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Building Offline Education for an Online World

The tech industry is awash in software and services designed to improve how we learn everything from Ruby on Rails to the piano. But one upstart that’s trying to rethink education is pretty old school.

General Assembly opened in New York in 2011, in part to offer cheap office space to startups. Today, it’s a school that offers in-person classes on topics like Web design and marketing in 12 cities, including New York, London and Hong Kong. More than 8,000 students will graduate from its longer courses in 2014, up from 3,100 in 2013.

Tuition ranges from around $10,000 for full-time courses that run for two or three months to a few thousand dollars for part-time classes. The company has raised $49 million from investors including Yuri Milner, Jeff Bezos and Institutional Venture Partners; its backers see a huge opportunity in the booming demand for technical skills and aim to build an industry leader that could one day go public.

General Assembly largely targets young, tech-savvy professionals who want to boost their resumes. Yet it’s cautious about the tech industry’s love affair with online learning, viewing virtual courses as a supplement to rather than a replacement for the classroom.

The Information sat down with CEO Jake Schwartz, 36, and co-founder Brad Hargreaves, 28, to discuss the growth of General Assembly’s corporate business, Kaplan’s acquisition of a competitor, the “unbundling” of education and more. An edited transcript of the joint interview is below.

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