Instructor Insights

Offering a Menu of Ways to Learn

In this section, Prof. Robert Freund discusses how faculty members support students in 15.060: Data, Models, and Decisions by offering them a menu of ways to learn the material.

The course typically has an enrollment of 360 students and proceeds at a very fast pace. Nonetheless, we’re constantly looking for ways to cover more material, rather than less, in order to add more value for the students. In the first lecture we tell the students that we don’t necessarily expect them to grasp all of the content immediately—indeed, some students will understand content in real time, but for many it will take several days for the content to sink in. To support the students, there are several different ways for them to learn the material: through lectures, associated readings, discussions with teammates, course recitations, as well as by passively letting the material sink in over time.

"…we tell the students that we don’t necessarily expect them to grasp all of the content immediately."
—Robert Freund

Some of the material—especially the probability/statistics content in the first half the course—is more difficult for most students to learn. We deliberately cover this type of material sooner rather than later because it doesn’t always sink in immediately. That’s a design feature of the course. The content that we teach later in the course has to do with optimization modeling, and is much easier for most students to learn. This is not because students become better at learning quantitative methods, or because we’re better communicators at that point in the course, but because the content is more fundamentally easier for most students’ minds to absorb.

Furthermore, we try to offer students a sort-of “menu” of ways to learn and understand new concepts. When we introduce a new concept, we’ll often say, “You can think of it this way, or instead think of it another way, or maybe think of it yet another way.” Because they’re MBA students, we know they will ask, “Which is the correct way?” So before they even ask, we tell the students that all three are correct ways to think about the concept and that the way that is going to help each individual to learn best is the right way for each person.