If someone had told me 3 years ago while my team and I were poring over an SAP Warehouse Management requirements document at 11 PM at night in a conference room near Stuttgart, Germany, that I would take a hiatus from my job to complete my graduate program in Supply Chain & Logistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I would have probably laughed them out of sight.
That night was the trigger for embarking on this incredulous journey. I remember searching for supply chain network design models to figure out other ways of optimally locating distribution centers. I chanced upon the Supply Chain MicroMasters offered on edX.org. The words “using the same curriculum that is part of the Masters SCM program” caught my eye. Wait, the #1 ranked SCM program in the world…with the same world-class faculty…for a fraction of the price?! Without further ado, I signed up for SC2X, the specific course which focused on network design. In the consulting world where no business problem was too big or too small and learning new stuff is business as usual, I thought to myself, “how difficult can this be, it’s only an online course”.
I was in for a surprise. The course was challenging, rigorous, quantitative, informative and brain tickling. The instruction was vastly superior to the other Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that had come my way but failed to hold my attention span. The courses were uniquely structured. They were self-paced, with short intense videos, followed by practice problems, recitations, exams – the whole shebang. Learning calculus and geometry after two odd decades was hard. But what was harder was learning to be disciplined managing multiple priorities every day, to persevere till the SAS code worked, to exercise restraint when faced with multiple distractions that life throws at you and to keep your mind open to receiving infinite wisdom. The course was determined not to let me go till I learnt every concept fully – and just when I felt like giving up, when life got too overwhelming – fires to fight, looming deadlines or my family left on vacation without me (yes, that really did happen) – something interesting would happen. There would be a new simulation software which was fun or an online game or a great hangout session with the *awesome* community, that I would get right back into it. Thus, started my tryst with MITx and the SCM MicroMasters program. I signed up for all the other SCX courses and the comprehensive final exam (CFx) all within the year. I was truly hooked.
I felt the light bulb turn on in mid-April this year when I attended a Distinguished Speaker series lecture by Dr. Sanjay Sarma, Vice President of Open Learning at MIT. Dr. Sarma spoke about the launch of MITx and the science behind the MicroMasters. The MicroMasters instructional design was developed in collaboration with MIT’s Neuroscience department. The course structure takes into consideration the below 12 principles:
You may ask: What are they and how does it matter? Research around mind wandering, for example, suggests short learning cycles (no more than 10 minutes) with quick Q&A for long term knowledge retention. Findings around peer learning suggest that community-based learning helps in faster reinforced learning…you get the idea. The MicroMasters is MIT’s contribution to the field of modern education based on MIT’s own research.
Fast forward to present day on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, MA, as I walk along the river from my class (Blended Masters in Supply Chain), I reminisce about ‘that’ night and I feel an odd mixture of satisfaction, gravity, pride and responsibility. It was a true leap of faith from MIT’s SCM MicroMasters staff and faculty. They built, we came. And we did come – from different countries, diverse backgrounds, different roads taken and not taken, but with similar stories, dogged determination, sheer grit and a limitless craving to soak up the knowledge. Our paths converged here at MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL), a veritable intellectual Disneyland. Life can be unpredictable, sure. But life also opens doors to fleeting slivers of opportunity – to seize the moment, challenge the status quo, to ask ‘why not’ instead of ‘why’, to embark on a journey to disrupt yourself and be the change that you want to see in the world.