT '16

Last week, the Online Education Policy Initiative released a report entitled “Online Education—A Catalyst for Higher Education Reform.” On May 16, VP of Sigital Learning Sanjay Sarma, Prof Karen Willcox, and Prof Eric Klopfer gave an xTalk to discuss the report and its implications. Assoc Dean Vijay Kumar moderated the panel and subsequent discussion.

As a senior at MIT, I’ve experienced four years of integrated online education. Many of my classes, especially large introductory classes, relied upon integrated online and classroom learning. The report summarizes many of the challenges I have experienced with online learning and provides a number of useful suggestions as well.

What struck me the most as a student was Sanjay Sarma’s focus on using online education as a supplement, not as a replacement. In many settings, online modules become a replacement for classroom lessons. While this may work for some, it is certainly not a learning method that will work for all students. When looking back at my MIT experience, what stands out most to me is not the material I learned online but the countless number of office hours I spent with faculty and TAs. When online lessons did not “click” with me, it was my TAs who explained it in new and more intuitive ways for me—not online forums or additional online lessons.

Sanjay also described MIT’s need to be a leader in this field. There is no better institution in the world to promote integrated online learning. Through our history of scientific and technological innovation and dedication to providing a world-class education, MIT has proven itself to be the pinnacle of new education technologies.

Over my four years at MIT, I have watched introductory classes move from no online component to completely online to an integrated mix of both. MIT takes its mistakes and learns from them to provide a better education experience for every incoming class. The Online Education Initiative only further proves this.

     - Taylor Rose MIT '16


About xTalks:

xTalks: Digital Discourses is a seminar series to facilitate awareness, deep understanding and transference of educational innovations at MIT and elsewhere. xTalks forums share strategies, solutions, and issues related to transformation in educational practice, particularly through the use of digital technologies.

Explore upcoming xTalks, as well as archives of past events with video, audio, and slides. The video of the May 16 xTalk is availabile on this page. To sign up for the xTalks mailing list, click here.