CoLearning applies for school status


The Factory’s hands-on education format might serve as a model for future Michigan educators.

CoLearning, the educational arm of the collaborative Grand Rapids workspace known as The Factory, has grown quite a bit since Aaron Schaap, The Factory’s founder, launched its first courses in March 2013.

Now, coLearning, which focuses on teaching classes in the areas of business, technology and design, is taking steps to officially become recognized by the state for its accomplishments.

“We’ve applied with the state of Michigan to be an official trade school or proprietary school,” Schaap said. “We went all through the process of filling out all the paperwork and documentation, so now they’re doing their final reviews, and hopefully within in the next couple of months we’ll be recognized as an official school by the state. It’s really encouraging for us to be recognized at that level.”

By becoming an official school, coLearning will be able to offer grants, receive state funding and offer certification, as well as have its courses syndicated throughout the rest of the state, Schaap said, calling the move, “one of those things that opens up a lot more opportunities for us.”

Part of the state’s attraction to coLearning is its job placement, which stands at about 70 percent, Schaap said.

“Literally, the state is calling us right now saying, ‘We have people that we know are taking your classes, but could you involve them in your ecosystem because, for some reason, you guys can generate jobs and we can’t,’” he said. “They’re doing an average of like a 40 percent job placement rate, while we’re at like 70 percent.”

The reason coLearning has a high job placement rate is because it offers a “transformative experience” that connects students to a network of professionals. Creating that connection is how students find jobs, Schaap said.

It’s a different way of thinking about education, he said, calling it less lecture-based and more project/experience-based.

“It’s one thing to take a class about how to push some pixels around. It’s another thing to say, ‘You get to work side-by-side with an expert on this project.’ That’s the best way to learn,” he said.

“It sometimes takes years to build those relationships, and we’re doing it within a few weeks.”

Aside from gaining state recognition, coLearning is forming its own internal structure. In early spring, coLearning named Lauren Starrett, who formerly served as a shop manager at global fashion house BCBG Max Azria Group, as its first-ever director, Schaap said.

As director, Starrett is responsible for working out teaching contracts, signing students up for classes and the general day-to-day operations of coLearning, Schaap said.

CoLearning’s newest batch of courses kick off Sept. 4 with four 14-week courses and one eight-week course, all of which are being offered for $800 each. Here is the list of the courses: Design Thinking, with Alicia Roth of Amway; UX Design, with Christian Saylor of Universal Mind; Content Strategy, with Kris McNeil of Springthrough; Intro to PHP, with Ben Routson of Flip Learning; and Intro to RUBY, with Dan Morrison of Collective Idea.

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