Julia
~
9 min
· Posted on
May 20, 2021

Evaluating Effective Cohort-Based Learning Platforms

Cohort-based class

In the not-so-distant past, educators and corporate trainers had limited options for course delivery. An instructor could either stand in front of the class and deliver course content face-to-face, through a slide presentation, or a course designed for online learning.

While in-person lectures likely won't ever go away, we're all looking at learning from new and better perspectives. Instead of solo learning, more people are discovering the benefits of learning in a community through cohort-based courses.

Cohort-based learning is no longer the wave of the future. It's a tool used in schools, universities, corporate spaces, and by entrepreneurs. If you're a creator, here's what you need to know about using cohort-based learning platforms to deliver your course.

How Does Cohort-Based Learning Work?

If you've been a student at any level, you're no stranger to learning in a cohort. For example, in most high school and college courses, all students learn the same material at the same pace.

In another example, when students enroll in a certificate or degree program, they often go through the course sequence with the same group or cohort of students. A critical factor in learning successfully through this method is mastering social interaction with peers.

Think of a cohort-based course as a peer-to-peer learning model driven by collaboration between course participants, including the teacher or facilitator.

Another learning model, self-paced or on-demand learning, doesn't need the collaborative skills of the cohort. Students may work on the same material, but for the most part, they work independently.

It can feel lonely out there in the online learning sector—kind of like exploring space alone with only minimal communication from command central.

Cohort-based learning works best for creators who have a passion for building engaged learning communities. The learning model also works well for instructors who want to play an active role in helping their students get results from the course.

How People Benefit from Cohort-Based Courses

In the workplace, roughly 55% of employees don't look to their boss for help—at least not as their first choice. Instead, they rely on a peer-to-peer network to ask questions freely without worrying about looking lost in front of a manager.

That's not to say people never ask a manager for help, but they do look for solutions from peers more often. Businesses have a perfect opportunity to draw from the vast expertise of their employees and put peer-to-peer learning in place. Still, for a variety of reasons, they don't create a cohort-based structure.

The same concept works for students, especially in the online learning environment. We know, based on research, that students tend to learn better from their peers. Imagine the power of the cohort to help a student understand and solve complex problems!

Course creators should design course content around student benefits. Here are the main advantages of taking cohort-based courses:

Collaboration: Enhances the learning experience and fosters a sense of community

Structure: Due dates and discussion forums provide structure—something many people discount as essential to effective learning.

Support: Connection with the cohort offers an invaluable support network. Not only do students enjoy the benefit of engagement with the cohort, but they also gain motivation and accountability.

Perspective: Cohort-based learning introduces students to new ideas and perspectives. They interact closely with people from diverse backgrounds, learning new ways to view the world.

Speaking of networks, cohort-based learning often results in building relationships that survive long past the time spent on formal coursework. Many students participate in networking birthed while part of the cohort throughout their careers.

Pulling the Details Together

An instructor spends hours, sometimes weeks, putting the pieces of an effective course together to give the course experience the maximum impact. While this article doesn't cover the creation process, it's helpful to know what instructors must consider when building a cohort-based course.

To offer a course that students want to buy, it's vital to create a course that solves a significant problem. Solving a student's problem means the course creator must also include the opportunity for students to learn new skills.

If an instructor successfully targets a problem faced by their intended audience, then teaches something new, they will have created a course that helps their students attain a goal. Developing a course that students take in tandem as part of a learning community results in a win-win.

The instructor creates the course and markets it online.  The student invests in something of value. Everybody wins!

Going Beyond Course Creation

The most well-written cohort-based course without a robust platform will go nowhere. Delivering great course content depends on the ability of the instructor to run the course with minimum fuss.

A savvy course creator should look for a platform that allows for the smooth behind-the-scenes running of the course. These activities are mission-critical:

If that seems like a demanding set of must-haves, it is. But without a platform you can rely on to push your course content out to your students or customers, you'll wrangle with complaints and damaging testimonials from dissatisfied students.

The Must-Haves for a Cohort-Based Course Platform

Platform developers do not create course platforms in a bubble. Every platform comes with unique features. Before you go all-in for a particular platform, consider the various aspects of these essential features:

We'll dive a little further into each feature next, but these are the ones instructors should research when choosing a cohort-based course platform.

A Word About Native Features

Every software program comes with specific features unique to the program. For example, if you're comparing word processing programs, one may feature talk-to-text and the ability to tag another user in revision comments. The other program may come with a robust citation creator.

The key to understanding native features is knowing which ones are created for students and instructors to use within the software.

Native features ensure that students enjoy a smooth learning experience. They also help instructors deal with fewer headaches implementing course components.

One example of native features instructors should evaluate before signing on with a new learning platform is the discussion board. Since the majority of cohort-based learning happens in the discussion forum, seamless functioning for posting comments and participating in polls is vital.

Native features mean the developer, not the instructor, invests time and money into ensuring a positive, productive user experience.

Integrations and Course Platforms

One challenge established course creators face when migrating to a new course platform is integrating the functions already in place, such as marketing and payment processes. Many course creators use an array of applications—all meant to make life easier.

With a platform like Gurucan, there's no need to worry about integrations. Using Zapier or Webhooks, creators can connect to a vast expanse of external and internal services.

Cohort-based courses gurucan

Creating a Thriving Learning Community

When an instructor delivers course material in a physical classroom, the instructor is responsible, at least in part, for creating an environment conducive to learning. In an online course, it's more about the students creating their own community.

An effective course platform allows students to build relationships. For example, webinar software allows for live learning from remote locations.

The goal for cohort-based courses is to provide a dedicated community space where students interact. There, they transform from students to community members.

A thriving learning community should include discussion boards where students can seamlessly interact and build relationships. Another feature to watch for is private messaging. Students should be able to communicate with one another outside of the community discussion board.

Gurucan uses a variety of tools designed to enhance the student experience inside the learning community.

Course creators can publish rich, eye-catching multimedia course content, including video lectures, online quizzes and surveys, and, yes, webinars. Students can take advantage of community messaging. Instructors can also post engaging content on the course-related blog.

CBC together

Why the Fuss Over Community?

Cohorts are designed with community in mind because research shows how crucial community is to students using the cohort-based learning models. Community, in this case, isn't just a warm, fuzzy—it's likely the course component students need the most.

In the peer-to-peer learning model, interpersonal relationships are critical in the following areas:

Using Robert Kegan's theory of adult development, we see that the cohort significantly impacts its members' abilities to function successfully in the present and the future.

Kegan refers to learning communities as holding environments, which serve three purposes.

Communities meet student's needs by recognizing their unique identity. A thriving community also allows learners to be challenged to get out of their comfort zones and embrace different ways of looking at the world.

Finally, communities remain in place after the course ends, so the relationships built during the course can continue, but in new ways reflecting individual growth.

Trends in Cohort-Based Learning

Delivery of online learning content continuously evolves—at least that's how it works in the ideal world. The reality is unless the developers of course platforms pay attention to trends in the learning community, they risk missing the opportunity to integrate trends into their platforms.

We've all taken courses on clunky, outdated course platforms. It's not an enriching experience.

Cohort-based learning should focus on continuous evolution too!  Two trends are at the forefront of online education, and both can carry over into the cohort-based learning environment.

Mobile learning and microlearning both dominate the learning space today.

Close to 93% percent of the population use their Smartphones to access online content. That means a potential increase in the number of students who want to access learning content on a mobile device.

Course creators will find it more and more vital to build courses with mobile users in mind. The platform chosen to support courses must allow for the flexibility needed to publish content over multiple outputs.

Today's learners come to the table with shorter attention spans. They need courses designed to help them learn more efficiently. Say "hello" to microlearning, content delivered in chunks or units.

Microlearning will keep a course creator who struggles with fluff on their toes. Following this trend means creating content based on what students need to know, not what the creator considers nice to know.

More About Mobile Learning

Without a mobile app, learners will face multiple challenges accessing course content. Gurucan offers a robust mobile app for both Android and iOS.

Learners no longer need to wait for access to a computer to attend a learning session. Instructors and their student cohorts learn together in real-time from anywhere.

Mobile apps allow the same type of experience the students have when they access content from a desktop or laptop computer. For many students, using a mobile app may even help with course engagement and retention of course content.

If a course creator wants to create a branded app, Gurucan offers White Label mobile apps.

Bring Your Cohort-Based Courses Over to Gurucan

Whether you're a seasoned course creator or new to the cohort-based learning marketplace, you can help your students benefit from a seamless, robust learning experience. The right course platform, combined with well-built content, works together to create a product you and your learners will love.

Gurucan combines the essential features of a solid cohort-based course delivery system to give instructors a well-designed space to launch their course content.

We're available to answer your questions or help you set up a new course. Reach out to us today!

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