Four reasons cohort-based courses are so powerful

Apr 07, 2022 by Nomadic Team

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Cohort-based learning is rapidly gaining popularity as a deeply effective L&D solution for leadership development, management training, and upskilling and reskilling workers with the "soft skills" they need for today's business environment. This digital learning solution has gained significant traction during the Covid-19 pandemic in particular, as it provides high-quality, scalable learning for global, remote and hybrid, or distributed teams. (For one interesting example of what one transition to cohort-based learning looked like in the early days of the pandemic, check out our case study with PepsiCo!)

First, a definition: digital cohort-based learning is a format for education where a set group of learners moves through a sequence of interactive online content together, discussing their ideas and sharing knowledge along the way. But what makes this model so effective? And why does learning together in academies, debating and discussing the content in groups make for such a powerful learning experience?

Here are four reasons cohort-based courses are such a great model for learning and development today.

1. Cohort-based courses acknowledge that humans are social beings (and social learners).

What’s the best learning experience you’ve ever had? It may have been at a conference or a retreat, a workshop or a breakout session, a book club or a classroom. No matter where it was, we’re pretty sure it wasn’t you sitting on your computer alone, clicking through a deck or watching a pre-recorded talk. Especially now, Zoom fatigue is real, and any learning that mimics a dry Zoom or Teams meeting isn't going to keep learners engaged.

Of course, it's not that all education technology is bad or digital formats aren’t suitable for learning. The difference is not the what; it’s the how and the who. How—the way we learn—is impacted by who we’re doing it with.

As social beings, we intuitively know why group discussions make for better learning than worksheets. It's significantly more engaging, leading to higher completion rates and better overall learning metrics. The average completion rate in Nomadic, for example, hovers around 86%, while rates for more individualized experiences such as MOOCs can be as low as 3%.

2. Cohort-based courses make it easier to apply learned concepts.

The value of learning isn’t just accumulating knowledge. It’s figuring out how to apply our knowledge to the real-world context of our lives and work, which is something best done with others.

It’s this part of learning—the context and application—that’s driving the shift from individuals to cohorts. When we share what we’re learning with others, incorporating their perspectives and bouncing ideas back and forth, we better retain this knowledge. We are also figuring out how the knowledge we gain can help us sort through the real, lived complexity around us.

In turn, this also makes our organizations more effective at knowledge sharing, because it mimics exactly the kind of flow of information we need to make our teams better at this key aspect of work: learn, apply, share, re-apply, fully making this new knowledge part of our processes and the day-to-day way we work.

3. Cohort-based courses mirror the way we work today: in teams.

Most of work today happens in teams. From the individual contributor level through the highest ranks of leadership, work is now deeply collaborative. All signs say that future success will hinge on facilitating and enabling collaboration. No one can go it alone.

Understanding how to manage high-functioning teams is essential for leaders looking to foster performance, get the most out of their people, and bolster their company’s competitive edge. Yet when it comes to helping employees actually develop these essential team-based skills, most digital training hasn’t kept up. Instead, training continues to be highly individual.

The fact is, a social work environment calls for social learning, too. Cohort-based learning doesn’t just encourage building relationships with our peers and fellow learners; it depends on it. It's effective because it puts teams at the center of learning, the exact same way they're at the center of work today.

4. Cohort-based courses are great at teaching the "soft skills" people need to succeed now.

When we can move away from thinking of individual, self-directed learning as the default, we’re already setting ourselves on the path to success in the world of modern work. This is true particularly when it comes to learning the skills needed to thrive in the modern business environment.

Cohorts are an immensely effective learning tool for hard-to-teach domains like leadership and creativity—one key reason this model is getting so much attention now. The most strategic learning initiatives today are less about compliance and rote memorization and more about driving large-scale business transformation by preparing learners for the future of work. And that future is all about soft skills.

Historically, these skills—also called power skills, mindset skills, or emotional IQ—were mostly associated with leadership’s upper echelons. But now, whether working remotely, in-person, or some combination of the two, today’s knowledge workers have deeply collaborative jobs that require teamwork, decision-making, creativity, and strategic thinking. In particular, managers at all levels are being called upon to flex their soft-skill muscles.

For learning professionals, the mandate is clear: we must reskill our people with the skills and capabilities that will prepare them for this new world of work, whether they're leading an organization, managing a team, or simply working together with their colleagues on complex, multifaceted projects.

Old models like click-next e-learning were fine for technical reskilling. Today’s needs call for an approach where the learning is just as social and collaboritive as the capabilities being taught. Cohort-based learning is so powerful because it meets today's learning needs, and provides an exciting new possibility for upskilling our people so that they can rise to the demands of work now.


To learn more about Nomadic's semi-synchronous cohort-based learning experience, download your free copy of our report, Why the Future of Learning is Instructorless. In it, we explain how we designed our Academy to put learners at the center (rather than an instructor), to foster lively debate, and to make the learning immediately relevant to cohort members' daily work.

Interested to discover more about what Nomadic’s cohort-based Academy can do for your organization? Learn about our approach, or get in touch to request a demo.

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