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Inside the Big Data 4Dx experience

Online learning technologies have been around for years. But can they really be immersive and experiential? The answer, as discovered by the participants of last year’s Big Data 4Dx class, is yes.

The MIT Sloan Executive Education program, Big Data: Making Complex Things Simpler, features renowned Big Data experts Erik Brynjolfsson, Professor of Information Technology at MIT Sloan, and Alex “Sandy” Pentland, Director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program. The course always sells out.

Unfortunately, last year’s two-day seminar coincided with Superstorm Sandy. As InformationWeek reported, “Instead of canceling, MIT used the [AvayaLive™ Engage] platform to teach a hybrid online-offline version of the seminar.” Dr. Peter Hirst, Executive Director of Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management, told InformationWeek, “Nobody has done what we did, which was connect a virtual classroom and a real one in real time.”

The AvayaLive Engage Experience

AvayaLive Engage is a web-based, immersive, collaborative environment that allows participants—both live and virtual—to interact with each other. Zahra Jamshed, a senior manager of advanced services with a technology consulting services firm, shared some of her feedback with us.

“The 4Dx experience was unique. I had to undergo a few iterations of ensuring that the headset, sound system, and my avatar were all functioning well ahead of the actual class, but MIT’s highly responsive and helpful program manager, Christine Mansella, ensured the experience was positive,” said Jamshed.

“The 4Dx world very enthusiastically jumped on attending all breakout and case study discussions. We had some fun along the way—the very experience of connecting, listening, and sharing our experiences and insights with distinct avatars from different parts of the world was a superb bonding experience. Another interesting factor was that the avatars could share five or six different emotions and motions—jump, clap, express excitement, raise hands, nod, and so forth.” Jamshed highly recommends enrolling in upcoming 4Dx classes, and encourages participants to do the practice sessions.

“This is a cutting-edge way to deliver interactive, dynamic programs to more participants around the world, and opens doors to even more formats for our programming,” said Hirst. “The traditional model will remain, but this type of virtual component is the direction of the future.”

About the Big Data 4Dx Faculty

Erik Brynjolfsson is Professor of Information Technology at MIT Sloan and Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business. He is Faculty Director for Big Data: Making Complex Things Simpler and co-author of Race Against the Machine.

Alex “Sandy” Pentland is the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT Sloan. He is Director of both the Human Dynamics Lab and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program and advises the World Economic Forum, Nissan Motor Corporation, and a variety of start-up firms.


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