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The Value of Cohort-Based Courses

George Grombacher July 20, 2022

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The Value of Cohort-Based Courses

Making changes is hard. There’s a gap between what many of us intellectually know, and what we actually do. Too often, it takes an unfortunate event or hitting rock bottom to jump start a change. 

What can be done to proactively make changes? Enter cohort-based courses and learning. 


A cohort is a group of people who are banded together. In this context, it’s a group of people all working to learn and get better in a specific area. Cohort-based courses exist for most every topic, from physical fitness to online marketing. 


In this post, I’m going to give you an overview of what they are, why they’re effective, and how you can potentially benefit from them. 


I’ve been utilizing cohort-based learning for the past 10 years as a trainer at the corporate and individual level, so I can attest to their positive impact. 


Here’s what we’ll cover:


  • What are cohort-based courses?

  • Why cohort-based courses are effective

  • How you can benefit from them


Let’s get started.


What are cohort-based courses?


When you think of a course, either online or in-person, what comes to mind? For me, I picture someone standing in front of a classroom giving a presentation or lecture. Sounds right? While there’s value in that type of learning, there’s no opportunity for collaboration. That’s what makes cohort-based learning different. 


With cohort-based learning, there is still an instructor in charge of the content and leading the sessions, but there are additional components to it as well. Unlike independent learning, a group of students begin and finish the course on the same schedule. This provides opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, and results in a far greater completion rate (over 75%) versus traditional, independent courses (6% completion rate). 


Technology has enabled the growth and innovation of this type of learning. Like-minded students from all over the world can come together to learn together. 


Live sessions are an integral part of cohort-based learning. For example, a two-week course could include live instruction on Mondays and Wednesdays, and breakout sessions with the cohort on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There’s no “correct” structure to a cohort-based course. 


Mastermind groups have been around for a long time, and are a great example of cohort-based learning. Vistage is a great example of a group of CEOs who get together to learn from experts, as well as benefit from the first-hand knowledge and experience of their fellow cohort members.  


Cohort-based learning can take place both online and off-line. Again, technology is making almost any type of learning possible. 


Why cohort-based courses are effective


Briefly going back to the reality that only 6% of traditional online courses get completed, versus the 75% completion rate for cohort-based courses, I think those numbers are extremely compelling. But what is it that makes this method of learning so effective? 


Self-determination theory teaches us that to motivate action, three variables must be present:


  • Autonomy. Autonomy speaks to our desire to complete tasks in the way we see fit. Since we’re choosing to enroll in the course, we check this box. 

  • Competence. Humans have a desire for mastery. We want to learn how to do things, and eventually get good at them. The nature of any kind of course provides this.   

  • Relatedness. Finally, we all want to feel like we’re connected to others, and we support what we help to create. When we have the opportunity to both learn and teach others, we satisfy this desire. This is where a cohort makes all the difference. 


This structure also provides real time help and feedback. If you get stuck on something, you can immediately get help from other members of the cohort. 


Finally, a cohort provides accountability. When the expectation of getting work done is agreed upon, it dramatically increases the likelihood we’ll actually do it. 


How you can benefit from them


From my experience, most anyone can benefit from this structure. Individuals, companies, and community groups have all gotten great results. 




Instead of enrolling in a traditional course, enrolling in a cohort automatically puts you into a community of like-minded people. For the reasons expressed earlier, you’ll benefit from being a member.




Introducing cohort-based learning within a company can be a great way to foster new learning, as well as strengthen a positive culture. Many companies have begun focusing on overall wellness, and there are cohort-based programs on everything from mental health to personal finance, to the arts. 


Community groups


Much like companies, community groups already have a built-in cohort. These types of courses can help strengthen bonds between members and improve the group as a whole. 




People support what they help to create. Working in a cohort can create and strengthen relationships, create community, improve culture, and drive great results. I’ve seen the benefits first-hand and encourage you to give it a shot the next time you’re interested in learning something new. 


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