Cohort-driven online education experiences see new investment

We are in the midst of the great un-bundling in higher education, where blogs, MOOCs, and certificates are replacing academic papers, lectures and degrees. Another education model seems to be gaining steam in the era of remote work and alternative degrees: cohort-based online learning experiences.

Although this is nothing completely new (experimental educators such as the next Economy MBA and onDeck Fellowship are experimenting with cohort-driven formats), what’s of note is that $4.32M was raised to build a platform to enable creators and educators to build their own cohort-driven experiences. Read more about the newly funded platform.

The size of the opportunity: MOOCs have a 6-7% completion rate, while some cohort driven experiences tout a 90% completion rate.

How do they do it? The core problem that cohort-driven courses addresses appears to be commitment. Creating bonds and relationships with others in the course creates a stickiness that pushes one through. Anecdotally (being a lifelong learner and experimented with many different formats of supplemental education myself), I also prefer having a cohort of peers to encourage me, coach me, and exchange ideas with.

From Wes Kao, one of the founders of the new start-up

We wanted to tap into mechanisms to enable people to be more accountable.
a) to see each other during learning sessions, so we use Zoom;
b) to learn on a synchronous schedule, so we have students meet in real-time Tues/Thurs/Sunday;
c) to receive coaching support, so we use Slack for coach/student interactions.
Synchronous times for students getting together is critical, and students are required to attend. People push back in the beginning, but then they do very well.

How to Design an Online Course with 96% Completion Rate

Another benefit of these programs seem to be the value of networks. Since many of these cohort platforms and education networks are in their infancy, there are many benefits to being a part of an “early adopter” crew. Buzzy programs with “stars” of the growth hacking + start-up world attach themselves to the enrollment pages. No doubt there are benefits to being able to grow and connect with them, but I’m skeptical that those benefits are sustainable as networks grow.

Some of the challenges for these programs appear to be balancing intimacy with scale. Creating a platform for these learning experiences will no doubt help less technical creators to be able to distribute their learning offering better while focusing on the relationships and people in the course.

I look forward to seeing how these programs develop into a landscape, both as an observer and a participant.