Allegra Smith, Senior Director of Digital Learning at Sotheby’s Institute takes us behind the scenes of what it takes to create state-of-the-art virtual learning experiences for the art world.
As the head of the Digital Learning team, I lead the group that builds online courses at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. It is my pleasure to take you behind the scenes of the online courses that have brought Sotheby’s Institute to almost 6,000 people in more than 100 countries. This year, we took virtual learning to a new level, and are currently offering integrated graduate programs online along with our extensive course catalog of other remote and blended learning topics and formats.
A team of experts
Personally, I believe that technology empowers and enhances the learning experience to become something that isn’t a mere substitute for a classroom, but that goes far beyond what we traditionally think of as a learning environment. As a department, we have firm roots in teaching methodologies and are also technologists, media producers, artists, and analysts. The team’s background includes projects with The Museum of Modern Art, Juilliard, National Gallery of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Pearson, Vice, Buzzfeed, Macmillan and more.
World-class exclusive content
As we think about the architecture for online learning we seek to bring ideas to life in different ways. With a multi-media and multi-dimensional approach to a topic, an online course can spark inspiration, resonate unexpectedly, and create deeper meaning and understanding. We work with world-class exclusive content from behind the scenes of Sotheby’s Auction House and major art world institutions to exclusive interviews from art market experts and some of the most influential artists of today. What excites me about designing online courses is that we can bring our campuses in London and New York to a global art world citizen, wherever they may be.
This summer, Sotheby’s Institute of Art’s Online Premier program was honored by the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training with the organization's most prestigious award, Exemplar Training Organization. This award speaks to the high quality of our courses and the skills our students obtain by completing our programs. Our courses are designed to set our students up for success with a focus on practical and career driven skills that our students can apply in their person and professional lives.
The power of technology
I see everyday that online learning is empowering to the student. Students can revisit key parts of a course or lecture in order to dive deep into a single idea, or can access more collateral information and resources to develop an astonishingly broad understanding of their field of choice. Without physical limitations, one’s intellect can journey to any number of destinations.
Remote learning is not just about the ideas, but about the people. In the last six months, I have seen guest speakers who are museum directors, celebrated artists, authors, and experts be able to join our graduate classrooms from all around the world. The global network of Sotheby’s Institute of Art has never been more real, and students are able to build their network in new ways.
A vibrant student life
A student magazine from the Master’s program, Made in Bed, launched during quarantine, and there was a student takeover of Photo London in the summer. Even our pre-college program, offered virtually last summer and again in 2021, was described by the students as an inspiring experience that was far from their previous definitions of ‘zoom classrooms’. They designed fashion collections, curated virtual exhibits, and got to connect with new friends around the world, even as the world was shut down.
As Jonathan Woolfson, the head of our London campus says: If the current situation is unprecedented, so are the learning opportunities associated with it.