As the world comes together to address the risks of COVID-19, we at Lambda School thought deeply about whether we should release this update at this time.
Lambda is a fully remote and online education platform, and for the moment, our classes are continuing without interruption. Similarly, prospective students are still submitting their applications to our UX program. We decided it was in the best interest of our community to provide future Lambda School students with full information on their curriculum options at this time and current students with an update as well.
Stay safe and be well.
- Lambda School Team
A note from Caleb Hicks, President of Lambda School
We founded Lambda nearly three years ago to build a new model for education that entirely depended on our students getting great jobs. We chose to base tuition on the income share agreement (ISA) so that students only pay tuition to Lambda once they’ve landed a job using the skills they learned during the program. If we fail to get our students into those jobs, they pay us nothing. It keeps us honest and invested in student success. At the end of the day, nearly every decision we make boils down to “will this help more students land great jobs more quickly?” If the answer is yes, we do it.
One of my favorite parts of Lambda has been building most of what we do out in the open. It’s in that spirit that I want to share a few updates on our User Experience Design (UX) program. Unlike many of the things we’ve shared openly, this one doesn’t end in remarkable growth or renewed investment. We’ve decided to put the program on an indefinite hold.
In this retrospective, I’ll take you through how we built the program, some of the challenges we ran into, how we’ve responded, and the measures we’re putting in place to ensure we don’t face the same challenges again. It’s long because I want to tell the full story. Before diving in, I want to highlight three things:
First, we didn’t reach the decision to put the program on hold lightly. Starting and running a company is always a mix of priorities and opportunities. When we consider all of the opportunities we want to tackle in 2020, relaunching the UX program didn’t make the cut.
Second, our instruction and student success teams will continue to work with every UX student to ensure they’ve got every skill they need to land a great job in UX, and our career services and student outcomes team will continue sourcing and matching students who are ready with interviews like we do for all Lambda students.
Finally, we’ve worked closely with a number of students who felt like the program did not live up to their expectations to provide options. Every student has been offered to transfer into another Lambda program, continue in their program with expanded curriculum and our full support, or withdraw and pursue their new career elsewhere. And today we’re announcing a new option for students who have asked about tuition or ISA adjustments. Read on or jump to the “What’s Next” section for details.
I’m proud of our team who works so hard to build life-changing programs for students, the way we’ve learned from this experience, and the student obsessed approach to giving every student a menu of options to choose from as they consider their future.
If you have additional questions or feedback, I invite you to share them with Front Desk or email email@example.com to reach our support team.
President, Lambda School
We launched our first UX cohort in October 2018. Lambda School was about 18 months old at the time, and UX Design was our fourth program.
Our approach to launching a new program includes a rigorous, six-month process for curriculum development and instructional design. Curriculum at Lambda School is developed based on industry expertise, employer input, and instructional fundamentals. The goal is always to give our students a solid foundation on the job skills that are most in-demand for work in a given industry. Our curriculum is also designed for continuous iteration; we know that technology is constantly changing, and we need to be able to quickly adapt our curriculum to respond to technological innovation and shifts in employer needs.
In this case, the program development process was led by our UX Program Manager, a long-tenured UX practitioner with a PhD in Instructional Technology and Psychology, in collaboration with our first two UX instructors. Our UX Program Manager reported directly to the school’s President, who has over 10 years of experience in career and technical education.
Lambda’s first UX cohort went through a curriculum that included three parts:
The first cohort was small, but the program was well-received, and in the first three months of intensive UX training, we met all of our internal metrics for student satisfaction, retention, and student progress. That success prompted the decision to expand the program and add start dates for new cohorts.
So, what happened from there?
Student Concerns with Lambda’s UX Program
In Lambda School’s orientation, we explain that there are two types of critical feedback that students provide to us:
As we brought on new cohorts into UX we ran into examples of both. We want to share a few of the Type 1 issues and how we addressed them in the moment, and how we’ve learned from them for future programs.
Issue 1: Change in program focus, emphasizing user research
Last summer we extended all of our full-time programs by two months, and our part-time classes by four months, to give students a stronger, more flexible program at the same cost. As we adjusted the curriculum to fit the new schedule, our UX Program Manager shifted the three months of intensive UX training from a nearly even split between user research and visual design to a deeper dive on user research. This new focus shaped the experience for students starting in the May 2019 cohort.
This led to some students coming into the program with expectations around learning visual design, when the program instead was focused on user research.
Issue 2: Lack of coordination across some Lambda teams around this change in focus
In the Fall, many of the early students entered Lambda Labs, our internal apprenticeship program in which students build real-world projects in cross-functional teams.
Our Lambda Labs leadership team has expertise in designing projects to facilitate experiential learning across all of our programs. However, they’d not evolved the project work in Lamba Labs to reflect the changes focusing the program towards UX research over visual design. The projects that were part of the Lambda Labs program had a higher bar for visual design than the students felt trained for.
We responded quickly to add supplemental design modules, but some students still felt that there was a disconnect between what they’d learned in the core curriculum and what they were doing in Labs.
Issue 3: Feedback gaps
We ask for feedback from all of our students regarding curriculum, instructors, team leads, and general experience on a daily and weekly basis. While we try to review every student’s feedback in a timely manner, our tools for reviewing feedback, identifying trends, cataloging a backlog, and engaging 1:1 with every student about their concerns have not always kept up with the growth of the school.
We looked back at all of the early feedback from UX students as we worked through this retrospective and did not find any strong signals that would have indicated a systemic problem with the UX program, instruction, or curriculum earlier on. This is a missed opportunity, so we’re revisiting our toolset and redesigning our exit tickets to catch and address any similar concerns about preparedness earlier on. We pride ourselves on listening intently to student feedback, so we feel this is a very important area to get right.
All of the issues described above resulted in less-than-perfect experiences for some students. Many would write off these types of issues as likely to happen from time to time in any learning environment. And that is true. Consistently delivering engaging compelling instructors, top-notch curriculum and personalized support is exceedingly difficult, but that is what we aspire to do. A group of students worked together to raise some of the concerns, so we got to work speaking with them, piecing together what was going on, and understanding where we needed to make improvements. A number of those students shared that they:
The majority of students in our UX program have expressed appreciation for how much they’ve learned in the program, and many have gone on to successfully obtain jobs in the field. However, some students in the cohorts impacted by these changes also voiced that the full price of tuition felt high. Even though these students had not yet paid tuition (because of the ISA), and knew that their tuition would be based on their success in landing a job and proportional to their income, we understood the feeling, and began working on ways to make it right.
As we identified these issues, we jumped into action. Here’s how we addressed each of the opportunity areas described above in our UX program:
Opportunity 1: Evolve our program focus
As soon as we started receiving feedback that students expected more visual design training and felt unprepared for their visual design work in Lambda Labs, we arranged for our remote instruction and Labs teams to meet onsite for two days to build a plan. The team came out with three actions:
After completing a new round of interviews with the advisory council, we chose to pursue a heavy visual design and problem solving focus for UX moving forward. That, in turn, led to three next steps:
Opportunity 2: Increase coordination across some Lambda teams to support this evolved focus
We established that while the focus on user research was the root cause of the disconnect some felt between the UX training and Labs portions of the program, we needed to improve the coordination between our Instruction and Labs teams to ensure long-term systematic program alignment.
To address this, we have taken a few actions:
Opportunity 3: Catch early signals from concerned students sooner
This experience made us aware of certain limitations of the toolset and processes we had in place to review and address student feedback. As a consequence, we made three investments:
We’re excited to invest in these improvements and believe these investments will benefit students across all programs in the future.
In addition to addressing each specific issue through the actions described above, we’ve also made broader changes to support our UX students:
1. Deferred additional UX enrollment to focus on our current students
We paused new enrollment in November to give our team time to make the changes after making the choice to refactor the core curriculum around visual problem solving and design. The plan at the time was to relaunch the program in February 2020.
As students expressed their concerns at the beginning of the year, we shifted our full focus to them to ensure they had the best experience and full support of our instruction and Labs teams. The additional focus drew from the team refactoring the curriculum, which blocked them from completing the new curriculum we’d intended to use to relaunch the program. We made the decision in February to further defer the re-launch so the staff could continue to focus on the enrolled students.
We’ve yet to revisit the new curriculum we intended to build, and while prioritizing enrolled students, will not be able to relaunch in 2020. As a result, we’ve decided to put the program on an indefinite hold. We have no plans to relaunch UX at this time.
2. Personalized support plans
In addition to pausing the program, we’ve doubled down with our enrolled students with additional curriculum, small group and 1:1 coaching from our instruction team, and individual success plans from our Student Success team.
Of course, we will still provide the standard level of support that every Lambda School student receives, including career coaching, participation in our mentorship program, guided job search activities in Lambda X, and matched hiring opportunities sourced from our outcomes team for graduated students who engage with our programs.
3. Options to switch:
We’ve offered all students in the UX program the option to switch into another Lambda program, free of charge, if they so choose, regardless of how far they were into the curriculum. We did this because, while we are fully committed to supporting students who stay in the UX program, we also wanted to provide optionality for students that wished to pursue another program track.
In order for us to plan staffing and support for students, we’re keeping that option open through the end of this week (Friday, March 27, 2020), after which this option will no longer be available. Students will be receiving a message about this from our student success staff today.
For reference, all Lambda students have the option to change programs prior to the completion of their second unit, as described in our Student Guide.
4. Impartial arbitration:
We built Lambda School around the income share agreement (ISA) because we believe it is a fair and innovative way to align incentives. We train a student with employable skills, and if they get a job making more than $50k per year using those skills, they pay a portion of their income for two years as tuition. If, for any reason, the student doesn’t get a job in the ISA timeframe, they pay nothing. The ISA protects students and puts Lambda on the hook if the student fails to land a job that pays $50k or more.
As students came forward with concerns, we offered them three options:
Most of the students chose to continue in the program. A single digit number of students chose to transfer into another course. A small group chose to withdraw from Lambda School altogether and continue their journey elsewhere.
Working with those students who chose to leave raised an important question for us. When a student has a concern with the program and wants to leave, how should we respond?
Historically, we’ve handled withdrawals (and related questions about the ISA) internally. That approach had the potential to put both the student and our Student Success team in awkward positions in some cases. Our Student Success team is charged with doing the right thing for students within the policies and regulations we’ve committed to. At times they may feel conflicted between giving the student exactly what they want, doing what is best for the broader Lambda School community, fulfilling the contract we’ve entered with students, and following the policy and regulations we’ve committed to.
We put our heads together to come up with a way to ensure that UX students could share specific concerns about tuition owed in their case. While the ISA has always offered arbitration, it’s not one we’ve seen students commonly take. As we evolved and improved the program, we wanted to find an accessible, remote-friendly, online way for UX students specifically to raise concerns regarding the education we’ve provided and are continuing to provide.
So we’ve decided to partner with Fair Claims, a user-friendly, online arbitration platform with qualified, licensed attorneys who are paid a flat rate for each case and who have no interest in who wins or who loses.
Fair Claims provides a forum for people with complaints and sources trained arbitrators (who are licensed, experienced lawyers) to review the claims and resolve disputes. Once a case is created, each party can submit documentation, add witnesses, and schedule a hearing. The case is then assigned to an impartial, third-party lawyer that neither Lambda School nor Fair Claims has any sway over. The lawyer serving as the arbitrator reviews all of the submitted documents, runs the hearing, and makes a legally binding decision based on the evidence shared by each side. We’ve committed to cover the fee for arbitration initiated by a UX student in this process through FairClaims to ensure that current UX students who have concerns now are able to have their concerns addressed by an impartial third party.
At Lambda School, we challenge ourselves to continuously improve. While we regret that some aspects of our UX program weren’t as smooth as we would have liked, we remain deeply committed to our students, and to improving the learning experience based on the important lessons we’ve learned.
Above, we described the many steps we took that are specific to the UX program. In addition, we wanted to take this opportunity to share a few of the changes we’ve made to our new program launch process as a result of this experience:
In the spirit of transparency, we think it is important to share what we’ve learned and how we’re responding to the issues we experienced in the UX program. With these steps, we’re confident that the programs we launch in the future will not experience the same issues as we experienced with the UX program.
If you are a student with any questions or feedback, please reach out to Student Success via Front Desk. For all other questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you shortly.