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MIT offers big data course for professionals

Increasing the big data intellectual capital at your company may not be as hard as you think. Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched an online big data course for professionals, attracting participants from some of the biggest technology companies out there, including Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and EMC.

In February, MIT will again offer its Tackling the Challenges of Big Data, a six-week course developed by faculty members from the institute’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Those who complete the course will earn a certificate and continuing education credits.

The course, which runs at $545 a head, will be broken up into five modules: An introduction to the big data challenges, including a deep dive into case studies; big data collection, which includes a look at data cleansing and integration tools; big data storage, which touches on modern databases and parallel computing platforms; big data systems, which includes security and scalability issues; and big data analytics, which focuses on algorithms, data compression and machine learning tools.

“It’s self-paced, it’s self-directed, it’s a six-week course, and it’s attracting a lot of attention,” Clara Piloto, director of global programs at MIT Professional Education, said in a recent interview with SearchCIO. During MIT’s initial offering of the course, enrollment numbers came in right around 3,500; 43% of those students were international, hailing from more than 80 different countries including the United Kingdom, India, Brazil and Canada.

Part of the reason for the interest is the topic itself. “Big data is in demand,” Piloto said. “Whenever we choose any of our courses, they’re all market driven.” But the course also gives a broad audience of professionals access to MIT’s elite CSAIL department (including database expert Michael Stonebraker) in a way that couldn’t happen for an “on-the-ground” course. Students are also asked to participate in online discussions and to contribute to the course’s big data wiki.

Soon, Tackling the Challenges of Big Data may become more than a course offering. Piloto and her team are currently running a pilot program for CIOs at a Fortune 500 company, she said. Piloto couldn’t provide many details about the pilot program yet, except that the client wanted “a platform or place to talk about what’s happening with [big data at] their company, privately and confidentially.” MIT is hoping to customize its program to meet the needs of the client.

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