Cohort-Based Learning: A New Approach

Cohort-Based Learning: A New Approach
Summary: Learning, as we knew it in our childhood, has undergone a lot of changes. Learning design, learning technology, and learning content—all have undergone a massive transformation.

Cohort-Based Learning

There is a continuous flow of new methodologies, new ideas, and new technologies being introduced to make learning more effective. A major shift in learning methodology or learning delivery was moving from the traditional classroom to the online mode. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) became immensely popular due to their never-before-seen benefits, such as cost-effectiveness, time-saving abilities, flexibility, and global accessibility. Indeed, MOOCs enabled millions of learners across the world to access quality educational content at an affordable price and take their courses in their available time from any location. Continued learning took a new dimension in the form of MOOCs.

However, the biggest strength of MOOCs also became one of their biggest weaknesses. The flexibility in time also resulted in many learners taking longer and longer time spans to complete a course, and even dropping out. The learnings were disjointed and disconnected. The innate nature of human beings—learning from others and getting motivated by others—was taking a hit.

A New Learning Methodology

To address this issue, learning designers came up with a new learning methodology: cohort-based learning. The central idea of cohort-based learning is very simple and is derived from traditional classroom learning. In cohort-based learning, a group of learners takes a series of courses together. They have the same schedule and must follow the same deadline. This grouping and synchronizing of learning activities make the learners feel connected and keep them motivated to complete the learning in a scheduled time and not lag.

This is a significant deviation from the MOOC approach. In the MOOC approach, there is practically no deadline, no synchronous peer learning, and no group study. While it has flexibility, the success of a MOOC course depends a great deal on individual self-motivation. In many cases, learners keep deviating from the ideal progress due to various reasons, and finally completely disengage from the learning activity. On the other hand, the cohort-based learning approach makes sure that learners keep pace with the designed schedule and don’t lag. They are also motivated to do so by peers.

Cohort-based learning also differs from traditional classroom learning. The physical presence of the learners in one place or classroom is not mandatory in cohort-based learning. The learning delivery can happen through online modes or a combination of online and offline modes. Another difference between cohort-based learning and classroom training is that having internet access can allow some flexibility for learners so that they don’t miss any lessons in case of an unavoidable personal engagement. This is a very important factor for working professionals, as they don’t want to get bogged down in attending particular sessions or miss them completely and nor do they want to deviate from the schedule too much.

Cohort-based learning can be best suited for leadership training, soft skills, etc., where interpersonal skills become important. It ensures learner engagement and interaction, thus promoting interpersonal skills. The biggest advantage of cohort-based learning is perhaps the presence of a course guide. The guide or facilitator ensures the best possible course design for the participants. The presence of a course guide also ensures that the learners get timely help in case they are stuck or unsure about something. The course guide also acts as a motivator and leads the group of learners toward achieving their learning goals.

The only drawback of cohort-based learning compared to MOOCs is perhaps the cost factor. While MOOCs have revolutionized low-cost, high-quality learning, cohort-based learning courses tend to be more costly due to the presence of the course guide. The higher cost of cohort-based learning courses can be a deal breaker for many, especially those wishing to take overseas courses. Another drawback of cohort-based courses compared to MOOCs is the time zone dependence. MOOCs are perfectly time zone independent: learners can take the course any time they like. Cohort-based courses don’t allow that much flexibility.


Cohort-based courses offer collaboration, support, structure, perspective, and networking for the learners. This is a key difference between cohort-based learning and traditional online learning or MOOCs. If you are keen to make like-minded connections, go for the cohort-based learning model. However, if you’re a self-motivated learner trying to maximize your learning time, go for MOOCs.

Cohort-based courses include a lot of interactive sessions. With the help of these interactions in the learning community, cohort-based courses aim to bridge the gap between purely online education and traditional classroom learning. It thus gives the best of both worlds.

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