Put learners, not instructors, at the center of your cohorts

Jan 20, 2022 by Nomadic Team

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This is part of a series on effective cohort-based learning design. Discover more about why cohort-based learning is the latest L&D trend, explore how global companies are driving transformation through cohort-based learning, and dive deeper with our new report on the eight principles of effective cohort-based learning, honed over a decade of creating cohort experiences.

We’re excited to see cohort-based learning getting the attention it deserves as a really effective answer to the question of how to teach leadership skills at the scale the modern enterprise demands. Yet the model’s growing popularity also means lots of new entries into the cohort-based learning space, not all of which will necessarily be equally effective for learning at every kind of organization or in every domain.

One thing we’ve noticed is that at the moment, the majority of new entries look a lot like traditional classroom-based instruction, just transferred online. Notably, they retain the instructor or facilitator at the learning experience’s core.

Why instructor-led programs won’t solve every learning problem

These instructor-led programs certainly have their place: facilitator-centric experiences can be particularly effective for small-group learning, for example. And we’ve all experienced the impact an excellent teacher can have.

Yet a reliance on instructors ultimately limits a solution’s ability to scale across thousands (or even tens of thousands) of learners. Given the distributed nature of their work, today’s global teams have an especially pressing need for leadership-capability building. Managers in these organizations often serve as experts in their region, making strategic business decisions based on deep local knowledge that no centralized C-suite can feasibly aspire to master themselves. Furthermore, these global teams also need solutions that can be implemented quickly. The World Economic Forum ranked the turnover in management and leadership skills as two to three years, just behind software engineering.

In this landscape, regardless of its quality or effectiveness for smaller teams, any solution that cannot be implemented at scale and quickly just won’t do the job. This is why at Nomadic, we opt for an instructorless model. Learners across time zones don’t need to wait for an instructor to log in, and companies don’t need to wait for additional facilitators to be trained to scale the solution across new teams.

Instead, in our content-based model, an unlimited number of learners can absorb and interact with our programs at the same time. This scale doesn’t dilute the learning experience, as it might in a classroom. Rather, more learners means more voices and perspectives in cohort discussions––and more data and insights for organizations to explore.

Instructorless learning: a few key benefits

This model has benefits beyond scale. An instructor-led model centers the facilitator’s voice, while at Nomadic, we’re able to feature a wide variety of experts and practitioners on each topic we address. This diverse range of voices is good practice, but it also ensures that learner interactions take center stage as cohorts come together to debate and discuss how these different perspectives might apply to their own work, without one authoritative “correct” figure in the room.

Finally, we’ve found that in all our design decisions, it’s important to remember a simple truth: managers today are very busy. In an economy predicated on attention scarcity, crafting beautiful content with a high production value and a healthy dose of personality goes a long way in keeping learners engaged. In our case, it’s led to a completion rate of around 86%, unprecedented for a digital learning experience. It’s no surprise that content created by documentary filmmakers that hones in on the current crucial skills keeps learners' attention better than hours of Zoom instruction. Even if that Zoom instruction comes from the most renowned of professors.

More principles of effective cohort-based learning

The question of instructor-led versus instructorless is just one consideration when it comes to effective cohort-based learning. For more takeaways on cohort design, read our report, Cohort-Based Learning at Scale: Eight Principles for Success. There, we explore everything from the size and logistics of effective cohorts to the research that drives our understanding of cohort-based learning design today.

Interested to learn more about Nomadic’s cohort-based academies? Learn about our approach, or get in touch to request a demo.

Arguing at work (and why it’s not all that bad)

One aspect of effective cohort-based learning design is teaching learners to argue. Read more about how cohorts provide space to disagree constructively.