Lambda School Updates: Improved Intro Courses, New Mastery-Based Progression

Over the last year Lambda School has gone from two people teaching a part-time evening web development course to a rapidly growing company of thirty teaching hundreds of students full stack web development, computer science, and machine learning in both full-time and part-time schedules.

As we look back it’s amazing to see how much has changed. In addition to hiring dozens of people across admissions, student success, the instruction team, and career development, we’ve rolled out a project management program with a 1:8 mentor-to-student ratio. We’ve supplemented our JavaScript stack web development curriculum with Python/Django and added an internal software apprenticeship where students build entire products that we open source, host, and make available as portfolio pieces for our students in perpetuity. Earlier this month, we launched our Machine Learning course with both full-time and part-time offerings. On top of all that, we’ve brought on over 100 hiring partners, and are continually working with each and every one to collaborate on ways to get our graduates placed even more quickly. The best part? We’ve done it all online, with zero upfront cost, making Lambda School available to hundreds of students who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend a program like ours. The list of things we’ve changed this year to make Lambda School better goes on and on.

But we’re just getting started.

Today we’re excited to announce three changes we intend to implement over the next three months that will open Lambda School’s doors to even more students and strengthen the impact we’re able to make in our students’ lives.

Improving Our Free Introductory Courses

First, we’re dramatically improving our free introductory courses. We’re taking the learning systems that power our full-time and part-time classes, systems we know result in graduates getting jobs, and applying those systems to the prep classes. Now the thousands of students who take our introductory courses will get a taste of what it’s like to be a Lambda School student.

Every 3–4 weeks we run a free Web Development 101 course that serves as a first exposure to Lambda School. In this course we cover all the topics a student needs to understand in order to complete the Lambda Challenge or the precourse assessment that indicates an individual is ready to begin class. As we launch new programs, we’ll create corresponding introductory courses.

In the past, the introductory web development course was live streamed on YouTube to thousands of viewers, and students were invited into a Lambda School Slack workspace where they could ask questions, get help, and start becoming a part of the Lambda community. It’s been an effective learning environment, and we’ve prepared hundreds of students for starting class, but we know we can do better.

Starting May 7, 2018, the free introductory course will provide an even betterpreview of what it’s like to be a part of our full-time courses. Lessons will run from 5–8 PM Pacific with one hour of live instruction, one hour of project time, and one hour of small group team meetings where students will review material, get help, and prepare for the next day. Students will have an individually assigned TA who will check on each student’s progress, answer questions, and, if the student wishes to apply for the full-time course, help prepare the student for the application process. All of this free, with no obligation or commitment.

If you’re interested, check out the application to sign up for our next class.

Helping More Students With Mastery Based Progression

Second, we’re rolling out a Mastery Based Progression program for each of our courses. (Check out our founder Austen's tweet about it here!) At Lambda School, we use reverse and objective based design principles to build our curriculum. This approach to curriculum design means that we begin with the end in mind: Where do our students need to go? What specific skills do they need to be successful on the job? We compile a list of skills that we know translate into success in the industry, and we design learning activities and projects that teach these skills throughout the course.

This method isn’t unique to Lambda School. Talented instructional designers all over the world create effective programs that teach students a set of skills needed to attain a job in a given industry. However, most educational experiences eventually break down because they teach the same content in the same time frame to students with wildly different backgrounds, experience, and learning styles. Too often students get stuck, fall behind, or drop out when they could have otherwise been successful if they’d had a little more time to master a concept.

Beginning this summer, every new student at Lambda School will have access to our Mastery Based Progression program. In the MBP program, students will complete a project at the end of each week that encompasses all of the concepts they’ve learned. These weekly projects serve two roles: one, to reinforce the concepts, and two, to show the student and the teacher how well the student grasped each of the concepts for the week. If you, the student, nailed the project, that’s great! Everything worked, and you’re ready to move on. But if you didn’t? We won’t just send you on and cross our fingers that you’ll master those concepts later. Instead, we’ll reset the week, and start over in a small, dedicated group of no more than eight students who, just like you, need another pass at the week’s concepts. Rather than trying to merely keep up with instruction, you’ll have the opportunity to master each skill you need to be successful.

Any teacher or school administrator will admit that mastery based progression is a better way to teach students. Unfortunately, most schools are unable to implement this type of learning because they don’t have the space, budget, or time to make it work for their students. Lambda School is uniquely suited to provide mastery based progression programs because our classes run entirely online and our success as a company is tied directly to our ability to prepare students for jobs. We believe that following the best pedagogical practices for long term student success is a no brainer.

Our early trials of the MBP program resulted in retaining dozens of students who would have struggled to keep up, missed the concept, or dropped out. It takes work to implement and run a MBP program correctly, but we’re not afraid of working hard, especially when we know it works. We look forward to Mastery Based Progression becoming a staple of the Lambda School experience for years to come.

Expanding to Our New 30 Week Schedule

Third, we’re expanding future full-time courses from 26 weeks to 30 weeks. Extending the length of the full time courses not only allows for more instruction, project weeks, and time to let concepts sink in, it’s also a vital step towards rolling out the Mastery Based Progression program.

Here’s how we’re going to use the four extra weeks:

  • Add two additional project weeks — By the end of the course, each student will have a total of five projects plus the apprenticeship capstone project under their belt. Each project week follows after four weeks of intense instruction, and provides students with time to zoom out, reflect, and reinforce the concepts learned over the previous month. Projects are purposely specced out in a way that reflects what it’s like to work on a real development team. We’ve found that project weeks are essential for students to review and retain the most important concepts. Project weeks are fully staffed with instructors and mentors to provide guidance and support students as-needed.
  • Add an additional week to Lambda Labs — Lambda Labs is our internal apprenticeship program where students build, deploy, and maintain pre-specced projects for capstone portfolio pieces. All projects are open sourced, pushed live, and hosted forever. Any profits are given directly to the students who worked on the project. Increasing Lambda Labs to five weeks provides students with additional time to finish their project and present it in a Capstone Defense that in effect wraps up the course.
  • Add an additional week of instructional content — Some of the content previously required as part of the independent precourse will now be covered during the course, including but not limited to git, setting up your programming environment, and an additional frontend framework.

In addition to the extra content, extending the course to 30 weeks and adjusting our start dates to begin every five weeks allows us to better plan, staff, and support the upcoming Mastery Based Progression program.

We recognize that for many people seven months is a long time to go without a paycheck. But we’re confident that the additional instruction time, apprenticeship experience, and ability to offer a Mastery Based Progression program will dramatically improve student outcomes, specifically in terms of the number of students who complete the program and how quickly those students are able to land their first job.

The most important thing to highlight about this change, is we’re able to extend the length of the course without raising tuition–the cost to attend Lambda School will remain the same.

These three changes are only a sample of the improvements we aim to make over the next three months to establish Lambda School the no-brainer destination for getting started in a tech career.

If you’re a potential student and have questions about Lambda School, reach out to our admissions team. If you want to see what Lambda is all about, sign up for our next Web Development 101 course — it’s free. And if you’re ready to dive in, register for our full-time, 30 week, immersive course where you pay nothing until you get a job.

Interested in joining our team? We’re hiring! We’re looking for full-time and part-time instructors, and new program directors, as well as admissions, administrative, and career development staff. Check out our open positions on AngelList, or send us your resume at careers@lambdaschool.com.


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