Three elements of a successful cohort learning experience

The growth of online learning opportunities over the last 10 years has been nothing short of amazing. Through sites like Coursera, EdX, and even Youtube you can find affordable (if not free), high quality educational resources on a mind boggling array of subjects.

What’s in much shorter supply for a lot of people is the motivation and will power to actually work through these self paced experiences.

You learn what you finish

As someone who produces learning experiences, you know that the only way anyone will ever derive the value that you are putting into the experience is if they actually follow the process and work through the materials.

Some learners are internally motivated and will sign up to and complete the experience entirely of their own accord. You can provide even more value to those learners while supporting the more extrinsically motivated learners by layering in a cohort of similar minded people to go through it with them.

Use human nature to support completion

Between life and the internet the average person has a lot going on and a lot of distractions. Things that can be ignored or postponed without consequence often are.

Cohort learning is a way to use human nature to overcome some reasons people don’t follow through with self-paced learning. We’re hardwired not to want to let down the group, and even the most introverted person needs some human interaction.

It’s not as simple as giving a small group of people access to a virtual course, a successful cohort learning experience has three things.

Three elements of a cohort learning experience

Context: Why are they all there? In a new hire orientation, they’re all there because they just started at a company. In a leadership development program, they’re all trying to become better leaders within the organization. In a blogging challenge, they all want to become better writers and grow their online presences.

Content: What ideas are they going to engage with? This could be presentations, videos, course materials, discussion guides, exercises, and so one. Most likely it’ll be a combination of all of the above that the cohort will work through together.

Structure: How are they going to engage with each other and the materials? The group needs to know how the experience will run. This is likely to include a group contract of some kind to guide their interaction norms, any interaction tools like Slack or Discourse, scheduled interactions like office hours, ask me anythings, and individual and group deliverables.

If you can provide a cohort experience that combines these three things you will support your learners as they pursue learning outcomes together.

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