Takeaways From WeWork’s Expansion Into Education

Co-working juggernaut WeWork is moving beyond the office space business into the world of education. A look at some ideas associations can take from its approach.

WeWork is much more than the coworking-space giant that many know (and use) it for. Through a number of recent acquisitions and new projects, the company is not only expanding its footprint, but it may also be transforming its business model.

Take last November’s $200 million purchase of Meetup, which essentially brought together one of the world’s most prominent owners of office and meeting spaces with a company that helps people find opportunities to meet. The alignment makes sense—and also highlights that local events are big business for associations and for-profits alike.

That same month, WeWork also announced it would make a foray into education. The plan: to open a micro school in New York City later this year called WeGrow for children in kindergarten to fifth grade, focused on “helping them find their superpowers,” according to WeWork Founding Partner and Chief Brand officer Rebekah Neumann. And, just this week, WeWork and WeGrow expanded its learning portfolio with the acquisition of education startup MissionU.

While the launch of WeGrow and acquisition of MissionU won’t directly compete with the learning that associations offer at their conferences and events, both offer takeaways for meeting planners and content-development teams as they plan their future offerings. Here are three questions to consider:

Are you embracing how the next generation will want to learn? MissionU was designed as an alternative to a traditional two- or four-year college. It targeted students ages 19 to 25, enrolling them in a one-year program designed as preparation for business intelligence jobs at hiring partners like Warby Parker and Spotify. Instead of writing tuition checks, students commit to paying MissionU 15 percent of their pretax income each month for three years, assuming a salary of at least $50,000. For students who opt out of going the traditional college route, consider whether and how your association can serve their learning needs.

Are you giving your attendees a chance to find mentors and do what they love? In an interview with Fast Company, Neumann said part of WeGrow’s learning approach for elementary schoolers is to allow them to do what they love (“discover their superpowers”) and develop “a culture of kindness, conscious entrepreneurship, and a connection to nature.” To accomplish this, the curriculum will be integrated with mindfulness training, yoga and meditation, and farm-to-table cooking. And children enrolled at WeGrow will meet with WeWork mentors during the week, whom they’ve been paired with according to the students’ interests. This will give them a chance to put their passion to work. Think about how your association can harness attendee passion.

Are you making learning possible for everyone, everywhere, at any time? A major driver of success for MissionU was that it was built software that allowed for roughly 90 percent of the program to be delivered online. That made it possible for people to be connected 24/7 and for participants to learn at their own pace. And self-directed learning is also a big part of WeGrow. As your attendees get accustomed to personalized learning opportunities in other spaces, they’ll expect your association to offer the same.

What other lessons can your association take from WeWork’s education-related acquisitions? Please share in the comments.

(WeGrow handout photo)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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