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What are Cohort Based Courses?

Updated: Sep 8, 2022


The world of education is changing. An emergent trend that is surfacing is cohort-based learning. Specifically, cohort-based learning via cohort-based courses and communities. This article explores cohort-based learning, how it came to be and how creators and experts can harness its scaled adoption.


To understand cohort-based learning, we need to look at how it all to be. I will, for the purpose of this article, classify the progression as education 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.


Education 1.0: Offline Teaching

This is the conventional schoolteacher standing in front of the classroom, delivering a teaching session, training, or seminar. Typically, it was geography bound and hence limited to a certain number of participants.


Education 2.0: Online Teaching through MOOCs

As the internet became popular, we saw the emergence of MOOCs- Massive Online Open Courses. These took educational (even degrees and qualifications) content from around the world and attempted to democratise it to anyone with access to internet. This saw the emergence of platform such as Coursera, edX and Udacity were found (around 2011-2012).


Simultaneously, a new breed of educators was born. These individuals did not necessarily have education degrees but were subject matter experts want to teach their skillset. This saw platforms like Udemy and Skill share picking up steam connect educators to education instrcutors that were creating their MOOCs.


Tooling solutions that enabled educators to develop courses was also observed. Hence, we saw the rise of platforms like Teachable, Thinkific of Kajabi- that enables creators to create their own MOOCs and distribute them to their audiences.



Education and its delivery up until this point was linear. A educator teaches their content, typically via pre-recorded lectures and distributes it using either a marketplace such as Udemy or a white-labelled tooling solution like Coursera.


While technology was enabling the distribution of educational content, the immergence of quick, bite-sized, instantly gratifying, and close to free content was being made available. The plethora of content and its subsequent distractions meant the hook of accessing “scarce” education was diminishing. A study done by two MIT researchers found that between 2013-2018 completion rates for MOOCs steadily plummeted to an average of ~3% (i.e., 97% drop-out rates!).


This is where the Cohort Based Learning offers a solution.


Education 3.0: Cohort Based Learning

With content being accessible with a click of button, educational content is not king anymore. What is king is community. The ability to access a learning community that can help a learner get from 0 to 1 or 1 to a 100 in a skill is where real education kicks in.

Cohort Based Learning enables this. Here students have access to quality content, but also live interaction with the instructor and an interactive community of fellow learners. This therefore facilitates peer-to-peer learning and, most importantly, ensures student accountability. The cohort based learning experience can come in two forms: courses and communities. The former is time bound with fixed start and end dates, while the latter is continuous.


This form of learning community driven, enabling complex and denser topics to be taught and explored through dialogue and projects. This in turn, enables higher order skillsets such as critical and analytical thinking and opposed to “how to” videos that MOOCs provide. Thus, the experience of the learner is holistic.


Instructors are able to establish themselves as authorities on a subject through teaching their cohorts to a small group of learner’s keen to learn from them. They are simultaneously increasing their follower by creating a tribe of students learning from them. And finally, because these experiences are so deep, they are also able to charge a higher price point and therefore earn higher course revenues.


The overall impact of cohort-based learning?

MOOCs promised to democratise access to education content. However, cohort-based learning takes it one step further- i.e., it is promising access to learning communities that are guided by experts who are operators teaching from experience.


Cohort based learning unbundles the university experience and packages the best components together. Such as, experts (not necessarily PhDs) teaching- so content is relevant and in tune with the workforce, no high school test scores, or having to move to a different geography is needed for students. And, choosing to teach a cohort virtually means overhead costs that typically weigh an education institution down, can be recreated in a virtual environment allowing students to pick and choose what they want to learn instead of forcing them down a set path.

More importantly, education 3.0 is changing the definition of schools, teachers and learners. Schools are no longer institutions but learning academies, taught by teachers who are no longer PhDs but operators delivering their expertise to students, who are no longer 20 somethings but also professionals wanting to upskill and re-skill.






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