What is Cohort Based Learning? Definition, Process & Tips Explained

Learn all about cohort-based learning and how you can use it to boost employee engagement and skill-building.

Together Team

Published on 

November 14, 2023

Updated on 

Time to Read

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A football team can’t win unless its members are working together to achieve a goal, right? They have to collaborate and work in a group to reach the end zone and score a touchdown. 

Working in a group to get to a goal can be incredibly effective when you plan and coordinate with each other–and in today’s corporate world, that group power could help your team as they go through training together.

It’s also called cohort-based learning, and when it’s used properly, it can have a positive impact on employee development.

What is cohort-based learning? 

Cohort-based learning happens when learners enroll in a course or program together and progress through it as a group. This method typically involves interactive activities, collaborative projects, peer support, and focuses on building a strong community among the students. 

In this type of learning, learners will often:

  • Follow a schedule together, which provides accountability and a strong sense of motivation
  • Collaborate, which builds a more dynamic and engaging learning environment as students learn from each other
  • Go through hands-on learning, and real-world projects to apply knowledge and skills in more practical ways
  • Mentor each other and work with mentors to get personalized feedback so they can work on any challenges or questions together
eBook Starting a peer mentorship program

Examples of cohort-based learning

If you’re interested in using cohort-based learning for your employees, explore the different types in which you can enroll them. Depending on your organization’s needs and timeframe, there are several options:

Bootcamps

Bootcamps are intensive, short-term cohort-based programs that focus on teaching specific skills, such as coding, data analytics, or digital marketing. Participants work together in a cohort, following a structured curriculum and completing hands-on projects. Bootcamps provide a fast-paced, immersive learning experience with a strong sense of community and collaboration.

Online courses

Many online courses are structured around a cohort model, where students progress through the course material together and interact with one another through online forums or virtual group meetings. This allows for peer learning and support, as well as accountability to stay on track with the course. 

Executive education programs

Cohort-based executive education programs are often offered by universities or business schools and are designed for working professionals looking to advance their skills and knowledge. These programs typically have a small group of participants who work together on case studies, projects, and discussions.

Mentorship programs

Cohort-based mentorship programs match mentors with a group of mentees who have similar goals and interests. The cohort model encourages peer learning and support, as well as building a community of like-minded individuals. With mentoring software, you can match mentors and mentees based on their skills and learning goals. 

🧠 Check out how these reputed companies successfully leverage mentoring programs using mentorship software.

Fellowship programs

Fellowship programs are cohort-based learning experiences designed for recent graduates or early-career professionals to gain practical skills and insights in a specific field. Fellows work together on research projects or internships, often collaborating with experts in their field. 

Continuing education courses

Cohort-based continuing education courses allow professionals to learn new skills or stay updated on their industry in a group setting. These courses can be offered online or in person, and the cohort model provides a peer-to-peer learning experience and accountability to complete the course.

Benefits of cohort-based learning for learners

Traditional classroom-style settings present a range of challenges for individual learners. These may include a rigid and one-size-fits-all curriculum, limited opportunities for personalized learning, and a lack of connection with peers and instructors. 

However, cohort-based learning offers a dynamic and collaborative approach to training that addresses these challenges. Learners are placed in small groups or cohorts that work closely together. They get a supportive environment where they engage with peers, receive personalized attention from instructors, and collaborate on assignments. A smaller environment provides more flexibility to help students get their needs and interests met.

This approach to learning embraces the uniqueness of each learner and provides a supportive and enriching environment for their educational journey.

Enhanced collaboration and peer interaction

Cohort-based learning brings together a group of learners who are at similar stages in their academic or professional journey. This creates a strong sense of community and belonging, as well as opportunities for collaboration and networking. Learners can support each other through their academic or professional challenges. This can include sharing resources, providing feedback on assignments, and motivating each other to stay on track.

Senior learning strategist Rory Sacks and Together co-founder Nathan Goldstein chat about the role of social learning in the workplace.

Tailored learning experiences

In a cohort-based learning setting, the class may be smaller. This allows instructors to have a better understanding of their learners' strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. With that information, the teacher can offer personalized instruction and support, leading to a more effective learning experience.

Skill development and application

Cohort learning promotes a supportive learning environment where participants learn from each other's experiences, which prepares them for real-world challenges and builds their confidence in applying their theoretical knowledge in practical situations. This type of learning encourages employees to work together, solve problems, and share their perspectives, which enhances their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

Building a supportive learning community

Having a supportive network provides a sense of community and encourages collaboration and motivation. Emotional support within cohorts is vital as it allows people to feel valued and understood. Without this support, students may struggle to reach their full potential and may feel isolated or disconnected from the learning process. In a cohort, students can support and lift each other up to create a strong and successful learning environment.

Access to mentorship opportunities

In a cohort, mentors act as role models, sharing their experiences and knowledge to help others grow and succeed. Mentorship enhances the overall learning experience by providing practical insights and real-world advice. A mentor can provide personalized feedback, challenge mentees to think critically, and encourage them to explore new perspectives and approaches to learning. 

Benefits of cohort-based learning for organizations 

Employee training is a crucial aspect of any organization's success. It equips employees with the necessary skills and tools to perform their job efficiently and effectively. However, traditional methods such as lectures, reading, and one-time workshops have several shortcomings in today's ever-changing business landscape, such as:

  • Lack of personalization: These methods often involve generic and one-size-fits-all approaches, which may not address the specific needs and learning styles of each employee.
  • Not enough time: They’re often limited to a one-time event, which may not provide enough time for employees to absorb and apply the newly acquired knowledge and skills. 
  • Costly and time-consuming: Workshops can involve travel expenses, venue rentals, and hiring external trainers. For smaller businesses especially, that extra cost can be a huge constraint.

Instead of traditional methods, try cohort-based learning for your organization. It offers a personalized learning experience and continuous and ongoing support, allowing employees to apply their learning in real-time and receive feedback from peers and instructors. You may see a higher retention rate and a more significant impact on employee performance and job satisfaction.

Enhanced engagement and motivation

Cohort-based learning brings together a group of individuals who are all committed to learning and growing together. This sense of shared purpose creates a strong sense of belonging and community within the cohort. Knowing that they are not alone in their learning journey and having peers to turn to for help and encouragement can be a powerful motivator to keep pushing forward toward their goals.

Collaborative learning culture

In a cohort, learners bring their diverse perspectives and experiences to the table for a rich exchange of ideas, promoting active participation among students. Additionally, cohort-based learning provides a supportive environment where employees learn from their peers and serve as mentors to each other, fostering a sense of teamwork and camaraderie. This peer-to-peer mentorship allows for the sharing of skills, knowledge, and experiences, ultimately enhancing the learning experience for all members of the cohort.

Flexibility and adaptability

Cohort-based learning helps people develop the agility and flexibility to adapt to new challenges and demands. They also have the opportunity to learn from industry experts, keeping them up to date with the latest trends and strategies. This equips employees with the necessary skills to contribute to their organization’s success in a rapidly changing business landscape.

How to design effective cohort-based learning programs 

A well-designed cohort-based program focuses on creating a supportive and collaborative learning environment, where employees can learn from and with their peers. To design a program, there are some necessary elements you’ll need to create engaging and impactful cohort-based learning programs

Understanding cohort-based learning program objectives

When you have clear learning goals and outcomes that align your program objectives with overall educational or organizational goals, it’s easier to measure the success and effectiveness of a learning program. It provides a clear direction for both learners and instructors, ensuring that everyone is working towards the same set of objectives. 

By having well-defined learning goals and outcomes, learners understand what they need to achieve and how their learning contributes to their personal and professional growth. Organizations also benefit from this alignment as it ensures that the learning program is in line with their strategic objectives, resulting in a more productive and impactful workforce. 

Curriculum design for collaboration

A cohort-based curriculum is designed to promote group interaction and foster a sense of community within a cohort group. Incorporate various elements that support both group interaction and individual learning paths. Your curriculum can be divided into smaller modules or learning units, where each unit focuses on a specific subject or skill. 

Within these modules, include group projects or discussions that encourage collaboration and active participation among cohort members. At the same time, cater to individual learning paths by providing personalized assignments that align with an individual's learning goals. By striking a balance between group interaction and individual learning, a cohort-based curriculum can provide a dynamic and supportive learning environment for all students.

Technology integration for cohort engagement

Choosing an appropriate learning management system (LMS) for cohort-based learning enhances the overall learning experience. It is important to select a platform that not only allows for easy access to course materials and assessments but also promotes communication and collaboration among students. 

The LMS should have features like discussion boards, group projects, and live chat options to facilitate interaction and foster a sense of community within the cohort. Incorporate interactive tools like video conferencing, virtual whiteboards, and gamification elements can further engage students and encourage active participation in the learning process. 

Assessment and feedback mechanisms

Create a variety of assessments, such as individual projects, group presentations, and written exams so you can assess how each member of the cohort is doing. Make sure your assessments are aligned with learning objectives and provide a clear understanding of what is expected. It is also important to provide timely, constructive feedback to students on their performance. That feedback helps them identify their strengths and areas for improvement.

Building a supportive learning community

For your cohort to be effective, you need a supportive environment. Ensure each team member has the support needed to reach out if they need something—make it feel like a safe space for them. Offer activities outside of the course for participants to bond, or provide resources if they need help. 

One such resource could be a mentor that they’re paired with, who can guide them through the course and answer any questions they have. Encourage them to communicate with other cohort members and share learning experiences with each other.

Addressing challenges in cohort-based learning

Cohort learning involves a group of students with different backgrounds, learning styles, and personalities coming together to learn and collaborate. That diversity can be both beneficial and challenging. 

On one hand, the diversity brings a richness of perspectives and ideas that can enhance the learning experience. However, it can also lead to conflicts, miscommunications, and difficulty in finding common ground. Additionally, students may have varying levels of prior knowledge and skills, making it challenging to design lessons and activities that cater to everyone's needs.

How mentorship helps with cohort-based learning 

By providing guidance, support, and individualized attention, mentors can positively impact the development and success of their mentees. Mentors gain the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise, and in doing so, reinforce their own learning while also gaining fresh perspectives from their mentees. The mentees, on the other hand, benefit from the mentor's experience and can accelerate their learning by receiving personalized feedback and advice. 

Additionally, mentorship can also create a sense of community and camaraderie within the cohort, fostering a collaborative and supportive learning environment. Other ways mentorship supplements the cohort learning experience include:

  • Fostering community engagement: Mentors help build a strong sense of community and can facilitate connections among the participants, which creates a supportive learning environment.
  • Offering guidance and personalized learning: When a mentor gets to know their mentees, they’re able to provide individualized guidance and shed light on their mentees’ strengths to help them through challenges. That helps learners grow while they’re in the program.
  • Transferring knowledge and developing skills: A mentor brings practical industry insights to a cohort, making it easier for students to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios.
  • Motivating students and offering accountability: Motivation plays a big factor in the success of a learning experience—and a mentor can help participants stay motivated by encouraging them and checking up on them throughout their program. That accountability can motivate students to stay on track with their learning.
  • Providing networking opportunities: A mentor will have experience and connections already. They can use those connections to offer program participants some networking opportunities. If someone is interested in a specific field, the mentor could introduce them to a person who has a lot of experience.

Ready to start your own cohort-based learning experience?

Building a cohort-based learning experience from the ground up can be overwhelming, but there are many tools out there to help you get started. As you plan your curriculum, make sure to include a mentor program that will enrich your participants’ learning. 

With Together, you can use our pairing algorithm and ROI calculator to facilitate a strong mentorship program and in turn, effective cohort-based learning. Together’s software enhances communication between mentors and mentees, helps track progress in the relationship, and more. Investing in Together can help boost your cohort-based learning initiatives.

Contact us now to set up a demo of our easy-to-use mentoring software.

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