After nearly a decade leading MIT’s digital learning platforms and educational initiatives, Vice President of Open Learning Sanjay Sarma will step down at the end of June, President L. Rafael Reif announced today in an email to the MIT community.
Sarma, Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering, was responsible for MIT Open Learning, which includes the Office of Digital Learning, the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili), the Center for Advanced Virtuality, and the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL). Since 2012, he has led MIT Open Learning, first as Director, then as Dean, and finally as MIT Vice President for Open Learning.
In his letter, President Reif called Sarma “one of the most creative thinkers I know.” He added: “For all he has done for our community, for his indelible mark on open learning, locally and globally, and for his continued commitment to inventing the future of education, I express my profound gratitude and admiration”.
Sarma has overseen the creation of an array of complementary programs that open up learning opportunities in different ways for people around the world. In 2015, he designed and then led the launch of MicroMasters, a new type of degree that allows working professionals to take masters-level courses online. It can also accelerate their graduation once admitted into a traditional master’s program. MIT now offers five MicroMasters. Nearly 2 million students have enrolled and 5,000 learners have earned MIT MicroMasters credentials. One hundred and eighty-eight people have graduated from an accompanying master’s program at MIT, and 72 more are currently enrolled. MicroMasters programs have been adopted by over 25 universities worldwide, with over 50 programs offered.
Sarma also launched MIT Bootcamps, which provides blended learning experiences for entrepreneurs, and has reached over 2,400 learners. He launched MIT xPRO, offering online professional training courses; MIT Horizon, a content library to help professionals keep pace with the latest technological advancements; and the Digital Credentials Consortium, where MIT brought together a global group of universities to design standards and infrastructure for tamper-proof and verifiable digital college credentials that protect private data and give learners more control over how they share their own credentials. More recently, he spearheaded the creation of MIT’s internal platform known as MITx Online, which hosts many of MIT’s online courses.
Under Sarma, MIT Open Learning also significantly expanded existing programs. MITx helped MIT faculty develop nearly 250 unique online courses that together have been run nearly 1,000 times and are approaching 10 million cumulative enrollments, extending MIT’s reach far beyond our residential campus . OpenCourseWare, whose site receives nearly 2 million visitors per month, has just been refreshed with a new next-generation platform. Along with Professor Admir Masic, Sarma scaled the MIT Refugee Action Hub, which now serves refugees on four continents. And the residential education arm of Open Learning has been instrumental in helping MIT move its courses online during the pandemic, providing best practices and support for faculty, and later supporting the transition of more than 1,000 MIT courses to Canvas, MIT’s new learning management system.
Sarma has also generated and led a number of significant projects at MIT Open Learning, including designing a competency-based learning curriculum for the new Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning; developing a STEM curriculum for 478 schools with 2,500 teachers and 60,000 learners in India; and at the start of the pandemic, the launch of a hands-on K-12 program on STEAM, among others. An accomplished innovator, Sarma led MIT Open Learning in researching the potential of artificial intelligence and virtual reality to transform education.
“Sanjay provided visionary leadership in creating and managing open learning to become a transformative and indispensable organization to fulfill MIT’s educational mission for its students, faculty, and staff – and to serve millions of learners everywhere. around the world,” said digital learning dean Cynthia Breazeal.
In addition to leading open learning, Sarma has served on the board of edX and as co-chair of MIT’s Task Force on the Future of Education and its Task Force 2021 and Beyond. to inform MIT’s teaching and learning strategy and beyond.
“It’s been quite a journey,” says Sarma, who started managing MIT’s online platforms, including MIT Open Courseware, in 2012. “With such a strong team in place, now that we’re emerging from the pandemic and after nearly 10 years at Open Learning, the timing seemed natural for a leadership transition. »
Sarma is already the author of three books. “The Inversion Factor: How to Thrive in the IoT Economy”, co-authored with Linda Bernardi and Kenneth Traub; “Grasp: The Science Transforming How We Learn, 2019”, with co-author Luke Yoquinto, associate researcher at MIT AgeLab; and “Workforce Education: A New Roadmap, 2020,” with William Bonvillian, senior lecturer at MIT and senior director of special projects at the Office of Digital Learning. Sarma now plans to spend time working on her next book, a study of the learning process. He also plans to take a one-semester sabbatical and continue his research on cybersecurity issues as well as learning and education.
In his books, Sarma has explored the application of structural, pedagogical, and technological approaches to broadly rethink learning and education. He looked at how to create systems based on a scientific understanding of the methods that lead to the most significant and lasting impact. Although he was responsible for MIT’s online learning programs, he emphasizes that in-person instruction is always best when possible, with online materials being an important complement that works best when it is the more effectively integrated into on-campus teaching, not as a substitute.
“In person is better,” he says. But “for those with limited access [to in-person education], online is fine. The two components work better together, he says, adding that he hopes “open learning is deeply embedded in MIT’s psyche” and is an essential part of its future. Helping to design that future, through these J-WEL and MITili means, will be a major part of his ongoing work, he says.
While he doesn’t want to be an overshadowing presence in the new direction of MIT Open Learning, he says, he will be there and happy to help when needed. “I’ll be with Open Learning for the rest of my life,” he says. “These are people I am very close to, lifelong friends and colleagues.”
Sarma also plans to work with a few tech startups over the next few years, he says, leveraging his long experience in industry and academia, including building and working with various startups.
Sarma earned his bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, his master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University, and his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. He worked in industry for several years before joining the faculty of MIT and continues to serve on the boards of many companies. He co-founded the Auto-ID Lab at MIT and developed key technologies behind RFID standards now used around the world. As part of his ongoing work, he hopes to investigate ways to address the security issues raised by these ubiquitous connected devices.
Sarma led MIT’s collaboration with the Singapore University of Technology and Design, which developed an integrated approach to a design and engineering curriculum. He is the author of over 200 academic papers on sensing, automation, and the science of learning.
While proud of the many programs and initiatives that have been launched under his leadership, Sarma says the time has come for a new person with fresh ideas to lead MIT Open Learning. “My colleagues at Open Learning are great and I will miss working with them immensely. I also know that the organization is in good hands, with an exceptional team that will continue to innovate and fulfill this mission-critical role at MIT” , did he declare.
President Reif solicited suggestions from members of the MIT community regarding the selection of the next director of MIT Open Learning. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org; all correspondence will be treated confidentially.