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he cohort-based learning vs. self-paced learning narrative has recently been subject to industry-wide discourse. Many educators are quite divided about which learning models offer the most value in contemporary times. Others simply do not understand the application and distinct features of both learning models.

As an educator, it is critical to understand the difference between cohorts and self-paced learning, as this will help direct your course offering and teaching pattern. So how do they differ? 🤔

In simple terms, Cohort contrasts with self-paced learning in that it focuses on cooperative learning and collaboration rather than on individual-based study. We’ll talk more about this as we progress.

We have put this guide together first to highlight the differences between cohort-based courses and the other alternatives; secondly, to show you which is more beneficial. In essence, we don’t want you to fly blindly, and we don’t want you to remain in the past.

But before we head on, you should check out the EducateMe platform to see more resources on how to get started with the most beneficial course offering. Send us a message; we are always willing to help out.

Cohort vs. Self-paced Learning vs. Alternative Learning Models: Which Is More Beneficial?

What Is the Difference between Cohort-Based Learning and Self-paced Learning?

As you already know, there are various learning models, let’s compare them against cohort based learning.

What Is the Difference between Cohort-Based Learning and Self-paced Learning?

Let's start with their definitions and see what differentiates cohorts from self-paced education. 🚀

What is cohort-based learning?

Cohort-based learning is an educational model with collaborative features in which learners work together through a given course curriculum at the same pace. Of course, this has always been a traditional method of classroom learning. Still, with the trend of online courses and virtual classrooms, cohort-based learning is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to self-paced learning. 

Benefits and drawbacks of cohort-based learning

So, why is learning in a cohort so beneficial, and what are the drawbacks?

Advantages of cohort based learning

For Students:

  • Higher completion rates as a result of extrinsic motivation prove the effectiveness of cohort-based learning.
  • Cohort-based learning adds perspective, activity, and practice to learning.
  • Learning as a group supports greater accountability, structure, and commitment to study.
  • Cohort-based learning enhances retention through group discussions, practical problem solving, and case studies.

For Instructors:

  • Cohort-based learning helps instructors measure their efforts and effectiveness.
  • Because cohort-based learning creates a fairly personalized learning experience, it is easy for instructors to identify individual learning outcomes.
  • Instructors are better able to plan

In the Workplace:

  • Cohort-based learning in the workplace helps coworkers to collaborate, connect and engage.
  • It creates a better understanding of common goals and builds rapport for efficient teamwork.

For Business Owners:

  • Many business owners prefer the cohort-based learning approach because it encourages not only business expertise but also leadership behavior, inclusiveness, collaboration, and networking.
  • Cohort-based learning saves time.
  • Businesses can increase their revenue by adopting cohort learning.

Disadvantages of Cohort-Based Learning

For Students:

  • Cohort-based learning does not afford the flexibility options that some learners might desperately need.
  • As in a classroom setting, group learning often creates a selection bias due to different skill levels and comprehension rates.
  • Cohort-based learning is expensive.

For Instructors:

  • Group dynamics may pose a problem for the instructor. Different personalities within the group can make cooperation difficult.

What is self-paced learning?

Self-paced learning is an approach wherein learners are allowed to determine the pace and order of their learning. Many online courses are self-paced, so participants can decide what aspects of the course are relevant to them or not, the order in which they prefer to study, allocate the duration, and turn in assessments at any time.

Pros and cons of self-paced learning

An advantage of self-paced learning is that it provides flexible learning options for participants with tight schedules by removing the pressure of deadlines. However, its flexibility also makes it easy for participants to get distracted and lose motivation along the line. 

Cohort-based learning often introduces the factors of accountability and teamwork that are essential in maintaining the learning drive.🔥

CBCs vs. MOOCs

CBCs vs. MOOCs

CBCs are learning programs that incorporate the cohort-based learning style. They are engaging, interactive, practical, and time-bound.

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are the opposite of CBCs. They are completely asynchronous and self-paced.

CBCs have been generally observed to have higher completion rates than MOOCs. Some studies have shown that while CBCs have a completion rate of up to 85%, MOOCs usually manage a measly 10% – 15%. 👌

Benefits of CBCs

For Students:

  • In CBCs, students are incorporated into environments with similar-minded learners. This creates a certain degree of accountability, responsibility, and teamwork in the learning experience.
  • CBCs afford learners a direct relationship with instructors.

For Instructors:

  • CBCs deal with a select group of learners. A lot of questions are answered by peer-to-peer interactions, and instructors handle the few ones that may remain.
  • CBCs are priced higher which means more revenue.

In The Workplace:

  • CBCs help to build and maintain effective communication habits in the workplace.
  • The time-bound nature of CBCs help to ensure individual progress.
  • Workers can bond through shared learning experiences and grow by incorporating perspectives.

For Business Owners:

  • CBCs help business owners develop interpersonal skills and gain exposure in addition to attaining financial knowledge.

Disadvantages of MOOCs:

  • The open learning system of MOOCs demands no form of accountability, as such, students often lose motivation along the learning path.
  • MOOC course instructors may experience difficulty recognizing and responding to individual learning needs. Since educational materials are often pre-recorded for a mass number of people, it is usually an uphill task to decipher and respond to questions and challenges that learners might be facing.
  • While undoubtedly containing very detailed and useful knowledge, MOOCs might not be very helpful in teaching interpersonal skills and workplace behavior.
  • MOOCs are typically bulky and lack a personalized approach for students with disabilities or special learning needs
  • MOOCs generally have very low engagement and completion rates. 

Cohort VS Traditional learning method

The learning environment is the main distinguishing factor between the two learning models. While cohort-based learning styles can be held virtually, the traditional method is restricted to physical interactions alone.

The Cohort Method

A group of people goes through a skill-learning process together in cohort-based learning. This can happen in a physical, online, or virtual setting. Traditional elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education, Harvard Business School Online, etc., are some examples of the cohort-based method.

The Traditional Model

In a traditional model, everything takes place physically with an instructor present to regulate and moderate the learning process.

Examples include conventional primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

Advantages of cohort-based method over traditional methods

Some of the benefits of Cohort-based learning are:

  • For learners: This educational model fosters human connections, such as networking with like-minded people and forging relationships. This kind of learning environment broadens one's viewpoint. It also encourages peer cooperation and social engagement by exposing participants to new concepts, perspectives, and job opportunities.
  • For instructors: the workload is lesser as the educator can teach hundreds of learners simultaneously. When a student asks a question, the instructor can assume that the others have the same question. Addressing a student is addressing all others.
  • For business owners: The co-learning concept enables employees to co-learn, and advance their skills in a necessary area, thereby saving costs and enabling employers to train numerous employees

The Challenges

Despite being a good learning method, cohort learning has pros and cons. Some of the setbacks of the cohort-based model include:

  • Learners may not receive adequate individual feedback from an instructor at the expense of frequent interactions with colleagues.
  • The pace of learning may not be comfortable for many full-time workers.

Online and Offline Cohorts

Online Cohorts is the model in which all the learning takes place over the internet. No physical communication is required, while Offline Cohorts are more of the traditional method where everything takes place physically.

Advantages of Online Cohorts include:

  • Reduced cost of learning: Virtual learning comes at very bearable costs and will allow organizations to develop their workers' expertise without spending much. With the subtraction of expenses like transportation, among others
  • Improved Learner Attendance: Since learners can access online learning from any location, students are less often absent, allowing the tutor to have a larger number of learners to teach at once.
  • Efficiency: Providing necessary PDFs, visual aids, and podcasts, among other tools, helps improve the efficiency of this method. This will ensure that learners have all the necessary materials to learn faster. 

Challenges of Online Cohorts Include:

  • Focus Challenge: There is a high probability of being plagued by various distractions while in a virtual class. Learners may be tempted to go on social media sites and other websites when online.
  • Network Issues: Internet connectivity can impede efficiency in this kind of setting.

Advantage of Offline Cohorts:

  • Reduced distraction
  • Interaction with fellow learners
  • Increased learners competition
  • Extracurricular activities

Challenges of Offline Cohorts

Some of the challenges that can be faced in an Offline Cohorts include:

  • Traveling expenses
  • Expensive system of study
  • Over-dependence on teachers


It’s 2024, and we shouldn’t even be having cohort-based learning vs. self-paced learning debates. The shortcomings of self-paced learning have been established by numerous studies. It is obvious where the learning pendulum is swinging, given the completion rate of less than 5% for self-paced compared to over 90% for CBC.

The high completion rate of CBCs translates into better engagement, more positive results, and feedback, and increased profits. Don’t sleep on this.

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