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Online/Blended Learning Addresses & Ameliorates Fourth Industrial Revolution Challenges

By Clara Piloto, Director of Global Programs and Online and Blended Learning, MIT Professional Education

Count companies, governments, and higher education institutions among many entities struggling with the uncertainty of what has become known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The term—coined in 2016 by World Economic Forum CEO Klaus Schwab—refers to the effects of digital technologies on our lives, our work and our interactions.

As technologies including (but not limited to) Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Quantum Computing, Virtual Reality, and the Internet of Things increasingly merge with our physical lives, the higher education sector may be experiencing the most profound changes.

In his groundbreaking 2016 book, Schwab posited that Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are “drastically altering how individuals, companies and governments operate, ultimately leading to a societal transformation similar to previous industrial revolutions.” But unlike the three previous industrial revolutions, clarifies Zvika Krieger (WEF’s Head of Technology Policy and Partnerships), this one is narrowing the gap between the digital, physical and biological worlds with technologies that are evolving faster than ever.

Commensurate with the evolution of disruptive Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies is a palpable sense of urgency—indeed, emergency—among entities concerned with how these technologies will affect their operations and bottom lines.


For today’s engineers, the emergence of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies poses an inversely proportional professional challenge: As technology rapidly evolves, the skill sets that have propelled past successes degrade equally quickly. The solution? Lifelong learning and online continuing education that taps Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to help engineers acquire the skills and savvy necessary to update and enhance their knowledge.

Responding to corporate needs and propelled by potential profits, institutions such as MIT Professional Education are developing and delivering academic offerings using these emerging technologies.

These blended offerings are certain to expand as companies invest more resources to educate, train, and prepare staff in the deployment of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. Institutions currently offering reputable continuing engineering education can seize pole positions using Fourth Industrial Revolution tech to provide practical, customized, and hands-on training.

While AI, VR, IoT, and emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies offer higher ed institutions unprecedented opportunities to monetize previously untapped markets, “caveat emptor” should guide consumers’ decisions when evaluating academic offerings.


As the Fourth Industrial Revolution reshapes our world, MIT Professional Education recognizes and realizes that different cultures and nationalities can enrich these digital transformations.

MIT Professional Education’s experience shows that online/blended education can reach a broad swath of engineering professionals who seek to update their skills but have in the past been unable to access relevant and rewarding academic offerings.

While admittedly slower that the private sector to adapt to (and adopt) online education technologies, we are increasingly working with industry partners to understand their needs and develop flexible learning courses to meet those needs.

We’re investing resources to develop, design, and deliver credentialed, certificate-generating programs that teach the benefits of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.

Beyond offering courses that reflect the Institute’s reputation for educational excellence, MIT Professional Education is also scrutinizing who and how the digital transformation will impact society. Many of our offerings teach and train skills the World Economic Forum emphasizes as essential for productivity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and beyond: Cultural Awareness, Communications, Problem Solving, Creativity, Diversity & Inclusion, and Ethics. Previously marginalized, these so-called “soft skills” evolve parallel and in sequence alongside the digital transformation.

Additionally, for the first time in its history, MIT Professional Education has eliminated geographic and language barriers so that the large Spanish-speaking community can access these programs in Spanish, and with the versatility provided by its virtual and blended format. This is an important advance made possible thanks to collaboration with Global Alumni.

Clara Piloto
Director of Global Programs, Director of Digital Plus Programs
MIT Professional Education
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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