In a letter to the MIT community today, Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma announced the appointment of Professor Cynthia Breazeal as dean for digital learning, effective Feb. 1. As dean, she will supervise numerous business units and research initiatives centered on developing and deploying digital technologies for learning. These include MIT xPRO, Bootcamps, Horizon, the Center for Advanced Virtuality, MIT Integrated Learning Initiative, RAISE, and other strategic initiatives. Breazeal has served as senior associate dean for open learning since the fall.
As dean, Breazeal will lead corporate education efforts, helping to grow the existing portfolio of online professional courses, content libraries, and boot camps, while looking more holistically at the needs of companies and professionals to identify areas of convergence and innovation. She will also lead research efforts at MIT Open Learning into teaching, learning, and how new technologies can enhance both, with a special focus on virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and learning science. Breazeal will help infuse these new technologies and pedagogies into all of the teams’ learning offerings.
“Cynthia brings to the deanship a remarkable combination of experience and expertise. She consistently displays an outstanding facility for leadership and collaboration, bringing together people, ideas, and technologies in creative and fruitful ways,” Sarma wrote in his letter to the community. “Cynthia is an ambassador for women in STEM and a trailblazer in interdisciplinary research and community engagement.”
The director of MIT RAISE — a cross-MIT research effort on advancing AI education for K-12 and adult learners — and head of the Personal Robots research group at the MIT Media Lab, Breazeal is a professor of media arts and sciences and a pioneer in human-robot interaction and social robotics. Her research focus includes technical innovation in AI and user experience design combined with understanding the psychology of engagement to design personified AI technologies that promote human flourishing and personal growth. Over the past decade, her work has expanded to include outreach, engagement, and education in the design and use of AI, as well as AI literacy. She has placed particular emphasis on diversity and inclusion for all ages, backgrounds, and comfort levels with technology.
“The work that Open Learning is doing to extend the best of MIT’s teaching, knowledge, and technology to the world is so thrilling to me,” says Breazeal. “I’m excited to work with these teams to grow and expand their respective programs and to develop new, more integrated, potentially thematic solutions for corporations and professionals.”
TC Haldi, senior director of MIT xPRO, says, “There’s an increasing sophistication in the needs of the professional workforce, as technologies and systems grow more complex in every sector. Cynthia has a deep understanding of the intersection between research and industry, and her insights into learning and technology are invaluable.”
Breazeal will also continue to head the Personal Robots research group, whose recent work focuses on the theme of “living with AI” and understanding the long-term impact of social robots that can build relationships and provide personalized support as helpful companions in daily life. Under her continued direction, the RAISE initiative, a joint collaboration between the Media Lab, Open Learning, and the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, is bringing AI resources and education opportunities to teachers and students across the United States and the world through workshops and professional training, hands-on activities, research, and curricula.