Digital learning enables us to learn in ways that are more convenient and accessible than many traditional methods. The last 2 years have seen a heavy reliance on digital learning programs, but as we emerge from pandemic induced isolation and as technology improves, the benefits of cohort learning programs are becoming apparent.
Social and peer interaction is a key reason digital learners complete assigned content. Online courses that encourage a sense of belonging in their participants have been proven to be more successful than solo efforts. This is particularly the case for online university and MOOC style courses, but the same can certainly be said for training in a corporate environment.
While the obligatory compliance style “eLearns” are prevalent, organisations are now relying on more formal academy style programs that are delivered through an online format. Topics include management, leadership, professional practice, apprenticeships and other important certifications and it is vital for participants to engage to complete the training.
Connectivism is a learning theory that is most relevant for the digital learning age. At its core, Connectivism encourages the notion that learning can reside outside of ourselves (as opposed to other theories that claim all learning is internal to an individual). This refers to the collective knowledge that resides in an organisation’s people, or in a database or content repository (such as an intranet, microsite, MOOC platform or learning platform like ClearXP).
The fundamental benefits and ideals of connectivism are apparent in learning cohorts. Members of a cohort motivating one another to participate is an important factor. The valuable collective knowledge that exists within the cohort can be shared and then leveraged by an individual, or by future cohorts, and ultimately the organisation. The key is having the ability to capture and leverage this collective knowledge.
A cohort-based program in an organisational setting can take many forms. It can be as simple as being added to a group on a messaging app like Yammer and being sent messages periodically. A more comprehensive approach is to utilise a Cohort Learning Platform that can enhance and track the experience through dedicated learning academies or programs. These act as central places for the cohort to interact, find knowledge and submit assessments. All of which is saved as resources for the organisation to utilise and connect to learning as needed. A cohort will interact with the learning platform, resources, their peers, mentors and instructors, following the same time frames.
A successful Cohort Learning program will consist of:
Successful digital learning programs provide a sense of belonging and one way to do this is by providing a cohort-specific social feed. Ensuring that contributions are meaningful, impactful, and relevant and central to a program’s desired outcomes are the best use of social learning mechanisms.
Keep the cohort up to date and across any conversation or important events in the program. Make sure the notifications stay relevant and not too intrusive so members are compelled to find out if others have commented or like their contributions and the momentum and flow of the group will stay on track.
Ways to connect and collect knowledge
Providing opportunities for groups to co-contribute and collaborate can result in valuable relationships forming. Insights from the wealth of experience and knowledge that the combined group provides should be recorded and made available as resources for future cohorts.
Seamless relationships with mentors and instructors
The relationship and feedback that can be gained from instructors and mentors within a cohort environment should be as seamless as possible. Workflows that provide immediate and clear communications between a mentor and mentee allow the learner to quickly leverage the information gained, and can enhance their interactions with the wider cohort.
Cater to in person, video meetings and digital activities
To cater to the needs of a modern workforce, the cohort learning program should consist of activities that can be run as face-to-face workshops, video conference meetings or by using digital learning activities.
Peer-to-peer and peer-to-mentor relationships are crucial to ensuring successful completion of a program. These relationships can continue to be meaningful throughout an employee’s tenure and prove to be valuable to the people and the organisation as a whole.
Advances in technology and more awareness of the benefits of social and networked learning, will hopefully see an increase in the usage of cohort learning programs. The benefits to learners and ultimately organisations make a compelling argument that should shift thinking in learning design.