Drive learner engagement and beat Zoom fatigue with cohort-based learning

Feb 09, 2022 by Nomadic Team

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Over and over, L&D leaders come to us with the same big question on their mind: how to keep learners engaged?

It’s a valid concern. Issues like Zoom fatigue, burnout, overwork, and attention that’s already been stretched a little too thin mean that it’s difficult for employees to find time to engage in learning, much less give any L&D efforts their undivided focus.

This holds especially true for managers. In recent years, managers been tasked with Herculean initiatives like coaching their team through the transition to hybrid work and navigating industry upheaval due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the face of all this, cohort-based learning can serve as a powerful learner engagement strategy. The numbers show that, when placed into cohort-based experiences, learners become much more engaged. While MOOCs often have abysmal completion rates of 20% or lower, in our cohort-based learning Academy, 86% of the learners who start one of our experiences complete them. Frequently, the participation also goes well beyond what’s required for completion. At AB InBev, for example, our two thousand learners commented in the Academy more than 17,000 times, averaging twice the number of comments required.

What makes cohort-based learning so effective at getting learners to not only engage in L&D efforts, but even go above and beyond?

How does cohort-based learning keep learners engaged?

Three essential features of cohort-based learning can help your organization beat Zoom fatigue and increase learner (and even C-suite!) engagement in L&D efforts: social interaction, the ability of learners to make connections between the material and their work, and a semi-synchronous model that allows learners to learn in the flow of their work.

1. Cohort-based learning drives learner engagement through social interaction.

Many people think that instructor skill is the most important variable in learning effectiveness. However, studies show that peer interactions are even more crucial when it comes to real learning impact. When they're engaging with each other, learners are motivated to workshop their ideas, reflect on their colleagues' insights, and deepen their understanding of the learning material while exploring it together.

In addition to deepening learner understanding, this social interaction and collaborative learning also builds a stronger feeling of accountability. When you know that your peers are going to see whether you've participated in a learning activity, you're more motivated to log in. It's not unlike that extra motivation that comes from meeting a friend at the gym!

In our Academy, features like a leaderboard, team names, and points awarded for engaging with others further foster these community-focused behaviors...and a friendly sense of both camaraderie and competition, too.

2. Cohort-based learning keeps learners engaged by making the learning relevant to their work.

One of our favorite things about creating a digital learning Academy is the opportunity to see the ways in which learners make the content their own. Our Programs tackle a wide range of leadership topics, from our course on managing a hybrid team to our design thinking Program and beyond. But no matter the content area, the goal is always the same: to drive business outcomes by making learners better at their work.

Cohort-based learning facilitates this by allowing each learner the space to connect the learning material to their day-to-day tasks. In our Academy, for example, we prompt cohort discussions about ways cohort members can apply learned concepts to their current projects, or use takeaways from the stories and case studies to improve processes and approaches within their teams. Learners defend their ideas and even argue together (constructively, of course!) to hone their thinking, all the while making their insights more specific and more actionable.

It's always great to see the learning come alive in this way. Especially because we know these are the connections that will help the learning positively impact an organization's outcomes, too.

This aspect of cohort-based learning is particularly useful for getting the C-suite on board with learning initiatives. When our clients share out key observations and new ideas they've pulled from the qualitative data available in our Academy, business leaders immediately see the value. In fact, one leader called the social learning an "insights machine" because it was so useful for helping employees come up with innovative solutions and new ways of looking at challenges.

This engagement from the C-suite is especially useful because––as any L&D leader can tell you––when the C-suite is engaged with learning, everyone in the organization becomes more engaged, too.

3. Cohort-based learning helps L&D teams beat Zoom fatigue with semi-synchronous learning that’s perfect for global, distributed teams.

We all know that making time for learning is a major challenge. It’s even more of a challenge when you’re in Sydney and your instructor’s in Chicago. Live learning certainly has its place, but in a world of Zoom fatigue, getting everyone online and engaged in learning is a major challenge.

The best learning breaks down silos and barriers. And any solution that requires synchronous lessons or tasks is inevitably going to create inequities, challenges, and inconsistencies as it scales across globally distributed teams. Team members can and should be sharing their knowledge and ideas with their colleagues globally. But they shouldn’t have to log on in the middle of the night to do so!

Semi-synchronous cohort-based learning solves these logistical headaches. As with other semi-synchronous solutions like Slack, Teams, and Whatsapp, with this model of learning, peers in different time zones can respond in the flow of their work, at the times that work best for them.

This all drives learner engagement by allowing learners to get the advantages of asynchronous communication––flexibility, time to be think through their responses, a written record of the great ideas that emerge––while also benefiting from the motivation, community atmosphere, and intellectual spark that comes from engaging with the material at the same time as their colleagues.

Cohort-based learning at scale: more tips for success

Ready to explore more about cohort-based learning? Dive even deeper with our in-depth 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.

Want to chat about how cohort-based learning can drive engagement and transformation at your organization? Just drop us a line and we’ll reach out!

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