Entrepreneurs, job changers and just those looking to update their digital chops are fast- tracking their careers with immersion classes in programming, digital marketing--you name it--at General Assembly, a continuing education facility with a focus on marketable skills.

"I wanted to learn data-driven strategies and metrics to measure performance," says Alexandra Sall, a former student who recently completed General Assembly's 10-week Digital Marketing course. For Sall, the course was an opportunity to immerse herself in Google Analytics, paid search, email marketing, user interface and user experience. She's used that skill set to launch LetsTalkAboutTech, a blog focused on technology and lifestyle content for a female audience.

Students from a variety of professional backgrounds hope to follow in the footsteps of General Assembly grads who've landed positions at Apple, Google, McKinsey, Dropbox and Uber, among others.

"We actively and deliberately train people for their next job and focus above all on the ROI on money and time spent," says Jake Schwartz, Co-founder and CEO, General Assembly. Schwartz stresses technical skills like coding, wireframing, and data analysis.

For the Digital Marketing course, held twice weekly on site over a 10-week period and led by Kim Rust, lessons incorporate workshops, team collaboration, lectures and featured guest speakers. Students work toward completing a final project for review. After the acronyms KPI and ROI are de-mystified at the start of the course, students come to understand strategies around paid media (to reach strangers), owned (to reach customers), and earned (to reach fans).

A drill-down into the customer journey, sales funnels and analytics uncover why marketers have gone data-crazy: "The fundamental reason why data science is such a hot topic right now is because businesses want to understand why things happen," says Rust, "not just what is happening."

Various analytics tools are explored, from Google to Chartbeat, yet the 4 Golden Rules remain in place, regardless of the tool or the channel: Determine KPIs, establish normalcy (know your typical daily, weekly and monthly numbers), suspect exceptions (investigate deviations) and compare and contrast (why does organic search traffic convert better than Facebook traffic?).

As a way of introducing the fundamentals of UX--described as addressing user problems and/or unmet needs to help them achieve their goals--a quote from Henry Ford, the Godfather of UX, flashes on Powerpoint: "If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from their angle as well as from your own."

A discussion on content strategy advises students to worry less about selling and more about teaching. There is an emphasis on creating "native" content for social channels, as long as it doesn't interrupt. "It's about participating," says Rust,who adds that social content should aim to generate one of 4 emotions: awe, desire, laughter and affection. "Remember," she says, "people view social media as entertainment."

Published on: May 1, 2015