ohort-based learning is an effective lifeline for instructors adapting to entirely new teaching methods when designed and implemented with care. But what is cohort learning, and how does it impact the future of Edtech?

Cohort learning encourages students to construct knowledge as they master new material, transforming the classroom into a community of active knowledge-builders. As a result, the role of the instructor or mentor shifts from "information provider" to "facilitator," and evaluating students' learning progress becomes an integral part of this position.

Cohort learning is vital because groups, not individuals, are modern society's primary learning unit. This is where the "rubber meets the road;" if students cannot learn in groups, the completion of courses is almost always insurmountable." Statistics indicate that MOOCs have been less than successful, with pass rates in some blended courses being significantly lower than the traditional model. In addition, most MOOCs have a high dropout rate of over 90 percent. In comparison, reports show that cohort based courses frequently have completion rates of more than 90%.

Now, tutors want to use their lessons to raise the operational performance bar and bring end-to-end digital transformation to fruition, which has been stuck in recently waning MOOCs. Doing so necessitates focusing on the new capabilities and developing cohort-based courses that will serve their post-pandemic strategies, namely digital fluency, data literacy, and agile teaching methods. At the same time, navigating these rapid changes in education has been a pleasant surprise and even a source of pride for many educators who recognize the transformations required to progress.

In this piece, The EducateMe Team discusses how the education vehicle has evolved, the trends and markets shaping cohort-based learning, and its significant impacts on the future of learning. But first, let's address the lingering question: what is "cohort learning," and how does it work in practice?

Cohort Learning Defined: The What, Who, and How

The four major waves that have shaped online education are MOOCs, marketplaces, toolkits, and cohorts. Cohort learning is a new phase for online schools, just as the professionals who rely on them are transforming themselves for the digital age. Cohort-based learning is a teaching and learning model that is collaborative, community-inspired, and strength-based. Courses are administered to cohorts through digital platforms, and students move through the material at the same pace while being interactively supervised by a mentor or an instructor. 

The four major waves that have shaped online education are MOOCs, marketplaces, toolkits, and cohorts.

When MOOC proprietary learning portals like edX, Coursera, and Udacity first started offering standardized online training programs about 11 years ago, they concentrated on imparting lower-level, day-to-day skills. Imagined cohort learning platforms that would emerge in the later decade may have seemed fanciful at the time. But they did emerge and now provide tools that enable knowledge sharing and student engagement on a nearly infinite scale. 

But what's more important is how we got here.

From Traditional Lecture Halls to Massive Open Online Courses to Cohort Learning, We've Come Full Circle! 

The history of education is an interesting topic, so allow us to backtrack to where it all started. Traditional classrooms were the first step in the educational process. 

What was traditional learning about?

In the early 1900s, the traditional education system was introduced, ushering in the industrial age. Teaching and learning were shaped into a one-size-fits-all model for providing basic numeracy and literacy skills during this time. Schools were ranked, and students were sorted to determine who would be eligible for higher education and would enter factory or farm work immediately.

The traditional educational model is not broken. It is simply misplaced in today's educational goals. Race, culture, geography, and gender are no longer impediments to learning. Schools are ensuring that all students thrive in and out of the classroom. This is not to say that all students will achieve the same outcomes at the same performance levels. Nonetheless, we expect a system in which students can flourish as they uncover their full potential.

In many ways, one-size-fits-all approaches fail to meet that expectation. They ignore the fact that students bring a diverse set of knowledge, skills, and experiences to the classroom.

Providing personalized learning, a teaching approach to address students' individual educational needs, is one promising way to improve outcomes. 

While personalization may have crept into education before realizing it, academic research began in 1984. Psychologist and educator Benjamin Bloom reportedly dropped a hint about personalized education when he dared the academic community to scale up the success of individual or small-group tutoring. According to another study cited by Bloom, students who received personalized lessons performed better than 98% of their peers.

Bloom's ideal appears to be the closest straw in our digitized world for the first time as technology has become more effective and less expensive. And MOOCs provided first-hand exposure to it.

So, where do MOOCs fit in?

In 2001, MIT pioneered the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative, which allowed everyone access to course materials on the web while licensing the use, modification, and redistribution of these materials. The open access model was critical in the evolution and direction of MOOCs. The first MOOC, "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08)," was taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes at the University of Manitoba in 2008, and it drew 2200 students from all over the world.

However, completion rates have remained contentious since MOOCs entered the mainstream in 2012. A study indicates that completion rates range from 0.7% to 52.1%, with a median of 12.6%. According to another source, the completion rate for MOOCs is less than 10%. Reasons for the decline in popularity of MOOCs include questionable course quality, a high dropout rate, the inaccessibility of course credits, ineffective assessments, complex copyright, and limited hardware. The loss of favor and popularity of MOOCs has led to the development of numerous variants, with cohort-based learning gaining the most acceptance.

And why is cohort learning the real deal?

The 2020s were a watershed year for the cohort learning movement, which is now permeating all education fabrics. Cohorts are centered on three primary facilitators: instructors/mentors, students, and learning tools (courses and platforms). This model's three pillars are also learning, reflection, and action. 

The three pillars are of cohort based learning: reflection, learning, and action. 

At the heart of the cohort-based learning model is the question, "What are we trying to achieve, for whom, by when, and to what standards?"

Studies suggest a strong positive correlation between students' sense of community and their learning success in online courses: 94% of students say that group learning increased their interest in the courses.

The shared goal is to achieve excellence for all students, regardless of background, socioeconomic status, or geographical location. That core value should guide where we keep our current systems and innovate to create more effective and equitable education for all.

Who Is Actually Using Cohort Learning in 2022, and What Are They Using It for?

  • K-12, higher institutions, corporates, government, and vocational schools are the biggest adopters: The global e-learning market prioritizes five end users: K-12, higher education, corporations, governments, and vocational education and training. Corporations were unquestionably the winners in this market. This segment's value is expected to increase to USD 230 billion by 2030, representing a 15.2 percent CAGR from 2016 to 2020. In light of the widespread changes in work culture brought about by the COVID-19 epidemic, learning and development professionals have adopted corporate e-learning as a strategy for empowering and training employees. For investors, the global e-learning market is ripe with opportunity.
  • Learners can earn degrees, certifications and hone their existing skills: Due to Covid-19's limitations, many students are turning to online education to obtain their degrees and any necessary certificates. Some universities have more than doubled the number of students enrolled in online Master of Business Administration programs. Cohort-based learning is gaining popularity in areas other than higher education. Businesses can invest in their employees' futures by sending teams to train together.
  • Cohorts are more commonly used in organizations than one-person teams: Cohort learning provides new opportunities for academies and digital and creative schools. From this vantage point, it is clear that organizations and teams, rather than individuals, are more enthusiastic about using cohort learning than others. As a relatively novel model, cohorts can be challenging to implement. Thus, it is more common to see large groups of adopters in a cohort rather than smaller, more focused groups. Consider thefuture.com to understand better how other industries are implementing this strategy. thefuture.com boasts a community, boot camps, and a cohort learning platform.

What Markets and Trends Will Shape the Cohort-Led Transformation in 2022 and Beyond? 

Here, we present the key insights of the cohort learning based model in the context of online education.


Predictions put the total value of the worldwide e-learning industry by 2026, which includes cohort-based learning, at close to $400 billion. By 2019, the e-learning industry was estimated to be worth nearly $200 billion. The same year, the LMS market brought in almost $18 billion in revenue.

Predictions put the total value of the worldwide e-learning industry by 2026, which includes cohort-based learning, at close to $400 billion.

According to data, the regional market in North America is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11.3% from its current value of USD 66 billion to USD 76 billion by the year 2030. The Asia-Pacific area has the highest market growth. It is anticipated that by 2030, its value will have increased to $80 billion, representing a CAGR of 18.1 percent from 2016 to 2030. The third biggest European market is projected to be worth USD 40.5 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 15.2 percent.


Some promising trends are fueling cohort-based learning, as well as subdivisions such as collaborative and corporate learning. Let's look at a few of them.

The Most Important Cohort Learning Drivers

  • Active learning is still a crucial component of cohorts

According to a recent study by University of Washington researchers, students' grades improved when they engaged in "active learning," or learning driven by cooperation and interaction. Surprisingly, this study also found that student's chances of academic success decrease when they are not actively engaged in their education. This investigation yields two groundbreaking findings:

  1. Active learning has the potential to improve exam performance by 0.5 points. 
  2. Students taught through lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than those who participate in active learning.
  • Cohort based learning platforms are critical to the success of cohortians

Since online discussion tools have been linked to a statistically significant improvement in students' grades, edtech companies are investing heavily in this area. According to Pitchbook transaction data, US-based education technology startups raised approximately $3.2 billion in the first half of 2021, as analyzed by Reach Capital. The total already exceeds EdSurge's projected total of $2.2 billion for 2020 and the total of $1.7 billion for 2019.

Investment capital raised by U.S edtech companies.

The Most Important Collaborative Learning Drivers

  • Internal collaboration

Per data gathered from user responses, participation rates in a course quadrupled when two or more participants made at least three internal comments. These exchanges may involve co-authors discussing ways to improve the course's content or reviewers providing feedback to the course's creators. Courses written in collaboration with other instructors will generate more discussion, have higher quality material, and be easier to collaborate on. A team of reviewers is the best way to ensure that your new courses are polished and ready for rollout.

  • Regular peer feedback

Giving learners a way to provide frequent feedback on the courses they are taking may help you create courses that are 27% more valuable for learners, resulting in more interesting courses and increased employee engagement and retention. All that remains is to figure out how to incorporate their responses into the teaching process.

  • Tailored questions

Customized questions have been shown to increase response rates significantly. This is because 75.9% of people respond positively to these questions. This means that 75% of the time, when a question was asked in class, the student actively engaged with the material and provided a constructive response.

The Most Important Corporate Learning Drivers

  • Upskilling and reskilling

According to Udemy, by 2020, 38% of workers will have been retrained or educated to a higher level. Improving one's skill set is no longer nice in today's corporate world; it is a critical need. Companies have begun to recognize their role in addressing the growing skills gap.

  • Personalized Learning

A survey of 1,500 L&D professionals shows that 75% believe their companies will increase the personalized learning material they produce in the coming years. 

Training tailored to the company's needs may result in higher engagement and more effective learning programs. Workers will, presumably, be better prepared for the future as a result of this.

Amid the training industry's rapid technological transformation, cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to improve the context, relevance, and personalization of corporate learning and development.

  • Social learning

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) reports that by 2021, 28% of businesses will use social learning to distribute e-learning materials and foster teamwork.

The fact that individuals improve their learning by interacting with others supports this idea. Because of our social nature, self-paced learning over a long period may appear to be an existential threat. Another advantage of social learning is that it helps develop a company's learning culture.

So, How Will Cohort Based Learning Disrupt Edtech in the Future?

According to research, the shift to more agile, team-driven educational models delivers the benefits of moving away from traditional hierarchies and toward more cross-functional,digitally connected "learner networks." Technology platforms and applications are the most important enablers of just-in-time learning in this new world. Examples include next-generation learning management systems, virtual classrooms, mobile learning apps, polling software, etc.

The hasty generalization of distance learning creates a new reality. It paves the way for new markets and necessitates the creation of novel pedagogical approaches to keep up with technological and knowledge progress. t We are already seeing a diversification of available means to support the cohort learning trend at various levels and promote specialized lifelong training. For example, mobile learning, project learning, and community learning are emerging trends that could complement cohorts.

Putting more emphasis on group work both relies on and strengthens individual performance: Working with different students and experimenting with new ways of collaborating provides a natural path for people to develop new skills and insights. In the end, cohorts demonstrate that the trend toward improving the quality of online education entails enhancing both delivery time and skill level.

Calling Instructors and Mentors to Act Now!

Preparing for the disruption brought on by cohort learning can be challenging, but the potential rewards are worthwhile. If you're still unsure about cohort learning or its specific benefits, read our article in which we list five compelling reasons to join the cohort force. And if you're ready to get a piece of the burgeoning cohort-based course market, sign up on EducateMe to get started. 

And while you're at it, here are the top ten takeaways from this article, which we hope will serve as a springboard for you.

  1. The instructor's or mentor's roles shifts from "information provider" to "facilitator."
  2. Traditional one-size-fits-all learning approaches do not meet today's standards.
  3. Students who received personalized instruction outperformed 98% of their peers.
  4. MOOCs have a less than 10% completion rate, whereas cohort-based courses frequently have completion rates of more than 90%.
  5. Corporations are the most enthusiastic supporters of cohort learning, with the segment's value expected to reach USD 230 billion by 2030.
  6. Some universities have more than doubled the number of students enrolled in online Master of Business Administration programs, indicating that edtech is becoming more popular.
  7. Courses written in collaboration with other instructors will generate more discussion, contain higher-quality content, and be easier to collaborate on.
  8. Giving students a way to provide frequent feedback on the courses they're taking could help you create courses that are 27% more valuable to them.
  9. Customized questions have been shown to increase response rates significantly.
  10. According to research, moving away from traditional hierarchies and toward more cross-functional, digitally connected "learner networks" delivers the benefits of moving away from traditional hierarchies and more cross-functional digitally connected "learner networks." In the end, cohorts show that the trend toward improving online education quality includes increasing delivery time and skill level.

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August 31, 2022
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