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Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas

A Verdict on Big Data MIT MOOC


Image Source: MIT

Earlier in the year I signed up for this, and then last month I received the e-mail that the course was starting.  MIT’s Tackling the Challenges of Big Data was a great deal of information to take in over the period of a month.

Each week they offered a series of videos for us to watch, and then we would take an assessment to test our knowledge.  Today I finally read the flyer for the course where it states “This course is designed to be suitable for anyone with a bachelor’s level education in computer science“.  This is very true as parts of the course goes into great details of computations.

The professors in the course very much reminded me of my graduate school professors at George Washington University, although a few, such as Professor Michael Stonebraker, were very outspoken.  In one of the weekly discussions we were asked if we agreed with his outspoken opinions – this is something that I as a college student couldn’t do in the past. I enjoyed his lectures a great deal.

Professor Stonebraker said everyone will move to columnar databases in 10 years.  Why isn’t adoption at a faster pace?  Because data warehouses are “sticky” and slow to move.  Professor Stonebraker felt that HDFS was too slow to report on.

What is different from this MOOC than SAP’s?  For one, MIT charges for the course. Additionally a few times MIT offered live office hours with the professors.  In one of them, Professor Sam Madden was asked about SAP HANA and In-Memory Computing – he said he found it interesting, particularly with the amount of data that can be stored in memory.

This course takes up a lot more time than the SAP MOOC’s; I spent several hours, every Saturday, watching videos and doing the assessments.  MIT also had a nice feature where we could speed up the lecture 1.5 times, 2 times – this made some of the video watching go faster.  The other thing I did differently in this course was I did not take any notes, yet I still succeeded with the assessments.  I’ve felt with the SAP MOOC’s assessments I needed the notes to answer the assessments.

Another area of the course was around big data visualization.  Professor David Karcher lead this and during his office hours he made a point that big data visualizations need to be “real-time” and interactive.  This made me think of SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio and SAP BusinessObjects Lumira

We learned about Hadoop, map reduce, and the technologies behind that.  We also learned business cases about health, fraud, machine learning and more.  I also learned about Data Wrangler with Lumira – for Cleaning and Transforming Data and Map-D Tweetmap

“Big Data Analytics” is not about BI as I think of SAP BI; in the course it is about fast algorithms and machine learning.  Diginomica’s Dennis Howlett has been encouraging me to get out the “SAP Zone” and this course did that.

While course registration is closed, you can sign up to receive alerts for the next MOOC.  I recommend it.

ASUG Annual ConferenceAC_Logo_black_lores.jpg

Learn more about Big Data from customer sessions at ASUG Annual Conference:

Adobe Shares Managing Big Data Across a Logical Data Warehouse with SAP HANA, SAP IQ, and Hadoop

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Industry-Leading Blueprint to Leverage Big Data for Competitive Advantage

Also learn about “Big Data” or HANA from the following ASUG Pre-conference sessions:

Jump Start ASUG Annual Conference SAPPHIRE with a Pre-Conference Session – Back and Better than Ever

In-depth sessions on EIM at ASUG Annual Conference: Try a pre-con!

If you have a big data story to share, ASUG invites you to submit an abstract for SAP dcode for Las Vegas (aka SAP TechEd) – call for presentations is planned to start April 21st.

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member


      Thanks for the great review of this course. If I wasn't busy with a coursera one for upping my BI / Analytics and Computer Sciences I would be in on it.

      I remember using Data Wrangler back when you first posted it! Great reminder!

      I'm most looking forward to sessions on SAP HANA, Hadoop and customers who've adopted BI 4.1.

      As always, a great share -- already subscribed for updates via edX.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Tammy,

      What a coincidence! I attended it as well, like you I missed out the "Bachelor" thing from the Flyer! Great comparison, however the forums were total chaos!

      I attended "Introduction to HANA by Vishal Shikka" on SAP MOOC after that, I found it to be quite impressive. 



      Author's profile photo shiv patil
      shiv patil

      I attended as well. Agree the discussion forums were difficult to follow...  Can u share the link to Intro to HANA?



      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas
      Blog Post Author

      Go to to enroll in Intro to HANA course

      Author's profile photo shiv patil
      shiv patil

      Thanks Tammy.

      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt

      Thanks for sharing your experience with this MOOC Tammy.  Sounds like you took a deep dive with a number of the faculty members of Electrical Engineering in MIT so this wasn't any lightweight offering.  Kudos.  Did you think it was good value for your investment of $500?

      What was your biggest "take-away"?  What was the most challenging part of taking this course?  Did you also interact with other students (I understood that you did have some more personalized interaction with the faculty during live office hours) but could you directly engage with others studying with you? Were you able to ascertain how many others were concurrently studying?  Interesting to know how they accessed the course.

      Really inspiring to learn this way.  It does take a particular type of discipline.  I did a Master's Degree in Distance Learning online and it was very heavy work load and quite challenging but I loved that a good deal of it was asynchronous.  As adult learners (and working professionals) its great to have the ability to chose the time-slots dedicated to this learning activity.

      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Marilyn,

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      I think my biggest take-away was hearing that we're all moving to columnar databases (aka HANA) and it was good to hear it from non-SAP sources.  The MIT professors were truly interested in HANA.  The second takeaway was the use cases of big data around fraud and health.

      The most challenging part was attempting to keep up with the volume of videos and courses.  I never took notes (unusual for me) - I just "assimilated" the information.

      I interacted with fellow students on the discussion forum, as it was part of the weekly assignment to participate.  I don't know how many fellow students were participating.

      Now that the course is over, MIT has an exclusive Linked In group, where fellow students have read this blog and "liked it" on Linked In. 

      Yes it was well worth the money and I did feel like I was back in my George Washington University grad school courses.   Back then, I agreed with my main professor that nothing beats formal education, and this still holds true for this Big Data MOOC.


      Author's profile photo Astrid Gambill
      Astrid Gambill

      Thanks Tammy.  You've inspired me to sign up for the open SAP HANA introduction.

      Author's profile photo Clemens Link
      Clemens Link

      Hi Tammy,

      great writing. Thanks for sharing with us.

      I fully agree to your statements because I also did take part in this MIT course. On the one hand to learn about “Tackling the challenges of Big Data”, on the other hand to see how a massive open online course (MOOC) is delivered on edX. I think you can easily imagine, that the openSAP Team is constantly looking for ideas to further improve our offerings 😉

      It was my first MOOC that I had to pay money for and to be honest, not little money. I think that the fee is one of the reasons why it was quite easy to receive a Certificate of Completion from MIT Professional Education. BTW: not a graded one. I’m not saying that following all the content was easy. In contrary, from time to time it was “hard work” and I’ve learned a lot. My favorite professors were Samuel Madden, David Karger and especially Michael Stonebraker but I also did like the others, because everyone was best-in-class in his/her topic.

      One question: You mentioned, that you needed your notes to answer assignments at openSAP but didn’t for the MIT course. This sounds to me like “it’s more challenging to pass an openSAP course than the one from MIT”, which I agree. Would you recommend to make it more easy to pass courses at openSAP or do you think, we should stick our standard?


      Clemens (openSAP Team)

      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas
      Blog Post Author

      Hello Clemens,

      Thank you for reading and responding.

      To me, comparing openSAP and the MIT MOOC are two completely different things.  With openSAP (from my view) we're trying to learn a specific solution, such as BI4 admin.  BI4 admin includes very specific tasks, and for me, it was very technical, in-depth (and good).

      The Big Data MOOC (for me) was introducing concepts, which is something different than openSAP (at least for the courses I've taken).

      So even though both are online learning the ways of learning for me was different.  I am not sure I would change the questions for openSAP

      The Big Data MOOC costs money so there was pressure to complete the courses on time.