Webinar Highlights: Cohort Based Learning | Secret Ingredients for Success

01 February

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Webinar Highlights: Cohort Based Learning | Secret Ingredients for Success

Cohort based learning is a course that is designed to follow a syllabus and is completed by a group of students at the same time. These courses can be done online, virtually, or in a physical classroom.

The Speakers

Our CEO and founder, John Kilroy is joined by Dr. Phillippa Hardman and William Cronje for this webinars round table discussion on cohort based learning.

William Cronje is an instructional designer and program manager at Eduflow.

  • His main role is running the Eduflow Academy.

  • The main goal at Eduflow Academy is to change the way people think about what online learning is and with the use of social learning create learning experiences that are really effective.

Dr. Phillippa Hardman is creator and founder of DOMS™.

  • An academic by background by training, Dr. Phillippa has always been interested in research in the way humans learn and how technology is now being used to create quality learning experiences with cohort-based learning being a favourite.

If you missed the webinar and want to gain expert insights on what cohort learning is and how it’s becoming the most popular way of learning, keep reading for all the webinar highlights.

Learn more about Cohort Based Learning in our Professional Diploma in Digital Learning Design

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What is Cohort Based Learning?

Dr. Phillipa kicked off the webinar by explaining what cohort based learning is. She explained that anyone who has been in any formal education will have experienced cohort learning first hand.

“In simple terms, it is a learning experience in which your progress through with a group of people similar to the way we learnt in school and in University.”

Connection and active learning are the two main indicators that make cohort-based learning a high-quality method of education. These factors keep students interested and, in general, improve their learning experiences.

As one moves through the many tasks, developing relationships with the mentor and peers offers learners a feeling of community, which is crucial to maintaining engagement and staying motivated. Active learning within cohort-based courses also sets it apart from traditional classroom experiences and other online courses as it is typically a problem-solving based model. Communally you are solving problems and being an active participant instead of just consuming content.

Why has it become a popular way of learning?

William shared how cohort-based learning is growing in popularity because it is filling a really big gap in the market. We have all grown up in cohorts in formal education and how then it disappears as we join the workforce. People then crave that idea of learning with a group of people because of the sudden disappearance in communal social learning as we get older.

Dr. Phillipa shared that there were some short-term triggers like the realisation that knowledge transfer can be trickier online. This became more known during covid and she describes it as “death by PowerPoint” when training was forced online.

Another analogy she believes is worth considering on the growth of cohort-based learning is how it’s now commoditised and we can access really great content easier.

William adds that the partial reason for the growth in popularity was during the pandemic there was a loneliness epidemic as we grew further and further apart. Technology has caught up with this epidemic and made communication online easier and more intimate.

For example, this webinar it’s easy to communicate from Dublin, Manchester and Cape town whereas before it was a chore.

People crave what cohorts can bring, they crave learning as a community with people that have the same goals and similar interests. This brings a sense of belonging that we once had in a classroom environment back when we were kids.

In addition, Dr. Phillipa added that feedback she has received from her cohort-based courses indicates that the ability to interact with others while we accomplish something together is the main factor in people considering it to be a great learning experience.

What makes up a good Cohort experience?

William opens that enrolment and deciding who gets to be a part of the cohort is a really big factor in making it a good experience. This procedure takes time, but it allows for the selection of candidates who are eager to learn. It ensures that everyone is in agreement with what they hope to gain from the learning process and what is expected of them in terms of contributing to it.

Make sure that the participants are contributing to the experience, particularly for courses that are free and have 400 to 1000 participants. Having features like speed networking, weekly webinars and live sessions between the self-paced learning materials is also important to build that sense of community.

There is no one size fits all approach.

  1. Do your discovery work
    Know who your learner are and what will cause any friction so that there isn’t a lack of engagement. Phillipa explains that she will vary her approach depending on the type of people participating in the cohort. For example, her most recent cohort coming up is for a group of incredibly busy people and she is minimising any out of session work and making it shorter than ever.

  2. Take a problem-based/project-based approach and a approach
    Make sure people within the cohort-based course are learning the process of the experience by solving problems or building rather than being lectured and being tested on whether or not they recall it.

  3. Structure the flow
    Having a structure is also key. John mentions in cohort-based learning you are trying to get your learners into a flow. Cohorts will have a start and an end date but also provide them choice within for the learners that may have busier lives than other. Structure and consistency along with live events and being given a choice when access to content is given will also enhance the learners experience and make it more enjoyable.

  4. Feedback
    Another really important factor is asking your learners for feedback as they go through the experience. You’re constantly changing and adding in new features and adapting the design experience so feedback from learners will give you an insight to what is and isn’t working.

How do you scale mentoring?

You need to get your team right, a team of tutors but also someone who’s managing the experience as well as mentoring the learners. People going through a cohort-based learning experience need to be getting feedback quickly and regularly. This can be one of the biggest challenges in cohort-based courses.

Dr. Phillipa adds according to research on scalability the ideal ratio is one mentor to 15 learners. Anything beyond that we start to lose the magic that drives the motivation and mastery.

As this is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for online learning, AI is now becoming a big part of the discussion to facilitate feedback on demand and in relation to the ability to scale coaching.

William explains when cohorts are large it can be overwhelming and impossible to read through everything and have a meaningful engagement. One intervention he implements to tackle this is creating subgroups within that you will be sharing the journey with. This way in a smaller group you can discuss learnings and get to know them a bit better.

Another tip for scaling is the peer review feature Eduflow implements. William’s team has made a process where learners are taught what feedback is and how to model good feedback. To receive their own feedback they must provide feedback for two of their peers. Throughout this process feedback is improved and he believes peer feedback mixed in with AI will one day change everything.

Tips for setting up a social experience?

There is a science to building motivation which is partly about building connection between people. Dr. Phillipa mentions there is interesting AI that can find similarities between different learners profiles so you can group them together to connect.

Phillipa follows a process where an expert gives a prompt and a demonstration on solving a problem. The learner then goes and solves themselves and are given the chance to change their response before submission by comparing it to somebody else’s work.

This process requires people to connect, learn from one another and defend their position in an evidence based way. From that comes both social and cognitive development.

Trust is another important factor mentioned by John.

In the beginning of a cohort-based course there is already a foundation of trust because the people around you have a similar goal and you are going through the same experience together. It is important to build on this foundation of trust, usually the way to do this is by getting learners straight into project work and problem solving. This way they can connect with each other and by building this environment allowing them to build relationships by giving them a reason to it incentives to socially engage with each other.

William highlights that there is four engines of collaborative learning, two of which are important when it comes to making a good social experience within a cohort.

  1. Presence and psychological safety
    Knowing that you aren’t alone, are sharing the same experience with other learners, that there is facilitators with you, you can express yourself to the rest of the cohort and are able to participate is essentially describing psychological safety in a cohort learning environment. Adding to this is shared focus, everyone involved in the cohort is aiming for the same goal and there is an energy around this presence.

  2. Inclusion
    We need this for the psychological safety outlined above. This links back to the importance of trust mentioned earlier as it can be a big challenge in any online experience. In person it is a lot easier to get feedback because you can see their expressions and reactions. Online we can’t see that reaction or feedback easily. If something bad is happening online it may not be visible to the facilitator. As a result they may not be able to reprimand a person or correct behaviour. Things like community guidelines, having ways of communicating or enforcing ways of reporting can make a learning experience more inclusive.

Final Thoughts

The webinar is wrapped up with the top tips for getting started with cohort-based learning.

Dr. Phillipa starts with her insight.

“Design your cohort based on who your target audience is and try not to go too broad, by doing this you add value to the cohort as you will understand what outcomes and outputs they are wanting to achieve.

Williams top tip is

“To encourage learners to find ways to tap into their own internal motivators. Help them to find the reason to why they are there, and this will help with engagement and overall give a better learning experience.”

John finishes up with

“Putting an emphasis on getting feedback quickly from people going through your cohort. Also don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. If you already have good existing content focus on trying to wrap an experience around that. If it’s the first cohort launch it as a pilot with a smaller group to make sure you are able to give them that valuable learning experience with the materials you have.”

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