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Cohort-Based Courses with Wes Kao

George Grombacher August 11, 2022

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Cohort-Based Courses with Wes Kao

LifeBlood: We talked about cohort-based courses, the value of interactive and peer-to-peer learning, why only 6% of traditional online courses get completed, and the profound role community plays in our success and development, with Wes Kao, CoFounder of altMBA and CoFounder of Maven, the first platform for cohort-based courses. Listen to learn why questioning whether or not you’ve got what it takes to create a course is the sign you’re ready!

You can learn more about Wes at,, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Wes Kao

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on Well, Blippo This is George G and A time is right. welcome today’s guest strong and powerful West kayo. Wes, are you ready to do this?

Unknown Speaker 0:18
Yeah, let’s do it. George,

george grombacher 0:19
let’s go. Wes is the co founder of the alt MBA and the co founder of Maven, third organization, building the first platform for cohort based courses and learning, excited to have you on West tell us liberal, your personal lives more about your work and why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:39
Yeah, so looking back into, you know, the past, when I was a student K through 12, College, school was always hard for me. And I had assumed that it was, you know, my inability to grasp material or learn the way that that other kids learned. But as I got older, I realized that the format of one directional lecture just doesn’t work for a lot of people. You know, the times when we learn the most, or usually when we interact with material when we try it ourselves, when we make mistakes, when we have a chance to put ideas into practice. And the way that core based learning is, is much more suited to the way that people actually learn. Right. So if you think about, you know, throughout throughout your education, whether it was in person, with with, you know, elementary school, high school, college, or online, with video based courses on Udemy, LinkedIn learning Skillshare, it’s all very much a sage on stage. And expert knows everything, everyone else is supposed to sit quietly and obediently. Whereas with core base learning, it’s really the opposite. You do have an instructor, it’s entirely online. But students are learning just as much from each other as they are from the instructor. And sometimes the students even teach the instructor back, you know, we’ve had, we’ve had over 600 people go through the course that I teach the free course on how to build a great core base course. And we’ve had a bunch of instructors say that they learned just as much from their students, because their students thought of interesting edge cases that they had thought of, or interesting applications of a framework that they taught. So a core base model is much more interactive, and it’s bi directional. And when I think about what inspires me to build Maven, and why we’re doing what we’re doing, it’s, it’s because there’s so much opportunity to to create more of an engaging learning experience online, we’re already seeing such higher completion rates because of it. When you look at MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, like the video want static, video driven courses that you find on Udemy, the completion rates are about 6%. And the completion rates for cohort based courses are 75%. And up, so we’re already seeing so many more learners, you know, whether they are, you know, mostly knowledge workers, you know, professional professionals wanting to upskill we’re seeing so much more engagement on that front.

george grombacher 3:07
That’s a that’s super exciting. It’s, I don’t know if it’s shocking, it is shocking, but it doesn’t surprise me that only 6% of traditional online courses actually get completed. And after I think about it, I’m like, Yeah, of course, I’ve probably done that a dozen times where I got super excited about something and just never finished it. So. So that makes sense. I definitely

Unknown Speaker 3:29
have a course on hand lettering calligraphy, and classical music appreciation on Skillshare, somewhere where I watched half a lecture that I was gonna go back to it. And it’s been gathering digital dust for the past seven years. So that is very familiar story.

george grombacher 3:44
It’s amazing Calligraphy is it’s a joke I make it’s like, what are things that I really want to know, but there’s a 0% chance that I’m ever going to actually take action. Yeah, like graffiti is not bucket, but you actually took action on it. So one day, one day, Wes, you’re going to be able to have this amazing handwriting. Alright, so I imagine building any kind of a new business enterprise is challenging. How has it been explaining to people what cohort cohort based learning is? Because it seems like this is a new category?

Unknown Speaker 4:17
Yes, it’s absolutely new. And it’s, it’s been? It’s been interesting. I mean, I think so many people, when they think of online learning, they immediately think of video driven courses, right, their head immediately goes to Udemy, or LinkedIn learning or Skillshare, because that was the dominant form of online learning in the past 10 to 15 years. So what we’re seeing now the shift towards the mix of live and asynchronous in online learning is a new concept. So Seth Godin, and I helped to pioneer this concept back in 2014 2015, when we launched the alt MBA, the alt MBA was one of the first cohort based courses that was commercially successful and mainstream and really kicked off and inspired a whole category of what we now call core base courses. So my my co founder Gagan biani. And I, at Maven coined this term core base courses, you know, back then when when Seth and I were doing alt MBA, there wasn’t even really a word for it, you know, it was just this like, wonky thing that this, this crazy, prolific author, you know, wanted to try out with mixing live interactions and interactivity and bringing that into online courses. So it’s been it’s definitely one of the biggest things that we’re working on is helping experts, subject matter experts, operators, executives, creators, consultants, coaches, realize that court based courses exist, and they are now a way that you can share your knowledge more broadly and be able to monetize that knowledge. And we really see that sometimes overnight, the core base course for an instructor becomes their biggest source of revenue. We have folks who have zero to small social followings, not you know, small email lists or no email lists make up to $20,000 in their first cohort, and that’s teaching one to two weeks you know, that’s that’s pretty amazing revenue. And then we see bigger folks like sandbar Shawn, Perri, pomp. Sahil bloom, these are, you know, these are folks with bigger audiences, bigger email lists, they can make between 150,000 to $250,000, for teaching for a couple of weeks. So, you know, Sean Peri jokingly said that he made more from teaching his Maven course, a couple of cohorts of it than he did in his his Fang salary for a year, right. So it’s pretty, it’s pretty wild.

george grombacher 6:38
So you’ve mentioned now, a couple of weeks, is there a one recipe or formula for a cohort based course I imagined, some are gonna be a little longer, but some are shorter. What are sort of a common structure?

Unknown Speaker 6:54
Yeah, there’s no set length or structure for core base courses. So we see courses that are a couple days long, you know, two to three days, I’ve taken some core base courses that were four hours long on one day that were great. And then there are other courses that are one to two weeks, three to four weeks, six to eight weeks, sometimes eight to 10. So those are, you know, a bit on the longer side, on Maven, across hundreds of cohorts that we run, one to three weeks tends to be pretty common. And usually for first time course graders, I recommend a one week course, I meet a lot, of course, graders who have have high ambitions and they, you know, they start off wanting to do an eight week course. And then they start building the content and realize that building content that’s high quality and rigorous, takes longer than they expect. So you really want to, you know, give yourself the highest chance of success by tightening, tightening that feedback loop shortening that feedback loop. And when you do a one week course, you can really easily see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re building content first. And then second, you can see what your students love learning the most what they find most helpful, you can test your hypotheses around stuff that you thought might be helpful. But you know, once you once you share with your students a you realize that, you know, hey, like no one really found this that useful. So yeah, so the structure of it in terms of length really varies. Price point wise, the average price points that we see are $500 per student to 1500 per student. So this is over 10 times the price point that you charge on for teachable or Udemy courses, the average Udemy course is 10 to $20 per student. So the great thing about core base courses is because the price point is higher, you don’t need to chase volume in the same way as if your your per student price point was lower. But beyond that, you know, there’s there’s so much innovation happening this base core base courses that we’re seeing so many different instructors try out different course links, different price points for instructors. The module or components, I would say are some form of Live Meeting, you know, that might be Tuesdays and Thursdays, or Monday, Wednesday, Fridays, or even just once a week. As a q&a with the instructor. It really varies. Some instructors love engaging with students and love kind of the performative aspect of teaching live. Others kind of want to do that less, and they want to do more q&a That’s a little bit less structured. So there’s some live component. And then with the asynchronous components, it’s pre reading, it might be videos that we have you watched before you attend the course. So we can spend a lifetime doing stuff that you can only do live. And there’s usually some component of peer interaction. So peers, you know, giving each other feedback. So you might be a product manager in a course with a bunch of other product managers, and you’ll be giving each other feedback on different projects, different exercises. So that networking component and that community component is huge, because you know, so it’s, it’s not so common that we get to meet other people who can nerd out in the same ways that we like to nerd out, whether it’s, you know, improving your craft with writing or becoming a better product manager or becoming better people, manager, better designer, you know, in, I think the luckiest among us might work with people who are similarly passionate about our work. But you know, there’s a lot of people who are the only marketer in their company, right are the only designer and to be surrounded by other designers who are just as excited to push the limits of their craft is really, really exciting. And so usually core base courses have an element of working with peers.

george grombacher 10:36
Yeah, I think it’s super exciting. And I know how valuable community is whenever just leading a happy and, and and full life, but also learning a new skill and getting the support you need and the occasional hand up or kicking the butt, whatever it might be the accountability piece that I think is one of the things that you’ve really tapped into here. I think it’s so exciting. And I imagine that that as technology grows and evolves, it makes these a lot easier versus it’d be hard to probably pull this off 10 years ago.

Unknown Speaker 11:10
For sure. Yeah, even in 2015. Which accounts 1617 8921? Yeah, seven years ago. Now. It doesn’t feel that long ago, you know, I’m using my mind thinking it was a couple years ago, and now it’s seven years ago, it’s kind of nuts. But even then, that was pre pandemic, first of all, and so people were not used to remote collaboration, as much as they are today. I remember our initial cohorts of students feeling skeptical about turning on their webcams, to meet other people online. And you know, was it safe to do that, right, and, and slack was just starting to become really popular and organizations. And I remember putting together documentation on how to sign up for a Slack account, and how to use Slack right. Now, obviously, Slack has amazing documentation on this and help guides. And so yeah, 10 1015 years ago, the technology just wasn’t there to support the kinds of interactions that core racehorses require. And I don’t think that the appetite was there, either. From a student side, you know, I think people were just starting to get used to this idea of online learning, being a way to learn just knowledge and information, just pure information transfer was, you know, could the internet even do that versus being in person in a lecture hall? Right, and I think the last 15 years prove that yes, it’s possible to transfer large amounts of knowledge information, through through online courses. And I think the next 15 years is going to be about not just knowledge transfer, but about transformation, student transformation that comes from hands on practice, active learning, and actually engaging with the material in a community.

george grombacher 12:56
Yeah, I’m super excited. I really am. When I read about and learned about your company, I’ve been aware of Seth Godin for for years, and would listen to him talk about how they structured the alt MBA, how you structured the alt MBA with him, and I was really excited about that. And then we went through the 10 years, the pandemic, at least sort of felt that way, pandemic joke West. But it really is changing the way. And we’re now accepting that of learning where I can be in, in Arizona, but taking a class with like minded professionals that I’ve never met in person, from the top person in the field, it’s just, it’s like going back to college. And the further I get away from that, the more I value, or would have done it differently, and it would be a a platform like this that you’ve created. So I imagined that. And I saw the reviews on your site, but people just must be just eating it up. And I’m sure that you’re growing like crazy.

Unknown Speaker 13:59
Yeah, I think the exciting thing there, that you mentioned and touched on is both on the instructor side and on the learner side. So on the instructor side, there are a bunch of, of experts who don’t want to teach at a university who don’t want to move, you know, to live near, you know, the University of Arizona or Berkeley or Dartmouth, you know, they want to live where they’re living, they want to, you know, do whatever projects they’re doing, and to be able to bring these experts who have hands on experience, who aren’t, you know, in, in ivory towers, to allow them to be able to teach is huge, right, so that it opens up a whole cadre and whole army of what we call digitally native professors, and these are people like letting Richard ski who was an early Product Manager at Airbnb, right or Legion, who is an investor at Andreessen Horowitz now starts started her own firm. People like Noam Segal, UX designer at Twitter, who’s working full time and teaching on Maven. These are all people who wouldn’t have normally participated in a traditional academic setting, right. So now all these people are able to share their knowledge. And learners can now access that, right. So on the other hand with learners, now they can access all these amazing, all this amazing knowledge from these operators as one and then to, to your point of being able to learn and meet all kinds of people who don’t live within a 10 mile radius. You know, I think as working professionals with families with full time jobs, you’re, I don’t know about most people, but I don’t have that much time to go out and try to make new friends and meet people and, and make it a regular part of my schedule and, you know, commute into, you know, now I live in the suburbs, it was to commute into the city, and, you know, so there’s all kinds of friction points that make it hard for working professionals to meet other professionals. So to be able to turn on your computer log in, you know, to even log in to zoom and be able to meet people in Scottsdale, Arizona to be people in New York, in terms of scope in Raleigh, North Carolina, and internationally, you know, people in Hong Kong and in, in Dubai, etc. You know, we hear from so many instructors who are shocked that when they log in they have and they ask, you know, hey, where’s everyone logging in from? There are students who are logging in from all over the world from dozens of different time zones. And that just wouldn’t have been possible before.

george grombacher 16:19
Amazing, super exciting. Wes, people ready for that difference making tip? What do you have for them?

Unknown Speaker 16:28
All right, my difference making tip is, I believe that there are so many experts who are self conscious about whether they have enough expertise. And I think if you are the kind of person that questions whether you have enough expertise, you you probably do. There are a bunch of people who are not even asking themselves that question for just, you know, sharing, sharing, screen sharing, right, like, give me the mic. Let me be loud, right. So there are all these thoughtful, rigorous operators who have a ton of credibility, who, who question themselves, you know, and on the one hand, that’s great, because you do want to make sure that you have enough to share before you kind of go out sharing. But I want to encourage anyone who is feeling a bit self conscious to really think about to really consider sharing your knowledge more broadly, you know, and it doesn’t need to be via a course right away. It can be sharing on LinkedIn, it can be sharing on Twitter, it can be sharing via, you know, your blog, or articles, but we need more credible operators to share their voice online.

george grombacher 17:31
Well, I think that that is great stuff that definitely gets Come on. Let’s thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And how can course creators get involved with Maven? And how can students take advantage of these wonderful cohort based courses?

Unknown Speaker 17:47
We’re at And at Maven HQ, and I’m at West underscore Kayo on Twitter. And in terms of learning more about courses, we have a free accelerator program. The Maven course is all later a course that I personally teach. It’s two weeks long, we teach you everything that you need to know to build a quart racehorse from beginning to end. It’s one of the fastest, most efficient ways to learn the entire process of that and it’s completely free.

george grombacher 18:13
Amazing. If you enjoyed as much as I did, show us your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to It’s ma v And if you’re interested in looking into or checking out actually becoming a creator, which we need you to do, check out west is Maven course accelerator program, and they’ll teach you everything that you need to know and prep you for actually making it happen. Nick, find Wes on Instagram at Wes and it’s ke o it’s pronounced K Oh, excellent. Thanks again, Wes.

Unknown Speaker 18:47
Thanks, George.

george grombacher 18:49
And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

Unknown Speaker 18:53

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