Ever get the feeling that everything is changing? It’s not your imagination. Entire industries are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to transform themselves for the digital economy. This is creating a demand for digital skills that is outpacing the workforce and the traditional education system.
That is the impetus behind BrainStation (The Digital Learning Company™), a fast-growing digital skills training provider with multiple campuses in North America. If the word “campus” evokes memories of large, windowless college auditoriums, no one has told BrainStation; their campuses would look at home in the pages of an architectural magazine.
BrainStation’s goal has been to transform digital skills training, creating a premium learning experience. By all accounts, they’ve succeeded, and now, the company is bringing that same approach to the online learning space.
BrainStation’s Founder and CEO, Jason Field, came from a business management and finance background, but by 2012, he recognized that a massive macroeconomic shift was underway.
“It was apparent that there was no such thing as a technology industry anymore,” says Field. “Every company was becoming a tech company, and it was clear that those with digital skills were going to be positioned to take advantage of the opportunities ahead. The problem was, there were no institutions that provided hands-on digital skills training that could keep up with the evolving landscape.”
Looking to fill that gap, BrainStation took its first steps with a series of digital skills workshops that were used to gauge interest.
“In the early stages, we were constantly running experiments,” Field explains. “The MVP approach was something that was being used in software development, but we figured we could apply it to learning. We called it ‘Agile Learning,’ and with that, we were able to run workshops for non-technical professionals and make changes on the fly.”
Twenty-six people signed up for the first workshop, which was held in a coworking space on King Street West in Toronto. The fledgling company would host four more workshops in the next month.
“With every learning experience, we could see this community of ambitious professionals growing, and they were looking to BrainStation for more,” says Field. “They would express what they liked, what they didn’t like, and we would make changes. From seating formations and workshop topics to lectures and classwork–it was all trial and error. That process set the foundations for us to become a market leader in digital skills training.”
To meet increasing demand, BrainStation started working with industry experts to develop learning options that would better serve working professionals. Workshops soon gave way to part-time professional development courses, which led to full-time career transformation programs and enterprise training, all in a dedicated BrainStation learning space.
Today, BrainStation has state-of-the-art campuses in New York, Toronto, and Vancouver, as well as a new Online Live campus, which together have helped empower over 50,000 professionals, and some of the largest organizations in the world.
BrainStation set out to develop training options that cover the entire lifecycle of a digital product, including three full-time diploma programs (Web Development, User Experience Design, and Data Science), and a variety of part-time certification courses (across five disciplines: Data, Design, Marketing, Product, and Development), cloud platform training, and accelerated corporate learning options.
The company realized early on, though, that you can’t “set and forget” the curriculum for digital skills training. To be of value to working professionals, courses need to be as current as possible. To achieve that, BrainStation adopted an adaptive approach to course development, with curriculum updated on a daily basis, in real-time.
“We’re constantly benchmarking our curriculum against what’s happening in the field, and then using our data to figure out what skills are most in-demand, now and tomorrow,” says Field.
As BrainStation discovered, cutting-edge curriculum can only take you so far. The delivery of course material–and that is to say, the learning experience–is the key element, and improving that has been a driving force at the company. BrainStation, for example, only accepts the top 30 applicants for its diploma programs, which are led by a team of four educators and TAs. The small size ensures and emphasizes engagement, collaboration, and feedback.
“With small class sizes and more hands-on, project-based coursework, we can replicate what professionals experience in the field, letting our students walk away with the knowledge and confidence to apply skills right away,” Field said.
BrainStation now boasts multiple campuses: a penthouse in New York’s SoHo neighborhood; and downtown properties in Toronto and Vancouver. All campuses share a minimalist design sensibility, as well as: a great renovation and renewal story (BrainStation Toronto was the site of the quirky Global Village Backpackers hostel); their own coffee house, Quantum Coffee (BrainStation’s sister company); and a central position in each city’s respective tech scene.
“Our campuses are designed to inspire creativity, but they’re also meant to be gathering places; we have beautiful, multifunctional event spaces and lounges, and our very own coffee house. All told, between Quantum Coffee patrons and BrainStation learners, tens of thousands of individuals enter our campuses on a monthly basis,” Field said.
In addition, BrainStation has hosted hundreds of student demo days and industry events, including panel discussions, seminars, workshops, and more.
BrainStation has nearly doubled its workforce in the last year, but it has maintained an unwritten policy of hiring professionals that fit the lifelong learner profile. Staff is committed to self-improvement, and keen to evolve with the skills and tools being used today. Unsurprisingly, employees are encouraged to take advantage of BrainStation’s part-time training opportunities.
This emphasis on learning has a twofold benefit, encouraging employees to enhance and improve their digital skills and get a first-hand look at BrainStation’s products while also providing the company additional insight into the learning experience, both on-campus and online.
The company culture is not limited to learning and self-improvement, though. BrainStation has monthly town hall meetings, social events, retreats, and team-building activities.
“Building the team to support our next phase of growth was a major focus over the last year, and creating the right culture to go along with that has been essential,” Field said.
BrainStation will soon be launching its own learning platform. Dubbed “Synapse,” the platform was built in-house, and it allows students to attend live lectures, interact with classmates and instructors, complete lessons, and access additional training resources.
“Synapse is simply an intuitive extension of our collaborative, Instructor-led digital skills training experience, and you can trace its inception back to our first workshop in 2012, ” says Field, explaining that the platform will serve as the foundation for all learning experiences.
“Centralizing everything really encourages feedback and collaboration, which provides a deeper learning experience. Our clients have extremely busy lives, and Synapse gives us the ability to offer learning experiences for any schedule and location.”
Synapse also allows the company to gather key data and insights—including the comprehension of course content—to further refine the platform and curriculum, and create a more personalized learning experience for students.
“The power and versatility of our platform really opens up the possibilities,” says Field. “It’s another way for us to put the client at the center of the best possible learning experience.”