General Assembly has offered online courses for a long time, but has just relaunched them on a new, revamped platform! These include self-paced online Learning Paths in skills like Data Analysis, Digital Marketing, and UX, that students can work through on their own schedule. Lissa Marten, General Assembly’s Online Growth Manager, and Online Mentor Rachel Denton tell us how the team has updated the curricula with the latest technologies, and how the one-on-one mentorship and final portfolio projects help students push their careers to the next level! Read the Q&A and watch the demo video.
What are your backgrounds and roles at General Assembly (GA)?
Lissa: I was a strategy consultant at Boston Consulting Group for two years and now I’m the Growth Manager for General Assembly’s online business. My role so far has been to support our On Demand products, define our business model, and create and operationalize a growth strategy for the business.
Rachel: I graduated with a couple of engineering degrees from the University of Texas, then got a business-focused role in digital marketing and data analysis, combining my analytical thinking and technical expertise. I’ve taught part-time at General Assembly for a couple of years, in the online and in-person courses, and am one of the mentors for our Data Analysis and Digital Marketing On Demand programs. My full-time day job is at Civitas Learning as a Business Operations Manager where I do data analysis around our marketing campaigns and sales.
What prompted the GA team to launch this new suite of On Demand programs?
Lissa: We wanted our learners to get the most up-to-date content and learning experience. The On Demand programs are on the MyGA proprietary learning platform which is our excellent, in-house platform. It includes 12-month access to the flexible, self-directed content, and five one-on-one sessions with mentors. Students create a portfolio-ready project throughout the learning path which they showcase at the end of the program.
Who are these programs aimed at and how will they be different from the existing online offerings?
Lissa: There are two main groups interested in these programs. First, those who are looking to learn new skills quickly and apply them within the context of a current role. For example, someone working in marketing who might want to upskill in data analysis as it applies to their career.
The other group is people looking to take the next step towards their future career path without making a huge time commitment. This could be someone thinking about becoming a UX designer but is interested in getting their feet wet and understanding what UX design is before taking the leap into one of our immersive, time-intensive courses.
Rachel: We’ve had plenty of success with the previous offerings, but we wanted to improve on it and have been gathering a lot of feedback from previous learners. GA was able to create a revamped, On Demand program that’s more up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies in addition to our regular full-time and part-time programs.
Can you give us an overview of the On Demand programs and their goals?
How are you building the curriculum for these programs?
Lissa: Our education product team approaches developing content using a method called backward design. They first try to understand what topics people want to learn, what their goals are in online learning, and what they want to add to their existing skill set. With those objectives in mind, they backward plan the curriculum to ensure it will help learners achieve those goals and be the most up-to-date with our industry research.
The previous On Demand versions had similar plans and goals in mind, but were outdated. In developing the revamped curriculum, we worked with companies and industry subject matter experts to understand which skills are most important to achieving those objectives.
Rachel: I’ve helped in the past as a subject matter expert and working with General Assembly’s instructional designers in building out the digital marketing curriculum.
What makes General Assembly’s On Demand programs unique?
Lissa: There are several unique elements.
These different checkpoints help ensure learners will complete the learning path and walk away with something versus other online courses that have extremely low completion rates.
What is the admissions process for GA’s On Demand programs?
Lissa: There aren’t any prerequisites, but the applicability of the content will vary based on your background. If you’re someone who knows nothing about marketing, the digital marketing program could be great for you. If you’ve been in marketing for several years, it will be about updating your skills to the latest industry research. You can directly enroll through our website and there’s no need to talk with admissions unless you’re interested in learning more about the course (and they’d be happy to talk!).
These programs are also available for our enterprise and B2B customers. We sell these to business groups and individuals, so companies can enroll their employees through their learning and development programs or provide them with a budget to pursue their learning.
What’s the learning style and time commitment for students?
Rachel: The On Demand programs are completely self-paced and the learners have access to the program over a 12-month period. We encourage learners to complete the programs within the first 2 to 3 months while the content is fresh in their minds. However they have the option to take up to 12 months – life happens, things come up, and many people have full-time jobs, so that flexibility is built in. Each program contains 15 to 20 hours of interactive content within the MyGA platform, and learners can expect to commit 10 to 20 additional hours of project work outside of the learning paths. The programs can be accessed on any device at any time, so they’re designed to work around a busy or unique schedule.
Can you describe the MyGA platform and how the content is organized?
Lissa: It’s an interactive platform and each unit is divided into subunits so learners can jump ahead or return to review any content, all organized by topic and subtopic. Within that, there are different learning methods like flashcards that pop up with information, videos with industry experts and professionals, there are knowledge checks at the end of each unit to assess that the learner has understood the content, and then they can book sessions with the mentors directly and specify what they want the session to be used for. We feel it’s beneficial because if the learner is stuck on a specific topic, they can book a session directly from that page and then continue on with their learning.
For enterprise groups, any group of 2 or more has a team management function. If a manager buys 5 licenses for a group, they can allocate licenses to their teams on their own and then track their progress in the learning path. Managers can buy 10 licenses and then figure out which 10 individuals they want to take the learning content and manage that on their own.
How does mentoring at General Assembly work?
Rachel: The one-on-one mentor sessions are where we supplement the regular platform content and dive into the specific needs of the students and what they’re looking to get out of the program. We provide five 30-minute sessions that students can schedule at any time throughout the program to talk over video chat. It’s more personal – we can see each other, communicate, share our screens, and look at projects together, for a more personalized experience. The students can ask us about anything related to the subject matter and the specific module they’re working on. We can answer questions related to the content they’re struggling with, or talk to them about a day-in-the-life of a digital marketer, how we apply these concepts in our own day-to-day, and potential career trajectories.
Are students able to connect and collaborate?
Lissa: Most of the collaboration is between students and mentors, but one of the benefits of taking a course through General Assembly is that we have a very large and extended community. We have free daily webinars and campuses around the world with free workshops every single day. Our online students are welcome at any GA campus to meet with other students and attend our workshops and events.
How do you assess student progress through the programs?
Rachel: We track progress through various project submissions and unit completions and the mentor sessions are also ways for us to gauge progress. Typically, we encourage learners to book time with a mentor following completion of a unit, giving them these unofficial checkpoints throughout. Upon completion of the program, learners will receive a letter of completion indicating they have met all of the program requirements.
What types of job or career guidance do GA’s programs provide?
Lissa: It’s meant to familiarize you with the landscape on your topic of choice and help you get a foundational skill set in that space. If a learner takes one of our On Demand learning paths and they feel that it has compelled them to switch their career, we allow them to apply their full credit tuition towards our full-time or part-time programs. For example, if someone takes a UX On Demand course and they now know they want to pursue a career in UX, they can apply the full tuition credit towards our 15-week, full-time UX Design Immersive course. This provides flexibility and the opportunity to take their career to the next step.
Students also use the mentor sessions to chat about real-life examples of their learnings, get a better understanding of the industry landscape, and gain a picture of what the jobs look like in the real world, providing them with well-rounded, personalized advice.
What tips do you have for learners to get the most out of these On Demand programs?
Rachel: These programs are structured to be self-paced, so to ensure the learners are successful, we encourage them to set deadlines for themselves and have a plan for completing each unit. It might be one week per unit, or completing the whole program in two months in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Setting that plan upfront is going to enable them to be successful, along with the flexibility if life circumstances come up, of course. We feel that learners will be more successful if they learn concepts when the material is fresh in their minds, and then they can review what they’ve learned over the 12 months of access.
And then, of course, we want them to make time to meet with mentors. We feel it’s a valuable addition to the program; and as mentors, it’s exciting for us to meet the various people coming through the program. We feel that with the guidance of mentors, and a structured set up and timeline, students can really hone and refine their projects, and ultimately be successful in the program. When they do meet with us, they should come prepared with questions and topics they want to focus on, helping us guide the conversation to ensure that the time will be valuable.
Lissa: Focusing and creating the schedule is key, but also that they’re reaching out when they have questions and making sure they understand the material. I’d also recommend they invest in the portfolio project – it’s not something many other online programs offer so it’s a portion to really focus on and make it something to show off to a current or future employer.