#LifeAtGA Category Archives - General Assembly Blog

Alumni Success Stories: How This Grad Used Data to Build AR Filters — and a Business

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What began as a hobby soon became his own technology startup — with help from a few machine learning skills he picked up in between. Learn how GOWAAA Co-Founder and CTO Boon Jun is combining art and what he learned in General Assembly’s Data Science Immersive (DSI) course to create augmented reality (AR) filters with some of tech’s biggest companies.

My name is Boon Jun — I own an augmented reality (AR) creative technology company, GOWAAA, that specializes in creating AR effects for brand activations. I started off creating AR effects as a hobby with nearly zero relevant knowledge back in 2019. I got so hooked on AR creation that it got me to enroll in a GA data science course to help me understand how machine learning models used in AR works. Since starting GOWAAA in 2020 (after I graduated from GA), it has become an official Spark AR partner of Facebook and has created AR effects for multiple brands, NGOs, and government agencies in the APC regions.  

What were you doing before you came to GA? What was difficult or dissatisfying about it that prompted you to make a change?

I was an environmental business consultant before I went to GA. Other than the reason I stated above, I also find that I lack hard skills that will keep me relevant for my future career. Furthermore, I have always been interested in data science and coding, so the Data Science Immersive course at GA was perfect for me!

What was it about data science specifically that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What were the defining moments that pushed you to move forward?

I am always intrigued by how machine learning models — such as face tracking and person segmentation — function because of my work in AR. Data science is the foundation of understanding those machine learning models, and that’s what motivated me to take up the data science course. 

What motivated you to choose GA over other programs? 

Among all the data science courses I have found in Singapore, GA has the most established and holistic curriculum, which gave me the confidence that the course will be worth my time. 

What was the best thing about DSI for you? And the GA experience overall, both during and after?

The best thing about DSI is that it covers a wide range of data science topics, which helped me understand the foundation of machine learning quickly. Overall, I have a very positive GA experience as my instructor, Divya, was very helpful during the course. Even after the course, my career coach, Stefanie, helped me get exposure by inviting me as a speaker at an online GA event, as well as setting up this interview!

Since you graduated in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic happened halfway through the program. How did you stay resilient, especially with the state of the job market at that time? 

I would say the start of the pandemic is definitely not the best time to start a company. It was not easy, especially during the first few months. Thankfully for us, our digital AR service is the exact solution most brands are looking for to continue engaging with their followers during lockdowns. 

Tell us more about your company, GOWAAA. What inspired you to start your own business? 

GOWAAA creates augmented reality effects for brands to creatively engage with their target audiences on social media platforms. Since the start of 2020, we have created over 100 AR effects for brands, NGOs, and government agencies in the APAC region. My interests in AR and computer graphics are what drove me to start my own business in this field. Seeing that most consumers are already bored of the usual video/image advertising content, I believe AR will play a huge role in the future of digital marketing. 

You describe GOWAAA as an “art and technology” company. Can you speak to how you balance those two disciplines and how new professional or technical skills can create opportunities for artists and their work?

AR itself is already a new form of art. Here at GOWAAA, we combined the knowledge of digital 2D/3D design, understanding of augmented reality, coding skills for game logic and visual shaders, and also UX/UI to create all the AR effects for our clients. All of these disciplines are equally important, so understanding the constraints, duration of the project, and the target audience is essential  to finding the balance. 

If you are an artist that is not familiar with digital creation, you can use AR not only to  engage with your audience creatively but on a deeper level through real-time interaction as well. With the support of National Arts Councils of Singapore, GOWAAA has collaborated with four Singaporean artists to transform their non-digital artwork into AR effects. Those are some of my most satisfying projects because of how all the different disciplines came together.

How do you think your background in engineering and project management prepared you for your current role as a co-founder and CTO? 

Engineering helped me appreciate technology in general, which keeps my mind open to different technologies — and starting a company is not possible without some knowledge of project management. I am glad that all of my past experiences actually came in handy as I venture into a new stage of my career!

How has GA been a resource to you in terms of starting your own company? Additionally, how did the skills you learned at GA help you launch your company?

The machine learning knowledge I gained from GA helped me to understand how AR machine learning model works, which helped me manage my clients’ expectations around AR effect performance.

What has been the coolest project you’ve worked on so far?

The coolest project I have done so far is a real-world AR effect that GOWAAA created for Avène to promote their biodegradable sunscreen. The AR effect encourages you to keep the ocean clean by allowing you to plant corals wherever you are! The more coral you plant, the more marine life you will see, signifying the importance of corals for a healthy ocean!

Have Instagram? Try it yourself!

How has GA made an impact on your career?

GA expanded my knowledge of data science and machine learning, which helped me understand how machine learning models are used in augmented reality. Since my capstone project involved using neural style transfer, the GA data science course has also helped me to see the huge potential of digital art.

With respect to data (or your company), what do you want your legacy to be? Is there a change you want to inspire or a mission that defines the work that’s important to you?

Most people use their coding and machine learning skills to solve practical needs, which are important and helpful to our daily life. However, I prefer to use the skills I learned from GA to create visuals that can make everyone GOWAAA (go “AAAH”)! I believe digital art will serve the same purpose as traditional arts but with a much bigger impact.

Find Work You Love

Alumni Success Stories: How Learning by Doing Led to His Own Design Studio

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Any freelancer knows that good work gets more work. That’s why Sergio Gradyuk, a self-taught freelance visual designer, turned to GA’s User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) program to take his technical skills and career to the next level. Read on to learn how he used General Assembly insights to strengthen his portfolio, stay ahead of competition, and co-found his design studio, Oakland Studio.

My name is Sergio, and I run Oakland Studio, a design studio based in Brisbane, Australia. Design and business are my two major interests so that led me to a career in UX and launching my own design studio.

Instead of enrolling into a university after high school, I designed an app for the cafe I worked for to help customers order ahead of time. After pitching this concept to a number of venture capitalists (VCs), I was able to get a sponsorship to pursue the idea in the U.S. for three months. I was young, naive, and completely new to the startup world, let alone the product world, so I didn’t get too far with it. 

What I liked most during the process of building that app and company was the collaboration with freelance designers. When I got back home to Australia, I studied everything I could about design and started doing concept designs for big companies to build a portfolio that I could use to win some contracts.

What were you doing before you came to GA? What was difficult or dissatisfying about it that prompted you to make a change?

Freelancing was great. I learned a lot on my own, but I felt like I was missing key fundamentals. I was primarily focused on the web and knew there was a whole world of product design still to explore. It seemed super daunting, but I knew it was the next step in my career.

What was it about UX design specifically that intrigued you to explore it as a career? What were the defining moment/s that pushed you to move forward?

The first time I learned more about UX beyond the buzzword was when I realized it would be an opportunity to mix visual design with data and business requirements. The part that intrigued me the most was knowing that these key fundamentals would be useful to me in the future no matter which direction I took with my career. 

What motivated you to choose GA over other programs? 

Seeing its success in America with the world’s leading companies and most exciting startups validated General Assembly as the source of truth for learning the fundamentals.

What was the best thing about UXDI for you? And the GA experience overall, both during and after?

Learning by doing. There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t have an exercise to apply the knowledge we had spent hours learning. Also, our legendary GA instructor, Ron, was super supportive, dedicated, and patient, making sure everyone truly understood the why behind the process.

Describe your career path after completing the program. How has GA been a resource to you in terms of finding a job? 

After completing my GA Immersive coursework, I faced a job search which proved difficult with my young age. I was eventually offered a UX position at an agency. GA helped me find opportunities in Sydney, as well as Brisbane when I moved back up. What was really helpful though was having access to all of the learning resources even after the course ended. It meant that I could keep refining and revisiting my process, and it has been instrumental to my professional development and confidence.  

Tell us more about your company, Oakland Studio. What inspired you to start your own business? 

Oakland is a boutique studio focused on brand, visual direction, and product design. The majority of our work is taking an idea for a product — whether it be a startup or an enterprise company looking to do something new — and take it to the minimum lovable product and beyond. 

The inspiration to start my own business was seeing an opportunity in the Australian market to meet a global standard and relevance with work. I’ve always planned to start a business and saw this as an opportunity to gain exposure to startups, VCs, enterprise, etc., while focusing on what I love.

What do you love most about being your “own boss?” What’s been the most challenging?

The biggest thing is owning your wins and losses. When you lose, it hurts. When you win, there’s no better feeling to know that you’re growing and investing time into something you own. It’s always challenging and requires a lot of work, but every stage of growth brings something new to learn and fun problems to solve. 

Do you have any advice for GA students who want to start their own business?

I had to sacrifice both my personal and professional life for a while as I got started. It’s not for everyone, and I disagree with the glorification of “entrepreneurs.” What’s important is to audit yourself, identify your priorities, and know that it’s something you absolutely must be dedicated to. 

How has GA made an impact in your career?

If it weren’t for GA, then I wouldn’t have a UX Career.

In respect to UX, what do you want your legacy to be? Is there a change you want to inspire or a mission that defines the work that’s important to you?

The change I want to see is for graduates and designers to open themselves up to the entire sphere of design, especially in digital products. Don’t lock yourself into just UX — understanding and being able to execute in the whole value chain from UX to development (and even in brand and marketing) will make you a force to collaborate with. Keep learning by doing and jumping into those challenges.

Find Work You Love

Our Plans to Resume In-Person Learning in the U.S.

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In-person learning is almost in session! Since we first opened our doors in 2011, our campuses have been the heart and soul of GA’s community, providing a space for collaboration, innovation, and inclusion. The connections made in both our digital and physical classrooms have been the springboard for new careers, professional connections, and lifelong relationships. 

This fall, we’re excited to see that energy in real life once again. 

After pausing our in-person learning for over a year, we’re excited to give students the option to take courses at select U.S. campuses this fall. As always, you can choose to learn on campus or online — whichever option best fits your preference, lifestyle, and schedule.

Select your campus to read more on detailed plans, key dates, and FAQs for each location. We’ll post any updates as soon as we know about them.

  • Atlanta*
  • Austin*
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Los Angeles 
  • New York City†
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle 
  • Washington, D.C. 

*Austin & Atlanta: Both of these teams are currently moving their physical campus locations and will continue remote learning for the remainder of 2021. Only online programs will be available to students living at these locations until further notice.

New York City: Our flagship location is undergoing renovations, as previously announced. If construction remains on schedule, the two-floor New York campus will reopen by early October.

Browse Courses

Announcing: In-person workshops are back in GA Sydney!

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Have you heard the news? The GA Australia team is proud to announce that in-person events and workshops in Sydney are BACK! 

Beginning in May, you can now find in-person events and workshops at our Sydney CBD campus here.

Keen to dive into in-person workshops?

Here’s our starting lineup of all-star events and workshops to kickstart your in-person learning:

  • Google Analytics Bootcamp – 3rd June
  • How to Create Amazing Presentations in 90 mins – 8th June
  • Excel Bootcamp – 15th June
  • User Experience Design Bootcamp – 22nd June
  • Instagram Masterclass – 24th June

a few things to keep in mind –

Our Australian campus is a COVID-safe campus, meaning that:

  • Classroom capacity limits apply
  • Frequently used areas are cleaned regularly throughout the day
  • Campus undergoes full cleaning daily
  • Anyone who is experiencing symptoms or has visited a hotspot must not attend in-person workshops

All attendees are required to adhere to local campus guidelines, including:

  • Check-in to campus via the Service NSW app
  • Temperature screening on arrival
  • Adhering to social distancing guidelines in the classroom

If there are any changes to the schedule, you will be notified immediately via email.

Don’t forget to bring your own laptop and charger to participate in our in-person workshops.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about our in-person workshops, reach out to ausnz@ga.co. We can’t wait to welcome you back to campus!

Meet Our Student Resource Groups

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Meet Our Student Resource Groups

One of the great benefits of a GA student is being able to take advantage of our Student Resource Groups (SRGs). Created in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these groups are designed to unite and engage students with similar interests, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences. No matter where you’re learning from, here are the groups you could be a part of as a GA student:

  • LGBTQQIA+: A space to unite members of the LGBTQQIA+ community and Allies.
  • EPIC (Empowered People and Inclusive Cultures): Celebrating dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, & ideologies.
  • Women in Tech: An inclusive culture that values the intersectionality, perspectives, and talents of women and their allies.
  • Parents/Guardians: A space for guardians, such as experienced, new, or expecting parents, or those caring for elderly, sick, or disabled relatives.
  • Neurodiversity in Tech: Championing neurodiversity at GA and creating an inclusive community for minds of all kinds.
  • Black in Tech: A group to unite and support Black members of the GA student community.
  • Immigrants Plus: For anyone who identifies as an immigrant, international student, refugee, newcomer, or an ally who is interested in supporting these groups. 
  • Pets: A student resource group uniting all pet lovers, whether furry, feathered, scaled, or imaginary — all are welcome.
  • Gaming: A gathering space for fans of console, table top, RPG, MMORPG, classic, mobile, and all other types of games.

Check Out Upcoming Coursess

Make a 2020 Voting Plan

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Currently, the U.S. earns low marks when it comes to voter turnout: nearly half of all eligible voters didn’t vote in the previous presidential election. For many, not having time off from class or work limits the time window of getting to the polls, coupled with the fact that our electoral process can feel like an intimidating maze to navigate — for first-time voters and experienced voters alike. 

As a global education company with a community of learners 1-million strong, General Assembly is committed to showing up as a voice for positive change during this historic election cycle and beyond. 

That’s why we decided to give all U.S. staff and students the day off on November 3, 2020. And that’s why we’ve created the Make A Plan Resource Guide for our students, staff, and broader GA community. We want everyone to have helpful tools and resources at their fingertips to make a plan to vote and get involved in the political process.

We understand it’s a lot: checking your registration status, downloading a preview ballot in advance, seeking free rides to get to the polls… However, have no fear — our guide incorporates a wide breadth of resources and organizations that help simplify everything so you can focus on what you need to do (vote!). 

Our guide in no way captures every last detail, but we hope it can serve as a useful resource, and that you’ll commit to making a voting plan — in whatever way, shape, or form that you can. 

Click to Make Your Plan

Additionally, we’re hosting free online events around civic engagement that we encourage you to join us for: 

  • Latinx Heritage Month: Your Right to Vote (Oct.9)
  • Virtual Letter Writing with Vote Forward (Oct. 12)

Hopefully, we’ll see you at the polls — literally or figuratively.

Meet Lisa, General Assembly’s New CEO

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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

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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

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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

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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.