GA News Category Archives - General Assembly Blog

An Introduction to the Philadelphia Tech Community

By

With a robust population of 5.8 million people1, Philadelphia (or Philly) boasts a rich and diverse culture founded on hard work and innovation. The growing pool of highly skilled tech talent in the area is a testament to why it’s becoming one of the most promising tech hubs in the country. It’s also home to the nation’s 7th largest workforce (3.4 million) and the top U.S. business school.2 

Ranking third in the nation for best cities for women in the tech sector based on the gender pay gap,3 Philadelphians are reshaping the future of work into a more equitable playing field for all. The opportunity for non-technical advancement is also growing at a rapid pace for the emerging tech talent pipeline4 — not to mention the other Pennsylvania cities with growing tech communities, such as Harrisburg, Lancaster, and Pittsburgh. 

With its neighborly feel, a deeply connected community is a signature feature of Philadelphia  — one that is instrumental to the city’s history as well as its future. GA Philly plans to cultivate thousands of meaningful connections through thoughtful partnership building and learning opportunities by facilitating expert-led classes and workshops and intentional panel discussions each week.

Companies and Jobs

  • Top industries: life sciences, information technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, energy, financial and professional services, logistics, and manufacturing.5
  • Major employers:6 Comcast, Day & Zimmerman, Clarivate, Spectra, Health-Union, Sidecar Interactive, Spark Therapeutics, Meet Group, Vici Media, and Phenom People.7
  • Philadelphia is considered the leader in healthcare innovation with increased investment in biotech.8 The Greater Philadelphia region is home to more than 30 cell and gene therapy development companies,9 as well as the CAR T-cell cancer treatment therapy — developed in a collaboration by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Penn Medicine.10
  • The recent surge in job postings suggests that exciting possibilities are on the horizon. With a lower cost of living than other major cities, it’s a compelling environment to launch a business and attract new talent.12

The Philadelphia Tech Community

  • With 5,100 tech businesses,13 organizations like Philly Startup Leaders are creating space for startups to connect with leaders in the community.14
  • From a women-focused non-profit to a community-led talent marketplace, there are local organizations where you can find resources to start a business, offer your support, or connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. 
    • Want to help diversify the tech talent pipeline? Philly Tech Sistas is a non-profit organization that helps women of color gain technical and professional skills in order to work, thrive, and level up in the tech industry. 
    • Require assistance to build a product or enhance your business? Think Company has a team full of experts in design, developing, and coaching (featuring some of our very own GA alumni!).
    • Need a diverse and supportive community of fellow tech enthusiasts? Tribaja is not only community-led but offers tons of resources for your next career move.
  • Having the lowest office rental rates among top metros, Philly is home to some of the most elite co-working spaces such as 1776, CIC Philadelphia, Industrious, and City CoHo — all great places to check out for networking or collaborating with entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and creatives.

Stay in the Know

Here are just a handful of resources to help you dive deeper into Philadelphia’s tech and startup ecosystem:

  • Subscribe to Billy Penn, one of Philly’s media channels for local news and announcements, or Technical.ly Philly for daily updates on navigating Philly’s local economy. 
  • Small Biz Philly covers everything related to launching and growing small businesses.
  • Check out Philly Mag to stay in the loop on the latest industry trends, events, and upcoming business ventures in the area.
Browse Upcoming Workshops

1https://www.macrotrends.net/cities/23098/philadelphia/population#:~:text=The%20current%20metro%20area%20population,a%200.18%25%20increase%20from%202018.
2https://selectgreaterphl.com/key-industries/
3 https://selectgreaterphl.com/why-here/
4https://mapping.cbre.com/maps/Scoring-Tech-Talent-2020/
5 https://selectgreaterphl.com/key-industries/
6 https://builtin.com/philadelphia/largest-companies-in-philadelphia
7 https://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/news/2019/11/11/7-philadelphia-area-companies-make-deloitte.html
8 https://www.fox.temple.edu/posts/2020/01/philadelphias-hub-for-innovations-in-healthcare/#:~:text=With%20innovations%20deeply%20rooted%20in,cell%2Dbased%20research%20and%20therapies.&text=%E2%80%9CPenn%20has%20contributed%20eight%20FDA,%2C%20or%20%E2%80%9CCellicon%E2%80%9D%20Valley.
9 https://selectgreaterphl.com/cell-and-gene-therapy-and-connected-health/
10 https://gps.chop.edu/news/fda-approves-personalized-cellular-therapy-advanced-leukemia-developed-university-pennsylvania
11 https://technical.ly/jobs/
12 https://www.libertycitypress.com/starting-a-business-in-philly/#:~:text=While%20it’s%20true%20that%20the,government%20support%20for%20early%20entrepreneurs.
13 https://technical.ly/infographic/philadelphia/
14  https://www.phillystartupleaders.org/

An Introduction to the San Diego Tech Community

By

Miles of white-sand beaches, perfect weather, and a red-hot tech scene — welcome to the modern San Diego. With its charming neighborhoods and diverse community, San Diego has been revered as “America’s Finest City.” But in recent years, it’s also quickly gained a reputation as a hotspot for startups and tech jobs, which accounts for almost 9% of total employment. A high concentration of millennials in the area — a characteristic of vibrant tech ecosystems — is only one force bringing San Diego into the future of work. A recent report found that millennials account for 24% of the region’s population and more than half of the population is younger than 39 years old. 

Successful tech companies such as Qualcomm, LunaDNA, and Aira share a common mission — to make the world a better place through innovation and community. With startup gateways such as Fresh Brewed Tech, Startup San Diego, and General Assembly, it is no doubt you’ll find support and opportunities to collaborate in San Diego. 

Companies and Jobs

  • Top industries: defense/military, tourism, international trade, and research/manufacturing.  
  • Major employers: Naval Base San Diego, University of California San Diego (UCSD), San Diego County, Sharp HealthCare, Cubic Corporation, and Pulse Electronics. 
  • San Diego ranks ninth in the nation for tech jobs. 

The San Diego Tech Community

  • The emergence of organizations supporting entrepreneurs is another reason why the city is on track to becoming the next tech hub: 
    • Startup San Diego is a nonprofit organization that upskills, guides, and connects the local community with the right resources to create an equitable startup ecosystem and community. 
    • Connect San Diego provides entrepreneurs access to investors, mentors, and education. 
    • LatinaGeeks empowers and inspires Latinas by sharing technical knowledge, business skills, and entrepreneurship resources. 
    • San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation is a non-profit organization that works to grow San Diego’s economy. 
    • We Tha Plug is a global community of Pan-African, Latinx, and other underrepresented founders, venture capitalists, and angel investors.
    • San Diego Tech Hub (SDTH) offers a vast support network for individuals in tech.  
    • 1 Million Cups San Diego is a free program that empowers entrepreneurs with the tools and resources to start and grow their businesses. 
    • San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange is a nonprofit organization run by local entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.
    • Athena is a premier women’s advocacy organization that fast tracks women in STEM through leadership development.
    • Hera Hub is a women-focused coworking space and business accelerator. 
  • The San Diego tech community also hosts dynamic networking events — the largest being March Mingle — to celebrate the latest technologies and startups of the area. Startup San Diego also organizes annual events, such as San Diego Startup Week Month and Convergence, packed with panel discussions, hands-on workshops, and pitch competitions. 

Stay in the Know

If you’re new to the community, this guide by the San Diego startup community will come in handy when navigating the local tech scene. We’ve also listed additional resources to help you keep up with the latest San Diego tech news and events:

  • For entrepreneurs and small business owners, join some (or all!) of these local groups to meet like-minded individuals and grow your network.
  • Subscribe to Fresh Brewed Tech  to stay up to date on San Diego’s tech scene.
  • Get inspired and listen to Tacos and Tech podcast as they highlight founders, technologies, and the ecosystem of San Diego. 
  • Check out this San Diego Startup Ecosystem Canvas that provides resources for every stage of building a company.   
  • Explore open roles in the area with this interactive company map
Browse Upcoming Workshops

1https://www.globest.com/2020/01/06/why-san-diego-has-such-a-high-population-of-young-people/
2 https://www.globest.com/2020/05/04/san-diego-ranked-ninth-in-nation-for-tech-jobs/?slreturn=20210204173152

An Introduction to the Twin Cities Tech Community

By

Nestled comfortably in the northern Midwest, Minneapolis and St. Paul — or the Twin Cities — are known for their abundant lakes, expansive parks, and snowy winters. The metro area is home to more than a dozen established Fortune 500 companies, as well as a bustling startup community. From its iconic hospitality to diverse career prospects, the Twin Cities is more than flyover country. Twin Cities Startup Week — with its innovative fly-in program — is proof that it’s a great place to grow a startup and your professional network. According to CNBC, it’s also the best city for women entrepreneurs, having nearly 20% of businesses owned by women and a high early startup success rate of over 80%. 

Companies and Jobs

  • Top industries: healthcare, medical tech, finance, manufacturing, food and agriculture, and more.
  • Major employers: UnitedHealth Group, Target Corporation, Best Buy, 3M, US Bank, and General Mills. 
  • Between 2016 and 2017, there was a 40% increase in startup investments. There’s also an emergence of startup accelerators such as TechStars and gener8tor

The Twin Cities Tech Community

  • The tech community is thriving — organizations like Minnestar make it easy for founders, mentors, volunteers, and employees to connect. 
  • They also host dynamic tech and startup events such as Twin Cities Startup Week — an annual conference with over 200+ events and 15,000+ attendees — and MinneDemo, a showcase of Minnesota-made tech products.

Stay in the Know

Here are just a handful of resources to help you dive deeper into Twin Cities tech:

  • Subscribe to The Beat, tech.mn, TCBmag, or BETA for the latest local tech news and trends. 
  • Learn how you can support the local tech community at MNTech.
  • Check out Twin Cities Startup Grind and Minne Inno for upcoming local events. 

Browse Upcoming Workshops

1 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/09/top-10-us-cities-for-women-entrepreneurs-according-to-new-report.html
2 https://www.greatermsp.org/

An Introduction to the Salt Lake City Tech Community

By

Salt Lake City has long been a haven for skiers chasing the “best snow on Earth” and adventurers exploring Utah’s many national parks. However, Salt Lake City has recently garnered new attention as a booming tech ecosystem. Multiple high-profile companies — like Adobe and eBay — have opened campuses in the area, while home-grown companies like Qualtrics, Domo, Instructure, Pluralsight, and Lucid have achieved significant success. This tremendous growth across the tech landscape has earned the city the nickname, “Silicon Slopes.” Overall, the tech sector is growing at a tremendous rate in both Utah and Salt Lake City. According to a Gardner report, tech jobs in Utah are growing at twice the rate of the national average, with one in seven jobs based in tech and innovation. In Salt Lake City specifically, tech jobs have grown by 12% since January 20181.

What makes Salt Lake City so attractive for tech companies? For starters, Salt Lake City is a young, highly-educated city, with a median population age of 31.7 years2. The city also boasts the country’s newest international airport, providing easy access for business and personal trips. From a cultural perspective, Utah prides itself on being the Beehive State, reflecting the area’s values of industry, community, and collaboration. This is evident in local organizations like Silicon Slopes — a nonprofit that fosters the startup and tech community through education and events, including the annual Silicon Slopes Summit that hosts more than 15,000 attendees. All of this has resulted in a massive influx of diverse talent to Salt Lake City, particularly in 2020 — LinkedIn’s data showed that Salt Lake City had the second highest gains in net arrivals of any city in the U.S. 

Companies and Jobs

  • Top industries: education, healthcare, and retail.3 
  • Major employers: Wal-Mart, The University of Utah, the state of Utah, Intermountain Health Care, and the U.S. government.4 
  • Utah leads the nation in industry growth in life sciences and recently introduced BioHive, a “healthcare corridor designed to nurture this cutting-edge industry.”5 
  • Salt Lake City’s unemployment rate remains well below the national average at 3.7% in 2020, compared to 6.7% nationally.6

The Salt Lake City Tech Community

  • If you are looking to network and connect with the Salt Lake City tech community, we recommend checking out Silicon Slopes, Women Tech Council, STRT, AIGA SLC, and Product Hive
  • Salt Lake City boasts several incredible creative working spaces, including INDUSTRY SLC, Maven Create, and Kiln, where you can meet and collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs. 
  • 1 Million Cups is hosting virtual weekly events so you can network and pitch your startups to your peers. 
  • There are also free startup incubators and programs, such as Women’s Business Center of Utah, SCORE, and Entrepreneur Launch Pad that provide mentorship and resources to help you start your business.

Stay in the Know

Here are just a handful of resources to help you dive deeper into Salt Lake City tech:

  • Subscribe to BeeHive Startups and TechBuzz.news for news and announcements on Utah’s startup and tech ecosystem.
  • Listen to podcasts such as Silicon Slopes’ Meat & Potatoes and Startup to Last, where Utah-based founder Rick Lindquist and Tyler King discuss how to make businesses last. 
  • Check out UtahBusiness and UtahValley360 to stay on top of the latest trends, entrepreneur stories, and startup news in the area.  
Browse Upcoming Workshops

1https://www.deseret.com/2019/3/17/20668559/who-s-hiring-the-most-tech-workers-in-salt-lake-city-the-answer-may-surprise-you
2https://datausa.io/profile/geo/salt-lake-city-ut/#economy
3 https://datausa.io/profile/geo/salt-lake-city-ut/#economy
4https://jobs.utah.gov/wi/data/library/firm/majoremployers.html
5https://www.tradeandindustrydev.com/region/utah/news/ut-salt-lake-city-introduces-new-biohive-hub-healt-17336
6https://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/utah/salt-lake-city/

Meet Lisa, General Assembly’s New CEO

By

As General Assembly embarks on a new chapter within a new world, we’ve turned to Lisa Lewin for CEO leadership at this shifted moment — and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

On her first day as CEO at General Assembly, Lisa Lewin sat down with Co-Founder and outgoing GA CEO Jake Schwartz to share more about her journey and passion for education in a Zoom fireside chat with our global GA team. 

An Excerpt From Their Conversation:

Jake: Tell us more about your background!

Lisa: I have spent the better part of my career in education, art, science, and the business of education. I have always been deeply dedicated to impact — that’s the thing that ties everything together in my career. I’m a believer that the way to be happy in this life is to try to help others flourish, and I think education is a place to do that. I have spent time at big companies like McGraw Hill and Pearson, and I also built my own tech company that created curriculums for post-secondary institutions. 

Jake: How did you end up at GA? What was your first introduction to GA? 

Lisa: GA is kind of sprinkled throughout my career and has inserted itself into my life in random ways over the past few years. And I’ll just give a couple of examples. When I launched my own tech company, I was the first employee, so I literally had to build everything, including doing the code myself on our first products. I needed to learn and refine my skills in product development and design and took a GA course to do just that. It was an incredible experience, and so I became a fan way back then in the early days of GA. 

Then, at Pearson, I ran the global technology and product team with over 1,000 people across every continent. I always had great faith if I was sending one of my staff to GA — engineers, UX experts, data scientists — that they were going to come back with immediately applicable skills. If you’re going to invest like that, you’ve got to believe there’s an ROI, and there was always an ROI when I would send people to GA. 

And then lastly, just this year, I needed something fixed so I called a handyman I used to call all the time for help. I sent him a text, and he was like, “Actually, I don’t do that anymore.” He went on to explain how he had launched an entirely new, amazing career in web development by getting a certificate at a place called GA. So as someone who has dedicated her career to education and deeply believes in impact, that is a long-winded way of saying I’m super excited to be here and have been a fan for a very long time.

Jake: One question we always ask our employees when they join the company at our “team lunch” gatherings, is who was your favorite teacher you ever had, and why? 

Lisa: My mother was a teacher who actually taught me how to read at home. And that was marvelous. She’s definitely the teacher that has had the biggest influence on my life. Outside of her, it’s a tie between my music teacher and history teacher. The music teacher, because he created the model that I hope I use now, which is giving feedback with kindness, understanding how to help people get better, and giving critical feedback in a humane way. And then, the history teacher helped form my brain’s ability to recognize patterns. History is about pattern recognition. How do you balance between applying what you know to be true and successful, while also staying open to new input, new information, and being agile? 

Jake: I don’t know how many CEO transitions have happened during a worldwide pandemic. At GA, we’ve had quite a journey converting everything from offline to online in a matter of days. It’s such a unique moment, and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the opportunity for GA, and how we think about our role at this moment where everything seems in flux. 

Lisa: There is a genuine, legitimate need for what we’re doing right now. Yet, there are businesses out there trying to figure out what to push into the universe. I don’t want to be in that kind of business in a world where there is no shortage of needs. Why bother producing things where you have to invent or create demand? 

In a world where there is no shortage of needs, particularly for people who are trying to get a rung on the economic ladder, for people who recently lost their employment or are in industries that have completely collapsed, our core mission to help people find meaningful work is legitimately useful and in need right now. 

I also want to say one other thing about this moment, and about business in general. I just don’t see the point in coming to work and ignoring that the world is on fire. I’ve got to believe I’m not the only person in the universe who wakes up in the morning and starts “doom-scrolling” through the news. There’s no point (in) trying to shut that off for the workday. What I say all the time is that business leaders have a choice in “a world on fire”: we have a choice to be arsonists, bystanders or firefighters, and only one of those is the right choice. Businesses won’t solve all the universe’s problems, but we need to acknowledge that we are in a moment where the communities and customers we serve are experiencing a public health crisis, layered on top of a climate crisis, layered on top of inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity. We need to ask ourselves how we can be thoughtfully and strategically helpful. 

We need to ask ourselves how we can ensure that the world is getting better as we get bigger and better. That’s a healthy question all businesses should be asking right now.

Get 2030-Ready With our Free Festival of Learning

By

We are excited to launch The 2030 Movement — a week-long festival of free workshops and panel events focused on coding, data, design, marketing, and career development — in effort to build a better world through tech by 2030. 

Whether you’re looking to dive deeper into data, code your way into a new career, or simply make meaningful professional connections, our robust lineup of  workshops and panel events offers something for everyone . Discover what’s coming up!

Monday, September 14: Career-Proof Skills of 2030

Hear from thought leaders and industry experts about how you can stay in demand in your career — no matter what 2030 throws at you.

  • Morning Motivation: Goal Setting for 2030 8–9 a.m. SGT | 10–11 a.m. AEST
  • Success in the Digital Age: 9–10 a.m. SGT | 11 a.m.–12 p.m. AEST
  • Job Hunting in the Virtual World: 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • Courageous Conversations: 1–2 p.m. SGT | 3–4 p.m. AEST
  • Employable in 2030: Closing the Skills Gap: 5–6:30 p.m. SGT | 7–8:30 p.m. AEST

Tuesday, September 15: Staying Human

As industries begin to lean on technology more and more, learn how you can stay in touch with the personal, human side of business.

  • Morning Motivation: HIIT with lululemon 8–9 a.m. SGT | 10–11 a.m. AEST
  • Driving Better Decisions With Data: 9–11 a.m. SGT | 11 a.m.–1 p.m. AEST
  • Designing a More Human Future: 10 a.m.–11 a.m. SGT | 12–1 p.m. AEST
  • Building Relationships in the Digital Age: 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • Inclusive Design for a Digital World: 12–1 p.m. SGT | 2–3 p.m. AEST
  • Elevating Customer Experiences With Applied Design Thinking: 1–3 p.m. SGT | 3–5 p.m. AEST
  • Man vs. Machine: The Ethics of Cybersecurity: 5–6 p.m. SGT | 7–8 p.m. AEST

Wednesday, September 16: Sustainability and Ethics

What’s good for business can also be good for the planet. Find out how you can make a positive global impact before 2030!

  • Morning Motivation: Big Dance Energy! 8–9 a.m. SGT | 10–11 a.m. AEST
  • EcoTech: How to Save the World by 2030: 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • Smart Cities Shaping the Future: 12–1 p.m. SGT | 2–3 p.m. AEST
  • From Lab to Table: The Future of Food: 2–3 p.m. SGT | 4–5 p.m. AEST
  • How to Make a Profit and Impact: 4–5:30 p.m. SGT | 6–7:30 p.m. AEST

Thursday, September 17: Emerging Tech and Industries

A whole new era of tech is dawning on us. What exactly can we expect industries and businesses to look like in 2030?

  • Morning Motivation: Yoga with lululemon 8–9 a.m. SGT | 10–11 a.m. AEST
  • So You Want to Be a Coder?: 9–11 a.m. SGT | 11 a.m.–1 p.m. AEST
  • Transport Yourself to 2030: 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • 2030-Proof: Demystifying Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence: 12–2 p.m. SGT | 2–4 p.m. AEST
  • Tech Trends: Fad vs. Future: 6–7 p.m. SGT | 8–9 p.m. AEST

Friday, September 18: Wellness and Resilience

We know you’re ready to trailblaze into 2030, but that doesn’t mean you should lose sight of your own well-being. Let’s talk self-care, self-love and self-satisfaction.

  • Morning Motivation: Strength Class with lululemon: 8–9 a.m. SGT | 10–11 a.m. AEST
  • Getting to Happy: 9–10 a.m. SGT | 11 a.m.–12 p.m. AEST
  • Find Your Financial Zen: 10 a.m.–11 a.m. SGT | 12–1 p.m. AEST
  • Building Resilience in Your Career: 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • Productivity in the Age of Distraction: 12–1 p.m. SGT | 2–3 p.m. AEST

Saturday, September 19: Rising Stars

Arm yourself with the skills needed and hear from professionals who’ve made the switch to the startup and tech industry.

  • Morning Motivation: HIIT with lululemon 8–9 a.m. SGT | 10–11 a.m. AEST
  • The 2030 Social Media Playbook for Start-Ups: 9–11 a.m. SGT | 11 a.m.–1 p.m. AEST
  • The Ultimate 2030 Product Management Guide for Beginners: 10 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 12–2 p.m. AEST
  • How to Land a Job at a Tech Startup: 11 a.m.–12 p.m. SGT | 1–2 p.m. AEST
  • Women Funders and Founders: 12–1 p.m. SGT | 2–3 p.m. AEST

Be 2030-ready. Join The Movement. 

A new chapter

By

A message from co-founder and CEO Jake Schwartz:

Today marks an important new chapter in the General Assembly story. We’ve had a lot of these big milestones since we started as a team of four almost ten years ago. In that time, we raised five rounds of venture capital, expanded to nearly forty markets in seven countries, launched hundreds of new programs and courses, worked with over 400 companies on large-scale digital transformation initiatives, and were acquired by the largest human capital solutions company in the world. 

All of these chapters had a few common threads. Our mission, our vision, our approach to the world — and, me as CEO. So this new chapter is going to be different, which will involve me stepping away from my role as CEO of General Assembly after ten amazing years. 

As with any big change, I feel some uncertainty and a level of trepidation (a feeling I know that our students experience every single day as they gain new skills and transform their careers). But I’m also really, really happy, because we’ve found a really dynamic and talented executive to step into the CEO role. Over the past six months, we’ve run a robust and intensive search, with a lot of deliberation and consideration of many talented and qualified candidates. 

So: I am excited to announce Lisa Lewin as our new Chief Executive Officer, starting August 17.  I have absolute confidence that Lisa is the leader who will ensure that General Assembly reaches its ambitious growth goals, while also contributing to the culture that will ensure its continued success. I am also looking forward to being a part of this process — I’ve told Lisa I’m here for whatever support she wants or needs (while of course not getting in the way.)

At the start of GA, I was just coming out of the painful anxious experience of graduating college into a recession, feeling lost and lonely in the world of work. Being able to translate that experience into an ever expanding pathway for others in the same predicament has been incredibly meaningful to me personally. But to be able to build this among a brilliant cast of thousands — team members, students, alumni, partners, investors — has been the greatest honor of my working life. I cannot think of a better steward for the next phase of this company’s development than Lisa Lewin, and I cannot wait to see what comes next for General Assembly.

To learn more about General Assembly’s new CEO, Lisa Lewin, read our press release here.

A is for Andragogy

By

Think of a great learning experience you’ve had. 

How would you describe it? You might say:

“Interactive,” “Engaging,” “Hands-on,” “Relevant,” “Practical,” “Digestible,” “Clear and easy to understand,” or “Fun!”

We’ve asked this question hundreds of times, and the answers are rarely surprising. Yet, when we ask another question, “How many of the classes you’ve taken actually fit these descriptions?” sadly, the percentage is often quite low — but not for our students. 

At GA, we’ve mastered the magic of delivering great learning experiences for each student and client. 

Interested in what this means? Read on. 

Principles of Andragogy

Andragogy is an esoteric term meaning the method or practice of teaching adult learners. If this is the first time you’re seeing the word “andragogy,” you’re not alone. 

The reason we mention this term is that we’re often asked about our “pedagogy”, in reference to our learning theory. Considering that the word most commonly used to discuss learning theory (pedagogy) has a prefix that means “relating to children” (ped) says something about the way society thinks about education. Namely, that learning is primarily for children. This has never been less true than it is today, where even successful professionals with years of post-graduate education and executive experience need to continuously upskill to keep pace with our rapidly changing world — now more than ever.

The distinction between andragogy, the adult learning methodology, and pedagogy, the children’s learning methodology, is important because while many good learning experience qualities such as engagement and interaction apply to both adults and children, there are some key contextual differences.

In both cases, excellent educators reference Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy to ground their courses in observable learning outcomes, and aim for active, hands-on learning with multiple opportunities to check for understanding and provide feedback along the way. 

However, we all understand that adulthood differs from childhood. As adults, we have an abundance of two things children typically have less of: choice and responsibility. 

What does this have to do with learning design? When you start thinking about taking a course or changing your career as an adult, you are plagued with different considerations than you had in grade school:

  • Is this worth my time and money? 
  • Will I be successful in learning this? 
  • What kind of people are going to be in my class? 
  • Will this be useful for my unique set of circumstances?
  • Should I just Google it? 

Designing for the Adult Learner

Six key actions tend to assuage adult learning anxieties, and help learners construct individualized meaning from a shared learning experience:

We know that adults learn best when they are active in the learning experience, when they are working toward solving a realistic, relevant, and interesting problem, and when they can show up as a whole person with individual experiences, goals, and preferences. Adults are not empty vessels… they are fully developed and experienced individuals.

So how does this knowledge impact our approach to learning? We design classes where the instructor does not just push information to the students; the instructor creates space where students can share their perspectives, be social, build connections, hear from other people, stretch their minds, and enjoy the process. 

If you’re having trouble picturing a unique GA learning experience, here is an example of what it looks like in practice: 

As a warm-up activity, we ask groups of participants to “be the search engine.” We give them printouts of five different Google search results from a previous search we conducted, such as “lunch.” We then ask them to arrange those printouts in the order they should be returned to the searcher in response to a few rapid-fire search queries, such as: 

  • “Lunch” 
  • “Best Restaurant to Take Clients” 
  • “Vegan Lunch Downtown” 

This succession of questions leads students to look at the details of the pages — their titles, contents, references to location, date published, etc. — to make and discuss these decisions. These details are factors of how search algorithms work and factors they will need to optimize for in their SEO strategies. 

The exercise illustrated above takes about ten minutes, roughly the same amount of time it would take the instructor to explain how search engines work. However, the exercise primes the students with decision-making, real-life engagement, and meaningful, useful information that can later be built upon. Most importantly, the students have not just heard the information; they have processed it — and had fun along the way.

Instructional Design in the Digital Age 

At GA, we deliver learning across two spectrums: the experience spectrum, which ranges from absolute beginners to field professionals seeking to remain current, and the duration spectrum, which ranges from 20-minute eLearning modules to 12-week, 480-hour immersive courses.

Designing a relevant and active learning experience across these spectrums is not easy, but it’s core to our proven success in digital skills education over the last nine years. Our instructional design practices are rooted in: 

  1. Modern Digital Design Practices
  2. Learning Theory and Sciences

Understanding each of these fields helps us to better utilize the other. 

Modern digital design practices include user research, design thinking, agile development, data analysis, and rapid iteration. These practices are typically core drivers of the last 30 years of technology innovation, yet too many educational institutions have been slow to embrace them. By leveraging these more modern practices into our instructional design process, we can make better use of learning theories and sciences that largely emerged in the 20th century, including the behaviorist learning theory and constructivist learning theory

For example, Nir Eyal’s book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” elaborates on a behaviorist learning theory used by UX designers and product teams to keep users coming back to their platforms. Think of that addictive social media feed, or how you can’t resist tapping an app with a big red notification bubble…

This behaviorist strategy is also well-suited for learning beginners just starting in a field, or those independently working through material on a digital learning platform. Through data analysis, we’ve seen this user need come through in myGA (eLearning) lessons via requests for “more knowledge checks,” and we’ve added them accordingly. Those frequent checks help learners gain confidence and validate their understanding, which is particularly important in the absence of a live instructor. 

As a learner “climbs” Bloom’s taxonomy into greater depths of knowledge in a field, frequent, short exercises start to become irritating, and gamification attempts can feel juvenile. We’ve seen this in students’ feedback on long-form courses where they’d prefer fewer activities. This feedback led us to consolidate those activities into select, more robust exercises. 

Meaningful, more robust exercises are examples of the constructivist learning theory, which suggests no singular “truth,” and each individual will derive a personal meaning through action and reflection. At GA, this shows up in all of our long-form courses, where in the end, students solve real-world business problems of their choice in a capstone project. 

Guiding learners to make their own meaning through project work is great when you are leading a classroom of professionals in solving a business problem using new digital skills. Still, it can leave people lost in certain scenarios, i.e., if applied in a room full of first-time programmers trying to understand what a Python loop is. That’s why both constructivism and behaviorism strategies are effective for different purposes. 

Through user research and data analysis of the thousands of learners collected over the years, we know how to deploy the right strategy at the right time, and iterate in rapid cycles based on continuous feedback from our instructors and learners. 

Bringing Everything Together

We’re passionate about delivering best-in-class education, and hope a deep dive into our approach to learning has provided some helpful insights as you explore an upskilling journey that will ensure both personal and professional growth for your teams.


Alison Kashin is the Director of Instructional Design at General Assembly.


Since 2011, General Assembly has trained individuals and teams online and on-campus through experiential education in the fields of technology, data, marketing, design, and product. Learn more about how we can transform your talent, and our solutions to upskill and reskill teams across the globe. 

Global Resource Guide

By

General Assembly’s mission is to empower people to pursue the work they love, and we recognize that not all individuals have the same level of access and opportunity. That’s why we launched the Social Impact initiative five years ago to create pathways for students from underserved and underrepresented communities into tech, marketing, and data design.

Our newest Social Impact program is a partnership that combines student-friendly financing with additional coaching, mentorship, referrals to local and community resources, as well as access to emergency funds. 

The program launched in fall 2019, and I joined the team in late December of 2019 as the Social Impact Program Services Lead, tasked with leading the supportive service programming for students enrolled via our Catalyst Income Share Agreements. Within my first 90 days on the job, the world as we know it changed, and we found ourselves in the epicenter of a global pandemic. 

This post was originally scheduled to be released in response to the global health crisis. However, the recent murders of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Abery, and Breonna Taylor have not only shaken us to our core, but have also triggered an immediate response to gather and circulate self care and mental health resources for our entire GA community, but most importantly, our black students and staff members. We recognized the necessity to share information and create supportive spaces; to gather and form communities of healing and strength during this time.

The Social Impact 2020 Global Resource Guide was created to provide real-time support to individuals looking for resources right now. This Resource Guide consists of an expansive list of supports covering categories such as:

  • Bill and Payment Relief
  • Housing
  • Food
  • Mental Health and Wellness
  • Emergency Cash Assistance 

The resources are provided by local nonprofits, government agencies, grassroots organizations, private foundations, and corporations. We’ve also included anything that might be useful to our community: from where to find free diapers, tips for indoor socializing at any age, and where to find free storage for students who may be displaced and need to leave their college campuses. We did our best to take into account the unique needs of everyone who may have been affected by the recent events, with support catered to people of diverse races and ethnicities, specific industry/professional backgrounds, various age ranges, all gender identities, and people who identify as LGBTQIA+.

We are committed to standing with our black students and staff members as we fight racism and work to build a more equitable and just society for all. This work is demanding, nonstop, and at times, overwhelming. Knowing this, we have to remember to take care of ourselves. This guide highlights a comprehensive list of black mental health and self care resources that include online directories for black therapists and licensed mental health practitioners, pro bono services, virtual healing spaces, town halls, as well as fact sheets to manage emotions and create opportunities for safe spaces and important ongoing conversations.

As we focus on developing coping strategies, building resiliency, and looking towards a better tomorrow, regional mental health and wellness resources are also highlighted, focusing on providing comfort to anyone who may be experiencing feelings of anxiety, anger, loss, grief, and even confusion. A variety of helplines, on demand or text-based counseling services, meditation resources, and wellness apps are also showcased, offering something for everyone at any time. 

The guide covers 14 individual regions, comprising five countries across four continents.

  • Canada: Toronto 
  • United States: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Washington DC, Los Angeles, NYC, San Francisco, and Seattle
  • United Kingdom: London
  • Asia Pacific: Singapore
  • Australia: Sydney/Melbourne

The Global Resource Guide originally grew out of a call to action responding to the needs of our General Assembly community during a time of crisis. It has blossomed into a comprehensive document that not only supports the needs of the GA community, but a larger global community. 

I’m sharing this guide with you because there is a resource in this document for everyone. I encourage you to take the time to take a look, and continue to pass it on.

Get the Resource Guide

Filling the Gap Between Learning & Engagement

By

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rapid and forced transformation of many businesses. Plans that companies previously anticipated rolling out over many years have been decided and implemented in weeks.  

Amid this rapid change where many are scrambling to adapt, leaders should ask themselves what other “five-year plans” should fastrack to keep pace with these critical business plans. One of the plans that companies should evaluate is talent development: how can businesses develop strategic plans to meet the needs of their rapidly evolving businesses?   

Creating talent development work isn’t as easy as providing online learning to employees. Our Marketing Standards board members met recently and uncovered an unexpected commonality. While all of them are making learning available to their employees, the primary area for improvement on their employee engagement surveys continues to be upskilling. This revelation brought on a layered conversation about the common challenges employers face when it comes to engaging employees in training and development — especially when these pieces of training are online. So, what’s causing the disconnect between desire and action on upskilling employees, and most importantly, what can leaders do about it?   

Understanding the Disconnect

Upskilling is urgent for employers — especially for newer professionals who aren’t going to be satisfied in their jobs if there are no learning (or advancement) opportunities. Employees don’t merely want a job; they want to work for companies they can learn from and grow within; employees wish to build careers.  

In a Deloitte survey, 90% of employees said their organizations were redesigning jobs. The World Economic Forum reported that more than half of all its employees would require reskilling or upskilling to address the digital skills gaps driven by changing job requirements over the next three years.  

For many reasons like these, our board members agree that it’s an employer’s responsibility to make learning available and an integrated part of the employee experience.  

So, what’s getting in the way of learning — from the employee perspective?  

Two big factors are time and incentive. Many employees feel like there’s not enough time during the workday to take the training accessible to them. Others don’t prioritize upskilling because although they want new and updated skills, there is no extrinsic motivator for learning them. One of the clearest opportunities for extrinsic motivation often isn’t clearly connected to training: it’s the idea that training and skills are requisite expectations for the job or performance. The right jobs motivate all of us.  

Possible Solutions

Providing employees with upskilling opportunities signals to them that they are valued and that they have a future within their workplace organization. However, offering a training program isn’t enough — the implementation of these programs must be intentional, structured, and relevant. During our conversation, board members came up with tips that can help companies foster a learning-positive workplace. These tips include:  

1. Partner With Leadership to Allocate Time During the Workday

Big roadblocks employees face: blocking time to make learning important and creating company-wide time blocks, like “No Meetings Fridays,” to provide designated time for employee upskilling. Making these time blocks company-wide is critical. If some teams aren’t participating in it, they’ll throw a meeting on the calendar that conflicts with the learning time. At that point, you’ve lost the consistent open time and original initiative purpose you’re trying to create for your team.   

2. Extrinsic Incentives: Compelling Rewards

Extrinsic incentives are tangible motivators that can encourage employees to take an upskilling training course. Offering incentives gives employees a clear prize at the end of their experience, plus an added incentive to complete learning by a particular due date. This specific incentive is a nice touch from board member Gretchen Saegh (CMO of L’Oréal USA), who plans on rewarding “the best re-scorer” of the CM1 assessment with being “CMO for the day.” These empowering incentives give employees a sense of purpose, a structured career path, and long-term vision, giving them valuable real-world experiences and advice that can be difficult to get elsewhere.  

Extrinsic Incentives: Executive Messaging on Expectations

Source: https://learning.linkedin.com/resources/workplace-learning-report

When employees see their managers endorsing upskilling, and also see the executive team pushing for the same thing, it speaks volumes about the value of upskilling within that organization and the expectations around completing tasks and initiatives surrounding it. The bottom line is that upskilling gains immediate credibility when employees see it supported by leadership. A message from the CEO and executive team is imperative when it comes to setting the tone for a company, as a message from “the top” can have a ripple effect throughout the organization.   

Getting employees to translate the desire-to-action key values of online learning is particularly pertinent as more employers look for efficient and effective ways to train their employees remotely via online training providers. It’s a new world, and there’s no magic bullet, hidden secrets, and there are certainly no shortcuts. The right online training is thoughtful and methodical: it considers human behavior, personal motivations, and leadership alignment + support to get online training to occur and resonate for employees — from entry-level positions to the C-suite.  

Finally, there’s the process of trial and error. Although initiatives often start with the strongest and best of intentions, the most successful training results adapt and fluctuate over time. No plan is flawless right out of the gate — however well-planned or well-intended.  

Learning is always a journey.

To learn more about how General Assembly can help guide your company’s talent transformation, check out our enterprise marketing solutions.