Can Online Professional Development Courses Teach Data-Driven Decision Making?

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This guest post from MIT focuses on whether online professional development courses, like MIT xPRO’s Data Science program, are successful in teaching data-driven decision making. 

“Data is an important currency for organizations,” says Devavrat Shah, director of the MIT Statistics and Data Science Center (SDSC), and professor of electrical engineering and computer science. “And data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning can help us use that avalanche of data to achieve tremendous goals.” But in an era of unprecedented data generation about customers, users, products, and processes, those within an organization may not have the skills to use that information most effectively.

MIT xPRO’s Data Science program is segmented into six modules, each lead by a faculty member with expertise, research and teaching experience in that area. (Photo: MIT)

Shah is the co-director of an online professional development course that helps professionals leverage that “avalanche” of data to make better business decisions within their organization. Launched in 2016, MIT xPRO’s online, seven-week long course, Data Science and Big Data Analytics: Making Data-Driven Decisions offers online learners around the globe access to robust, interactive learning materials and world-class faculty. Hearing from the learners who have completed this program (more than 3,500 have earned certificates from this course) illustrates why online professional development may be the most effective way to learn and apply the principles of data science.

“There is so much data within organizations but not everyone knows how to make the best use of it,” Shah remarks. “So, if you don’t want to get an undergraduate or graduate degree in this discipline but need the skills to improve decisions based on data, this is the course to take.”

Online Learners Getting Results

Vicki Muscat, Senior Market Research Analyst at ResMed Corporation in Halifax, Canada credits the course with providing “a solid foundation for understanding various analytics and data science techniques in a very logical, structured format.” As a member of the company’s Software as a Service (SaaS) Strategy team, she applies the concepts covered in the course to develop more opportunities with existing and prospective clients.

Charlotte Rogg took the course as part of her company’s personal development plan. An audience analytics & technology analyst at Liberty Mutual Insurance in Massachusetts, Rogg mastered and applied challenging and unfamiliar concepts to her daily work. “This course… showed me new methods for observing and learning from large data sets, which I work with daily for my marketing analytics projects,” she says. “Building out Python scripts was new to me, and I’ve implemented some of my learnings into report automation.”

Aside from enhancing her work at Liberty Mutual, the coursework also inspired Rogg to pursue more educational opportunities. According to Rogg, “The course also introduced me to the possibility of studying unstructured big data, and I plan on continuing this study in the future.”

The Online Learning Advantage

MIT xPRO’s Data Science program is segmented into six modules, each lead by a faculty member with expertise, research and teaching experience in that area. After just seven weeks, learners earn an MIT Professional Certificate in Data Science. Popular because of its accessibility and flexibility, the course and its instructors are also able to more quickly adapt their materials to the constraints of a rapidly changing industry.

Shah understands the impact of the MIT xPRO program has on learners trying to navigate the new and overwhelming big data landscape. “We believe it is very important to reach professionals with this information because data, machine learning, and AI are not solutions to world problems,” said Professor Shah, adding, “Lots of organizations give weight to a data-driven revolution, so we want to assist them by giving them this opportunity to learn how to get the best results possible from all of the data available to them.”

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