Are Cohort-Based Courses the Future of E-learning?
What we learned with 34 Elements academy
E-learning was supposed to be a revolution. However, completion rates have been dismal. Between 2013 and 2018 completion rates for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have declined to reach a concerning 3% to 6% in 2018.
Let’s investigate how we ended up in this situation and what lies ahead.
Learning has always been connected with teachers, the classic one-to-one interaction. A teacher would pass on his/her knowledge to an apprentice. Teaching was first class but did not scale well.
So we invented schools and universities, where a teacher could gather a large group of individuals and create a generic program to teach at scale.
Then the digital age came in. We first leveraged digital platforms as a way to augment teachers. Teachers could share documents, videos, with a larger group.
That worked quite well to a point where we decided that the human touch, the teacher, was no longer necessary. That was e-learning. It started with top universities namely Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. They converted their written content into digital and shared it with the world. The MOOCs were born.
E-learning has gone through different iterations while keeping the same logic, it must be 100% digital. So we moved from MOOCs to platforms, think Udemy, to empower anyone to share and monetize knowledge. Although it democratized e-learning, it did not help improve the conversion rate.
We are now at the point where we have created very sophisticated platforms, we have onboarded countless talented individuals to share their unique knowledge, but we are still facing a wall when it comes to retention and completion. I am not even addressing the poor monetization for educators.
Why is e-learning having issues?
There is a lot of content and great content on the internet, so much that it has become overwhelming. Users don’t know what to choose from, on what media. How do you filter quality? Let’s say you want to take a piano lesson. How many systems, apps, teachers can you investigate? Worse if you have a clear idea of the kind of teaching you’re looking for, good luck finding it.
There are a lot of platforms. Content is spread out on countless platforms. The main ones, YouTube, Social Media, e-learning platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, Lynda (Linkedin learning now), Skillshare, Thinkific, Teachable, and of course specific websites. Searching is challenging.
e-learning is relying on learners’ motivation to complete the course. If you have ever seen the BJ Fogg behavioral model, you know that motivation comes and goes and you cannot control it. The BJ Fogg model shows that motivation alone is never enough, taking into account abilities and triggering behaviors is also fundamental. No wonder why completion rates are dismal.
The new trend emerging now is CBC, read Cohort Based Courses. We analyzed that the poor completion rate was related to a lack of accountability. Teaching in cohorts brings accountability and conversion rates have been fantastic, more than 90% in most cases. What we did in essence is bring back the humans, in this instance a community, in the loop.
So in our quest for teaching at scale, we started with one-to-one teachers, then teachers implementing programs at scale, then teachers augmented by digital, then just digital, and we are now with pure digital augmented by teachers and communities.
With 34 elements I started a Cohort Based Course. In essence, you work with live students, our main topic is startup strategic thinking, you make them accountable to one another (presentations, break-out sessions, interactions) and in the end, everyone is really engaged and learning occurs. It’s community-driven, timing is clear, there is a start and an end date.
Key learnings so far.
Learning by doing is much more effective than learning by listening (masterclasses). We present core ideas like any teacher, however, we connect the learnings to concrete tasks to work on, which leads to an outcome to present in the next session. Students spend a significant amount of time working on it. They do it because it is practical and useful, and because there is the main session coming up where they will expose to the community the work they’ve done. We also implemented a rating system, where each performance is scored by the cohort. If you suck there is no place to hide.
CBCs are fantastic, but, scaling is still challenging. Community learning cannot occur without a framework and some guidance. A “guide” is still essential and scaling a guide is not easy. Students can learn from students, however, the teacher/students connection is still very much in play.
It is hard to engage a CBC without the proper infrastructure. Although a lot happens in live sessions, you need to provide a platform for students that supports the framework. At 34 elements we developed an entire software that supports the asynchronous homework and provides a complete diagnostic at the end of the academy.
A CBC needs to come with a scenario. For us, it starts with music, a great ice breaker, then a cohort survey with 4 questions, breakout rooms with 3 startups per room, the main session with a presentation, comments, and scoring, and an introduction to the next topic. You also need to throw in some surprises to break the routine.
CBCs are community-driven, however, you need to be creative to keep the community engaged after the course. We all go through an intensive 7 weeks and then the pressure goes down. This is a place where we still have work to do.
That’s it folks if you want to know more about our CBC go to www.34elements.com.