The Factory’s coLearning graduates to more tech courses


CoLearning is a program of professional development courses at The Factory co-working space in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo via

The Factory’s education arm is growing stronger — and even starting to see some tone.

The first class of The Factory’s coLearning Intro to Ruby course has completed its work.

All 20 students graduated, and 18 were able to use the state-funded scholarships, said Aaron Schaap, founder of Elevator Up and organizer at The Factory, a startup hub in downtown Grand Rapids, at 38 W. Fulton St.


The goal is to now get those people jobs, he said.

Schaap led by example and took the first step toward that goal by offering one of those students a job at Elevator Up.

“By the next three months, we’d like to have all of them placed. We don’t know for sure if it’s going to be possible, but it’s looking pretty good right now,” Schaap said.

“We’re working with Steelcase. They’ve offered a couple of them internships and possibilities beyond that," he said. "We have about 20 companies that have expressed legitimate interest.”

Student feedback

Schaap said he was encouraged, not only by the positive feedback students gave the course, but because he was seeing more women showing an interest in technology classes.

The Ruby class had two females, he said, and more are beginning to join what was traditionally a male dominated education environment, he said.

The students formed such a close bond they’ve even decided to continue learning at The Factory.

“They all naturally decide they’re going to keep pursing their education Tuesday (nights) here at the Factory. Even though the class is done, they self-formed after that and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to still continue learning Ruby at The Factory,’” he said. “That one, we’re opening up to anyone who wants to hang out for that opening class (for free).”

More tech courses

Learning together, practically the tag line of coLearning’s mission, is what’s attracting everyone, Schaap believes.

“Nothing is stopping people from learning this stuff online by themselves at home,” he said. “It’s just learning by yourself sucks. It feels better to come in and learn as part of a community.”

CoLearning’s second class, Modern Front End, started last month and is being taught by Janson Hartilep of Elevator Up.

CoLearning has two new classes coming soon, Schaap said: A Beginning HTML/CSS class instructed by Ray Brown from Bitmanic, and a Microsoft.Net class by J. Tower of Falafel Software.

Schaap said coLearning is experimenting with not using state funding for the HTML class by partnering with Team Treehouse, an online technology education provider, which recently raised $9 million in venture capital, he said.

“People can go through these videos, but the difference is instead of doing this at your house, you can do it here at The Factory, and Ray Brown — who’s really, really good at this stuff — is going to be helping people go through it,” Schaap said.

“We can open the class up to more than 20 people, and the cost is going to be a lot cheaper," he said. "We’re going to introduce a new Factory membership called coLearner. To be a coLearner, it’s going to be $100 per month, and you can continue paying for as long as you want to continue learning.”

Schaap would eventually like to offer courses on iOS development.

For now, however, he expects the Microsoft.Net course to be extremely popular in West Michigan. A quick search for local jobs reaped a bounty of opportunity, he said.

“Within 15 minutes, I was able to find about 100 open .Net positions in West Michigan, and I could have kept going,” he said.


Mary Brown, adjunct professor in the psychology department at Grand Rapids Community College, is advising Schaap on developing coLearning.

Brown also is developing a course with the working title “Developing the Business of You,” on how individuals provide value.

Brown said coLearning’s agile learning environment is a better way to train students in technology than some of the modern higher education platforms in the public schools where sometimes there can be too rigid of a structure.

“If you can create a learning program where people can jump in, learn what they need to learn, apply it straight away in business — and business flexibility to allow them to do that, then you are in tune with how the world works,” she said.

Brown said if she were to start a technology program in the current public education system, a long process of paperwork, committee work, professional reviews, budgetary reviews and possibly shelving would make the material irrelevant and outdated by the time the students got into the class.

Technology is a quicksilver prey, she said, and only the agile hunters will educate themselves in step with the lightning speed of the world’s ever-changing technology. That’s why the educational format coLearning is experimenting with is working, she said.

“If you’re a hunter of a fast animal, you can’t lollygag to try to catch it,” she said. “You have to be just as fast. You have to be just as smart. You need that flexibility to do what you need to do.”

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