Why cohort-based learning makes organizations better at knowledge sharing

Jan 05, 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 learn why peer interactions are so effective at fostering great learning outcomes.

Looking to save $31.5 billion USD a year? Cohort-based learning could be the answer.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration (though not completely––and we’ll explain why). But it is true that cohort-based learning is a great solution for one of the biggest challenges businesses face: to promote effective knowledge sharing across their organization.

Why learning should move in every direction

Genuine knowledge sharing is deeply beneficial for both organizations and individual learners. When knowledge is shared across levels multi-directionally, the benefits are particularly vast. In one study, Johns Hopkins Professor Christopher Myers highlights that when individuals in consulting project teams “engage in this more reciprocal vicarious learning”—as opposed to experts sharing only with novices—they receive consistently higher client performance ratings.

It’s worth further highlighting one interesting aspect of this finding: it suggests that more senior employees stand to benefit just as much from this reciprocal exchange of information as their junior colleagues do! Given the nature of work today, this finding makes sense. Often, more junior people are closer to the work itself. When knowledge flows in all directions, insights from these junior colleagues can help fill in gaps in senior leaders’ understanding, even if those leaders may be more “expert.”

Why knowledge sharing is such a challenge

Despite reciprocal sharing’s benefits to employees across levels, most knowledge management systems, enterprise social networks, and traditional e-learning platforms typically only offer conventional top-down approaches to knowledge sharing (if they manage to capture or circulate knowledge at all). This may be because it’s just plain difficult to achieve effective reciprocal sharing at scale.

This difficulty is demonstrated by the fact that––in one analyst’s estimate––Fortune 500 companies lose about $31.5 billion per year as a result of employees “trying to re-create the wheel, repeating others’ mistakes, or wasting time searching for specialized information or expertise” rather than accessing their colleagues’ relevant knowledge. This is why it’s not an exaggeration to say that a solution to the knowledge-sharing problem can help businesses gain a real strategic edge.

Knowledge sharing and cohort-based learning

But how does cohort-based learning help solve this problem?

Good learning design helps combat these losses by encouraging a structured and multi-directional knowledge flow. For the greatest pedagogical impact, this sharing should also be active. Research shows that when employees actively share their knowledge, they also strengthen their own expertise, increase the depth and breadth of their knowledge, and enhance their job performance (as rated by managers).

In our own academies, Nomadic does this by offering learners the opportunity to facilitate conversations and informally teach their peers, thereby spreading their knowledge to others and deepening their own understanding of that same knowledge along the way.

Discover more about cohort-based learning design

For more takeaways on cohort design, read our report, Cohort-Based Learning at Scale: Eight Principles for Success. We discuss why cohort-based learning is gaining so much popularity, how to ensure cohort-based learning design is effective, and the research behind it all.

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