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General Assembly

Anna Lindow, VP of Partnerships

Anna Lindow, vice president of partnerships at adult education startup, General Assembly (GA), wants to talk about school bells.

“The bells between classes were originally implemented to simulate factories,” Lindow explains. “All part of an outdated system that prepares us to be better workers, not better students.”

It’s true: American schools have long preferred the “factory model,” a European ideology that prefers standardization, top-down management and stark, industrial buildings. (Finally, the reason U.S. high schools are always so ugly.) In 2016, though—when more workplaces have coffee-bars than canaries—it doesn’t make any sense.

“It’s a lot to ask people to disrupt themselves out of a job, though,” Lindow continues, referring to the idea that teachers who define the industry may be hesitant to change. “Which is why disruption may need to be driven from outside the existing system.”

That’s what five-year-old GA set out to do. With a combination of short courses (online and overnight), as well as 10- and 12-week bootcamps, the private school is disrupting the way skills like web development and digital marketing are aggregated and taught. They’re focusing on the ROI of your education—the cheapest, fastest way for you to learn. Essentially, they treat the student like a consumer accustomed to value and efficiency in their services.

An ROI-driven education updated in realtime

“Education in this country is honestly fascinating. Not only is it expensive, but it’s also incredibly lengthy. So, if you want to change career paths—which the average Millennial will do 14 times in their work-life—that might require hundreds of thousands of dollars and two plus years of your time to go back to school. Not everyone has that luxury.

What GA thought was this: What if someone could take some of the same skills you might learn in a graduate program—say, the digital marketing component of an MBA—and repackage it… make it part of a 10- or 12- week bootcamp as opposed to a multi-year degree. That way it’s on the student to determine their individual skills-gap, then fill it in the most efficient, cost effective way possible.”

Why did GA's founders want to disrupt education in America?

“The world changes so fast now. When I started in digital marketing, we all operated under the assumption that you really need to know HTML or CSS to be successful. And now, only five years later, I might say the same thing about promoted filters on SnapChat. Job requirements are changing so rapidly that some of the skills you might learn in a more traditional program are outdated before you even graduate… Which isn’t to say those degrees don’t have value—because they do—but GA’s position outside that system allows us to be nimble. We can update our coursework in real time, and that prepares our graduates to walk out and hit the ground running.”

Why was 2011 the right time for this disruption?

“Absolutely not, because I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. Take MBAs as an example. What does an MBA teach you? Leadership, finance, accounting, entrepreneurship, analytical thinking. Those programs are great in many ways, but what if you only want one piece of that? What if you only want to learn advanced Excel? 

GA is a a plug-and-play, on demand solution. I want us to be the place you think of whether you’re looking to take a one night course on Photoshop so you can design killer bachelorette party invitations or you’re signing up for one of our 10-week web development immersives so you can make a major change in your career… We teach you exactly what you’re looking to learn at the time you want to learn it.” 

Are you trying to replace "traditional" graduate degrees?

“No. In fact, we’ve partnered with traditional institutes of higher education… I think there’s room for all different kinds of education to exist, and I wouldn’t say we’re in direct competition [with universities]. Anytime there are more options, it’s better for the consumer. It’s just that in this case, the consumers are students.”

Have you gotten any pushback from universities?

“With the Internet, it’s amazing how much information is at our fingertips—but information has been available since libraries were invented. What’s not always available is the way to get that information and make it actionable, which is what teachers do. You could always go on Google and look up how to create an AdWords campaign. But can you take that and apply it to your life? Some people can, but some prefer to have another person guiding their journey. And that’s why, even though we do offer online coursework, we still think there’s something really dynamic and special about the classroom experience.”

With so much info online, why do we even need classrooms?

“Pursue what you love, even if it’s not necessarily the ‘safe’ path… We place a large number of alums at Fortune 500 companies, which is wonderful, but we also place a lot at startups. And people have a lot of legitimate fears about working in startups: ‘What if the company doesn’t exist in a year?’ ‘What if it’s bought and my life is completely changed?’

But is it safe to have a job you don’t love? What is a safe choice anyway? Maybe it’s a job that doesn’t have a ton of stability, but that allows you to fulfill multiple roles and hone all different kinds of skills. So, I would just say to try to look at things in the broader scope of your career, as opposed to focusing on one job or one choice. It’s all about amalgamating skills that make you a better you, and that holds true whether you’re in school or in the workforce.”

What's the number one piece of advice you offer GA alums?


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