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Rapid Insight: Higher Education case study

MIT Sloan School Redesigns Curriculum: Mapping Pathways to Success for A More Guided Future for Its Students


1986 was the last time the MIT Sloan School of Management underwent a major redesign of its undergraduate curriculum.

Three decades later they knew it was time for a change. Scott Alessandro, Director of Undergraduate Education at MIT Sloan, shared that it was a four-year process for them to complete the plans for a new desired curriculum; a program that’s success relies heavily on long cultivated systems of knowledge. With the help of Rapid Insight Construct, MIT Sloan was able to merge data from various sources of information to begin to “rethink undergraduate education” at MIT Sloan and to have a more data driven way of life on campus.

As part of a school that is known for its science and engineering programs, MIT Sloan has a lot to live up to. When asked how a school of management fits in, Alessandro said that “MIT is about the ideas that change the world and organizations are the way that ideas change the world.” In other words, having a school of management is essential to getting ideas out into the world and for circulating those ideas. There are numerous components important to turning an idea into a “business idea,” according to Alessandro. The Sloan school, with 1300 graduate students and 100 undergraduate students, has begun to use data to reexamine its curriculum in order to better compliment, not only science and engineering, but majors and minors within Sloan as well.

In order for the faculty to revise the curriculum, they needed to examine how things are operating right now. They began using Construct as a mode for bringing together a diversity of data systems. These deep wells of information involve student enrollment data and specific data on courses taken, as well as other files that are difficult to consolidate. By mainly focusing on the variables of student enrollment and student course taking patterns, Sloan was able to establish new majors and minors that will be implemented in the fall.

“We’ve gone from one major to three majors, which is a pretty significant change,” shared Alessandro.

The school has a homegrown data system that was developed at MIT as well as a data warehouse specific to Sloan. MIT has an Oracle data system that they have to be able to combine with their own data warehouse. This is because they have to import data from the MIT system as well as other outside systems. Some alumni information, for instance, was gathered via excel spreadsheets. With Construct on hand, Sloan was able to more easily amalgamate diverse vessels of data. These ranged from filemaker databases, excel spreadsheets, and information extracted from either the MIT system or Sloan’s own data warehouse.

The data showed that Sloan was better off being broken down into three majors and minors. They discovered that finance was one of the most popular electives and established it as its own major. Some of the survey data revealed that alumni students were saying they majored in finance rather than management science. According to Alessandro, “management science didn’t capture everything that was being taught at Sloan.” Business analytics also became its own major because of its prominence in the business world as a subject and study of its own, just as finance did. Sloan also decided that they wanted to give more options for students looking to double major by offering degrees in areas that would complement their first major. Sloan was looking at a very big picture in wanting to give its students “more flexibility with looking at a lot of problems now, like energy and healthcare,” according to Alessandro. By teaching its students entrepreneurship and allotting them interdisciplinary problem solving skills, Sloan can prepare them for the real world now more than ever.

With the future in mind, Sloan will be using Construct to keep track of their new curriculum efforts. In doing so, they will be consistently answering questions they have about their students. When do students declare their major? Their second major? What classes lead to what majors? What classes lead to other classes? These are all inquiries used to observe and understand student patterns on campus. In knowing the answers, the MIT Sloan will be able to guide other students and to make sure they are successful.

“Students want freedom to do what they want. But one of the scariest things is to have freedom to do what you want to,” reflected Alessandro. For this reason, they want to make sure that that fear is extinguished by providing their students with guidance and advice, especially with a new curriculum on the rise. The Sloan school understands that their students need freedom, but with freedom comes uncertainty. With the aid of Construct, Sloan is well on its way to creating a new curriculum composed of pathways to success.