Cohorts the Future of Learning!

Picture by Mark Finnern San Diego Harbor 

There was a time when people thought that MOOCs are the Napster moment for US Universities. Well, with an average completion rate of 4% you don’t unseat the established education model.

Still, millions of learners take MOOC classes every year. Especially in the corporate world, MOOCs continue to make a huge difference. SAP just celebrated 5 Million OpenSAP enrollments!

For me at the EdTech’s Woodstock the GSV+ASU Summit the other week a piece of the Future of Learning puzzle fell into place:
Cohort Based Learning

 Cohort (educational group) definition from Wikipedia:

A cohort is a group of students who work through a curriculum together to achieve the same academic degree together. Cohortians are the individual members of such a group.

In a cohort, there is an expectation of richness to the learning process due to the multiple perspectives offered by the studentscohort at the same time.

If set up right, the group of learners in a cohort develops into a small community around a joined interest with lots of interactivity among the participants that maximize the impact that course has on their lives. 

Advantages of this model:  

  • Your fellow cohort learners bring in their life experiences and perspective to the learning, which greatly enriches the course. 
  • You learn from each other as you do the sense-making of the new material together: “What? Do you understand this? — Yeah, I think it is … — Oh yes, that makes sense, excellent. Thanks!”  
  • Learning together is more fun! 
  • You keep each other accountable. 
  • By being immersed in a rich canvas of experiences of everyone in your cohort, your focus switches from “what may the multiple-choice test ask at the end of this chapter” to how does that fit into my world/work or how can I use this most effectively. 
  • As Nick Shackleton-Jones shared: All thinking is emotional. Our retention is much higher having connections to your fellow cohort learners.
  • <what have I missed?> 

I am not the only one thinking that Cohorts are the next wave in Education. In the excellent The Future of Education is Community: The Rise of Cohort-Based Courses post, Tiago Forte shares this graphic:  

Some excellent insights from his post : 

  • Everything is virtual and digital, which means it is malleable. Since it all has to be recreated anyway, you might as well make changes while you’re at it. This results in a rate of improvement for CBCs that looks more like updates to a software program than a university class.

These rapid improvements allow Cohort Based Courses to keep pace with the accelerating change we are experiencing. 

I suggest that we set the stage at the beginning of a course and tell the newly formed cohort learners:

One goal of this course is to improve the course: content, approach, exercises, projects …. Here is how we continuously track activities and suggestions on how to improve the course. 

Any suggestion that the learners come up with can be implemented right away, if they agree to that. Any improvement that makes it into the course will be logged and credited to the learner who suggested it! This log will develop into a wonderful track record of how the course improved and who made it better. 

If you know from the beginning, that you want to improve the course, your attention is expanded. Away from thinking: what will be asked in the multiple-choice test? To: now that I understand the material, how could that content be taught in a way that is more compelling/relevant to my/everyone’s world? What new articles, books, or tools, have come up since the last cohort that would make the course even more compelling and relevant? 

Course creators should adjust their approach and develop the cohort classes with improvability, interactivity, and playfulness in mind.

New course platforms are needed, or old ones adjusted, that support easy interactivity and improvability. Maven is one that is focusing solely on Cohort Based Learning and I will keep an eye on their offering.

At the ASU + GSV Summit Phylicia Jones from PagerDuty and Andrew Barry CEO of Curious Lion had an amazing session around their success with building a Flywheel of continuous learning with cohorts as the main building block: LET LEARNING FLY: CONSTRUCTING A FLYWHEEL OF CONTINUOUS LEARNING

I will share more insights derived from that course in a later post. Hopefully, by then the recording will be made available too. Please stay tuned!

Comments 2

  1. Excellent piece, Mark! Very nice job of laying out the many advantages of the cohort model. (Although it must also be said that there are some disadvantages as well — especially for introverts like myself who may prefer to work alone, in our own way, and at our own pace.) As a university graduate school professor at both NYU and Columbia University, I’ve seen firsthand the various pros and cons of each model. And, yes, I do agree that there are definitely numerous short-term and long-term benefits to being part of a peer group traveling that potentially-lonely learning journey with others…not the least of which is being able to celebrate success together at the end…and continuing to enjoy and leverage those cohort relationships long into the future.

  2. Post

    “…not the least of which is being able to celebrate success together at the end…and continuing to enjoy and leverage those cohort relationships long into the future.”
    Love the celebration and continued relationship aspect too!

    If the cohort is from the same large organization and the participants come from different departments and regions, it really helps to bridge the gap between these departments, which is soooooo important too :-)

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