We Don't Want to Be Whimsical
Next week we will launch our first Aquent Gymnasium course, "Coding for Designers," otherwise known as, "Turn Your Comps into Code and Be the Designer Developers Love to Work With." This course will be taught by Jim Webb, who delivered one of the classes—"Make the Web Beautiful One Font at a Time"—live in New York last month.
In anticipation of the upcoming launch, I sat down to speak with Jeremy Osborn, Academic Director for Aquent Gymnasium and wanted first to know, what his role as academic director entailed.
In the main, he said, he was "responsible for the quality of curriculum," a responsibility which includes finding good instructors, providing input on types of classes we will be running, and making sure the objectives of each class are met.
In other words, he told me, "Making sure that everything does what it says on the tin."
Since Jeremy mentioned objectives, I asked him to describe the objective of the courses Aquent Gymnasium will be offering. In a word, that objective is "usefulness."
"We want each class to be useful," he said, "and immediately useful, so that folks that take a class can feel like, 'OK, I now am able to go out and do this project and, hopefully, get better clients or bigger clients or more opportunities."
To achieve this level of utility, as Jeremy describes it, the courses we are offering all have a fairly narrow focus, in terms both of the curriculum and the target student.
"The folks that we're targeting," Jeremy explained, "are professionals. These aren't beginning classes; they aren't intended to take a raw beginner and teach them everything about jQuery or responsive design."
Instead, he continued, we're targeting "working professionals, people who have some design experience, and give them just the right amount of information that they need so that they can do their jobs better."
Choosing Course Topics
So how do you select courses that provide working professionals with useful knowledge?
"We want to make sure" Jeremy said, "that the choice of courses matches the skills of and background that employers are looking for. That's really the goal."
To achieve that goal, we talk about skills gaps with our clients, something that comes relatively easy to us because, as a staffing agency, we are literally speaking with clients everyday about the capabilities they need and, specifically, the capabilities that are difficult for them to find.
We go farther than this, however, and invite clients to participate in focus groups so that we can get a broader perspective on what is happening across an entire discipline—User Experience, for example—and not just what's happening at a particular company or in a particular region.
Finally, Jeremy said, we really on the insights of our instructors to identify gaps and trends.
"Many of the instructors and I," Jeremy told me, "have been in this business for a while and we're seeing these trends take place. Our friends are doing new projects. We're doing new projects ourselves. And we're finding that we have to keep up to date with new technology."
"At the same time," he insisted, "we don't want to be totally whimsical. We have to balance objective data with our experience."
The Right Instructors
In order to create and deliver courses with such a practical focus, you need to have instructors with both real-world experience and the ability to teach in an engaging way.
As Jeremy describes it, "We're trying to find people who have a foot in both worlds. One world would be that of the professional designer and developer—someone who has a lot of experience under their belt."
Still, he cautioned, "Those folks are not always necessarily good teachers. So we are also looking for people who are passionate about teaching and who have shared their knowledge in any number of ways in the past, whether it be through actual teaching or perhaps they have a blog or speak at conferences."
Jeremy called Jim Webb a "perfect example" of the sort of instructor we're looking for based on his real-world experience (doing web design for National Geographic), his attention to detail, and the simple fact that he's a great presenter.
Finally, I asked Jeremy what makes the courses to be offered via Aquent Gymnasium different from other online courses.
For him, it comes down to the specificity of the courses we're offering, the type of student we're targeting, and the experience of our instructors.
"It's really this laser focus that distinguishes what we're doing," he told me.
In the end, we believe that this laser focus will best serve both the clients we serve and the talent we represent. To find out if such a focus is right for you, check us out here.
Also, if you would like to hear my entire conversation with Jeremy, check it out below!