How cohort-based learning spurs mindset shift and behavioral change

Aug 05, 2022

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Business transformation is in overdrive. As organizations switch to hybrid and remote work, focus on sustainability, and make DEI more of a priority, they will need to change the mindsets of their people to be successful. Managers, in particular, are a key leverage point for ensuring these complex changes happen smoothly and that teams have what they need to be successful. But both managers and their teams will need a whole new set of capabilities, skills, and approaches to thrive in this new world of work.

Managers in particular have a much different mandate now when it comes to how they must lead their teams. With digital tools that oversee employee productivity and new expectations from Gen Z workers, the work of a manager now spans beyond assignment and supervision. Instead, managers need to learn highly social capabilities, such as active listening and empathy, in order to foster a positive work environment that motivates their teams to problem-solve faster and work more strategically. Learning how to develop a growth mindset—another essential skill for managers today—and how to empathize with employees will also help managers become more adept at helping themselves and their teams navigate change.

However, most digital leadership training available today, such as traditional e-learning courses, isn't equipped to help people develop these deeply social capabilities. MOOCs, for example, hardly keep learners engaged, with an abysmal three percent completion rate. As L&D professionals search for solutions that engage their learners and can spur the mindset shift and behavioral change teams need to success in a fast-changing work landscape, one digital learning method has proven particularly effective.

Cohort-based learning: the digital learning solution for mindset shift and behavioral change

Cohort-based learning is a model of collaborative learning where a set group of learners moves through a sequence of interactive content together, discussing and sharing their ideas along the way. This method of learning is gaining popularity, especially amongst major Fortune 500 companies like PepsiCo and AB InBev, as an effective way to go a step beyond training teams and instead transform how people view their roles in their organizations.

Here are four reasons cohort-based learning has proven so effective at driving the mindset shift and behavioral changed necessary for success today.

1. Cohort-based learning helps people reimagine their roles to fit today’s needs (especially managers).

When you learn something new, you see the world differently. This mindset shift is crucial for today’s managers, as the pandemic shattered societal norms and expectations around work. For example, managers have been at the front lines as companies transition to hybrid and remote work. With employees either partially or fully remote, managers have had to rethink how they communicate with staff online, how to evaluate work that requires intense collaboration, and how to maintain a positive work culture that extends beyond computer screens.

Cohort-based learning helps managers adapt to these changes by aligning learning goals to business initiatives. When managers understand why they’re learning the highly social skills needed to enact these transformations (like the transition to hybrid work), they can reimagine their roles in the context of business needs. They can view themselves as strategic leaders in their organizations and not just task delegators or messengers for the C-suite.

This mindset shift has lasting effects on team performance and work culture. When managers work more strategically to foster collaboration and create a positive work environment, they make their team members feel more included and invested in their own work. As cultivators of workplace culture, managers who master these highly social skills not only help improve team performance, but they also help their teams become more resilient in times of rapid transformation.

2. Cohort-based learning fosters mindset shift and behavioral change through collaboration.

One of the reasons business transformation can be challenging is because people experiencing these transformations are forced to totally rethink their roles.

Let’s take the example of managers again, who also play a key role in fostering collaboration amongst their teams. Managers have traditionally assumed a top-down approach when leading their teams. They view themselves as a supervisor first and team member second. However, as organizations become less hierarchical and work becomes more collaboration- and team-focused, management is no longer about simply ensuring production, but rather, something much more nuanced. And many team leaders today simply aren’t prepared, which can lead to a poorer employee experience, more turnover, and ultimately, much higher costs.

How does cohort-based learning help? When a manager participates in a cohort, they are given a unique opportunity to think through problems and brainstorm business solutions together with their fellow learners. These discussions may inspire managers to change the way they lead team meetings—creating a format that encourages employees to share their insights with the team. This practice of team collaboration can also have real business impact, creating a feedback loop between managers and their team members that becomes embedded in the flow of their work.

3. Cohort-based learning keeps people engaged.

Learners have more competing priorities on their plate than ever before, particularly those whose companies have shifted to a remote or hybrid model. After writing countless emails or Slack messages, sitting all day in Zoom meetings, and helping their colleagues solve problems throughout the day, it’s not surprising that some may prioritize work over learning. However, like any habit we try to build, sometimes it takes a healthy dose of peer pressure to hold us accountable.

Cohort-based learning requires members to stay up to speed on their coursework so they can contribute thoughtful ideas during cohort discussions. Many learners may feel more motivated to learn when their reward is a collaborative and exciting discussion rather than a strict deadline. Nomadic's cohort-based Academy also features a leaderboard, with points for participating in discussions with fellow cohort members. And we've found that a little friendly competition goes a long way, leading to record completion rates for Nomadic Programs (86%, versus the three percent for MOOCs!).

4. Cohort-based learning can be scaled for global teams.

As engaging and relevant as the learning is, none of this will matter if it doesn’t also fit into the day-to-day flow of employees’ work. Especially for global, distributed teams, logistics can become a huge hurdle when it comes to getting people to participate in learning experiences, particularly in the case of collaborative learning. This is why we created Nomadic to be semi-synchronous. Semi-synchronous collaborative learning is a digital learning model that offers the flexibility of asynchronous learning alongside the motivation, great learner engagement, and community spark most often associated with synchronous learning solutions. Apps like Slack, Teams, and even Instagram all provide semi-synchronous communication.

Cohort-based learning can also help surface insights from global teams that have the potential to impact business initiatives and make employees feel heard. For example, in Nomadic’s cohort-based Academy, we collect thousands of comments that have helped companies enact new initiatives or, in the case of IBM's marketing academy, identify high-potential leaders in their organization. As work has become increasingly more collaborative, there’s been a higher need for collaboration across departments and job titles. Transformation doesn’t have to feel top-down. Rather, it’s most successful when employees feel they play an integral part in making that change happen.

In conclusion: cohort-based courses make learning relevant to how business is done today

Ultimately, L&D is most effective when it's meaningful, engaging, and immediately applicable to learners' day-to-day work. Cohort-based learning helps make this possible by helping teams achieve the mindset shift and behavioral change that will lead to success in a quickly evolving work environment.

For more about how to effectively design cohort-based courses, check out:

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To dive even deeper into cohort-based learning, read our report, Cohort-Based Learning at Scale: Eight Principles for Success. You can also get in touch to discover how cohort-based learning can drive learner engagement and transformation at your organization.

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