Dummies Guide to Cohort-Based Teaching

Muskaan Choudhary
July 16, 2024
12 min read

In today’s fast changing job-market and employers continually looking for employees with a unique skill set, it’s becoming harder and harder to learn new things quickly. This is also a problem for students today.

Not only is there a baffling amount of content available and expected from us to know, but even more exhausting is the learning, memorizing, and application part. Something that could make all this easier? Cohort-based learning.

To explain it in the simplest terms, cohort-based learning involves learning within groups. Like in classrooms! Only difference is, now this is possible online. All individuals enroll for a single program and make their way through it as a group.

You stick to deadlines, complete assignments together, just like in person, except it’s all happening online and live. If we go at face value, the term “cohort” literally means “a group of people”. Thus, you learn with a group of people.


How does cohort-based learning help with better memory?

We agree, it’s all empty blabber without the science. So, let’s discuss the science behind better memory while learning in cohorts.

In an experiment, Hermann Ebbinghaus, a 19th century German psychologist tested his memory over varying periods of time. After collecting the data, he plotted it all on a graph which is now known as the “Ebbinghaus forgetting curve” (pictured below). He discovered that with time, our memory deteriorates.

When we study alone, we typically remember 28% after 2 days. If we practice it again, it goes up to 46%. However, if we apply the information, answer questions about it, and interact, we can remember up to 68%. The reason? Continual recall, application, interaction. All of these things help the information to adhere to our memory.

Benefits of Cohort-Based Learning

Cohort-based learning is a no-brainer  for people who prefer learning in groups or like collaborative work better. It also has other benefits like:

  • Assistance

Others in the cohort or even the faculty can assist you with any issue you might be having. It could be needing some help with an assignment or maybe if you need to discuss your career or future goals. You could always turn to them for some extra motivation too.

  • Approach

When you work in groups, you are automatically exposed to multiple approaches, perspectives, and outlooks. This can help you with personal growth – as it broadens your knowledge in multiple ways.

You could get to know better about other areas of study or work that you might find yourself interested in too. This benefit is unavailable with self-paced learning since you are the only one doing the course.

  • Collaboration

In an online setting, cooperation and collaboration on projects induces productivity. Because it lets you interact better with your “batchmates”, it helps facilitate a better learning experience as well as environment.

  • Networking

Online cohorts help you build relationships across the world. These people could be from the opposite end of the world; the course connects you to them. This way you can also find people who share similar interests and make connections and relationships globally.

  • Discipline

Learning with other people also helps you stay on track with deadlines, assignments, and projects. You can make yourself a schedule accordingly to keep yourself motivated throughout the course. Another great thing is, since you’re not alone, your batchmates too can help keep you accountable for your work and help you stay driven.

Teaching Cohort-based Courses 

As soon as the world shifted online, people readily dived head-first into self-paced courses. However, like any other new and happening thing, its excitement soon started to wear off due to the low productivity rates. On the other hand, cohort-based learning started gaining momentum due its high completion and productivity rates.

This is why learners are eventually moving towards a cohort-based learning model. Not only does it have the aforementioned benefits but it is also supplemented with live interaction and learning. This has boosted student engagement rates.

Teaching these courses can seem like a task once you’re too used to one-on-one teaching or creating self-paced courses. Below are some tips to get started.

Planning your Cohort:

👥 Cohort Strength 

It is extremely vital to only bite off what you can chew. Taking up too many students in one cohort will affect your workflow as well as their studies. In this scenario, you will most probably end up with too much work and won’t be able to pay individual attention to your students. This might also put strain on your student-teacher relationship.

Thus, it is best to only keep a limited number of students in one cohort. This helps you pay attention to everyone and the students will feel better connected to you and other classmates. Once you get comfortable with teaching a small group, you can gradually increase the strength of your cohort.

📅 Lesson planning

Your classes are finally about to start, you’ve planned your schedule, everything is ready to go. The next crucial step is to devise a lesson plan.

A lesson plan will help you navigate through the entire course. It will be like a road map to tell you what the students need to learn and how it will be done effectively during class time. A lesson plan will help you set a rough framework for your goals and will help you determine the tasks you deem to be fit for your cohort. 

There are multiple resources like Blendspace, Planbook, and Chalk available today for this purpose. They allow you to plan your lessons on a daily, weekly, or bi-weekly basis, allow you to design activities and interactive games for your students, and let you grade them too.

Keeping yourself organized will alleviate a lot of stress that might otherwise come with the hassle of online classes. Maintain a proper log of attendance, classes, grades, assignments, and so on. Decide on the content to be covered throughout the course and divide it on a day-to-day basis. This will also help you manage your time better. 

⏲️ Time Differences 

It is extremely important to keep in mind that your cohort could vary in terms of geography. Since many people would be joining from different parts of the world, design a course that is easy for everyone to follow. Keep the assignment deadlines a minimum of one day after the class to give them some flexibility. It is also better to assure the learners that you will be posting recorded lectures in case they miss any due to the time difference. This will also allow the learners to attend your classes comfortably and get comfortable with each other. 

📱 Promote

Once you have settled on what kind of course you would like to teach to people, figure out how you would promote them. Marketing your course to the right audience plays a huge role in deciding other factors like your schedule, course material, and so on.

Some of the ways to do this is via social media, blogs, podcasts. If you would like to explore more, here are some more ideas to promote your online classes to students

🤼 Competition and USP 

With online teaching and classes gaining momentum, this market has already become extremely competitive. Thus it is important to determine your differentiator and study your competition. 

Determining your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is extremely important for differentiating yourself from your competition. Think of it as, this one factor will set you apart from them. Something to remember while defining your USP is to stay true to who you are. Ask yourself questions like,

  • What does your course offer that no other course does?
  • Why would a student opt for your course over the others?

During Cohort:

🤝 Engagement

Keeping your students engaged is a huge part of being a teacher. This can especially feel like a hard task if you are new to cohort based teaching. 

To drive up your student engagement, one great thing to do would be to keep fun tasks and activities that are also educational. You can ask the students to work together on projects. This will also help them build their soft skills, which will also equip them with other interpersonal skills needed in the job industry.

You can also refer to this article on five ways to engage learners throughout a cohort program by Harvard Business.

✍️ Give Feedback

Providing timely feedback to your students will not only help them stay on track, it will also help them know where they’re going right, and where they’re going wrong. However, doing so in a way that does not interfere with their self-esteem can be a complicated task. 

Remember to convey the message positively while also giving constructive criticism effectively. One great way to do this is by conducting one on one sessions with them. In case you need help, here are 4 uncomplicated ways to provide students with effective feedback.

📋 Testimonials

Let learners know you care about their experience. You can collect testimonials from your students during, after, or throughout the course. Prepare discussion forums for your students. This will give them a space to give any feedback, reflect, discuss, or even ask questions. 

You could also pass out surveys using Survey Monkey or ask for more detailed, informal responses using Airtable or Google Forms. If the students like your class, they would automatically give out a good response. Post these responses on your webpages and social media. This will help your social standing and create a good brand image. 

In Summary

Learning in cohorts is an effective way to remember and understand the material better. Teaching cohort-based courses will be beneficial as well since these are slowly gaining momentum as opposed to self-paced courses. The latter seems to have lost its appeal over time and learning in groups is becoming the new thing. 

Lastly, do not put yourself under too much pressure. There exists no such thing as the “perfect” cohort. Take recommendations and suggestions from your cohorts and strive to be better each time. Refine and iterate your course to make the experience better and more fulfilling each time. 

Muskaan Choudhary

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