General Assembly: A New Model for Continuing Education? Q & A with Brad Hargreaves

General Assembly offers educational opportunities in the areas of technology, design, and entrepreneurship. The first campus is located in New York City, with a second campus in-the-works for London.

I think General Assembly (or GA) presents a very compelling offer to adult learners. Its programs are constructed according to demand. Instructors are not former industry leaders, but current leaders. Their programs are as much about access to other people with similar interests, as it is access to knowledge. The locations, New York and soon London, are part of the value proposition for the would-be entrepreneurs. GA’s visual identity mimics the start-ups and “fast companies” that the students aspire to lead. The school teaches entrepreneurship, but is, itself, entrepreneurial.

The organization’s “tone”, then, mirrors the subject matter of the education. This is an important quality; one that higher education tends to ignore. We need to remember that adult students select educational organizations and programs in order to get closer to certain types of work environments (people, culture, locations). They are not selecting the educational provider as much as they are selecting the social world to which the educational provider can connect them. It follows, then, that an educational provider that can offer the greatest access to that social world to which the student aspires, will be relatively valuable in the eyes of the students.

This value proposition is evident in, for example, in certain highly specialized programs. Students that are interested in the fashion industry will be attracted to colleges that are located in the “Fashion Districts” of major cities like New York, London, and Milan. This is a sharp contrast to the classic residential undergraduate value proposition: the student spends four years (okay, five or six) removed from the “real world” to which they will ultimately move upon graduation. I’m over simplifying this a bit, but you get my drift.

Brad Hargreaves, a Founding Partner of General Assembly, provides us with a better understanding of this venture.


Keith: My interest – and the interests of most of our readers – is in higher education. So let’s begin by differentiating what you are doing at General Assembly from higher ed. Why would people attend GA rather than a college or university? 

Brad: The U.S. educational system is based in the liberal arts and this is an important reason why American students think critically and creatively. At the same time, the job market is growing increasingly competitive and requires practical skills to complement a traditional education. General Assembly allows people to develop best practices by offering classes and workshops taught by leaders in their field, covering technology, design and business through the lens of entrepreneurship.

General Assembly gives people the flexibility to come in for a class or two focusing on very specific areas or take a longer certification program. We now hold two to three classes and workshops each evening in technology, design and business ranging from Essentials of Startup Law to Ruby on Rails and Front-end Web Development.

Keith: What kinds of people are turning to GA? 

Brad: The General Assembly community is made of a range of people, from those with a strong tech focus to people who want to expand their skill set. For example, we have early-stage entrepreneurs, many of them software developers or designers who have started businesses before, or freelancers who realize that they need to pick up additional skills to build their prototypes or get higher-paying jobs. We also have employees attending on behalf of their employers (GE and American Express are great examples), seeking to understand best practices in digital or user experience design, as well as members of the public who are interested in learning about technology, design, or entrepreneurship.

Keith: Why have you focused on the three areas of technology, design and entrepreneurship? 

Brad: We believe that technology, design, and business taught through the lens of entrepreneurship are the core skills of the 21st century.  People who have experience and knowledge in everything from software development to user experience design to online marketing are in high demand in this job market.  Our community wants to learn these skills, and we see a growing need for them in the market.

Keith: Who is crafting and delivering your courses? 

Brad: All General Assembly courses and workshops are taught by top practitioners in their fields who spend the majority of their time practicing their craft.  Our instructors work closely with General Assembly’s in-house instructional designer to build engaging educational content that deliver meaningful results as well as create assessments and course assets.

Keith: What’s the next milestone for GA? Do you have plans to expand beyond New York?

Brad: We recently announced plans to open a campus in London in Spring 2012.  We are working closely with 10 Downing and have support from Yuri Milner – two outstanding partners.

This said, we are committed to enhancing the General Assembly experience for our students and members in New York. This includes increasing the diversity and depth of courses, as well as building our community and providing job and internship opportunities for General Assembly students.  There is a huge demand in New York for competency-based education in topics such as user experience design, web development, and business skills, and we intend to grow our offerings to meet that need.

Post by Group Founder, Keith Hampson

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