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What Makes a Cohort-Based Course Different?

Online learning can feel isolating, but it doesn’t have to. There’s a different way to run online courses—one that’s all about bringing people together.

By The Mighty Team

January 4, 2023

8 min read



    If you’ve been thinking about creating an online course, we’re happy to say there’s never been a better time to do it. Now more than ever, people have the free time to learn new skills, whether it’s for personal interest or professional development.

    Until recently, online learning has been a lonely road. When you think about online learning, you probably imagine a person alone in a room staring at a screen. And no wonder: Self-paced online learning has long been the standard in online course development.

    But what if we told you self-paced learning wasn’t the only option? Ahead, we’re exploring the world of cohort-based online courses and how they may be more in line with the kind of brand and community you’re building.

    If you want more support in building your online course and community, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!


    What is a cohort-based course?

    A cohort-based course is a form of teaching where you build out a structured syllabus—with assignments, projects, and more— for your students, who learn the material together as a group.

    Actually, let’s back up for a moment. There’s a good chance you’re wondering what we even mean by the term “cohort.” And that’s okay! “Cohort” is basically a fancy way of describing a group of people who’ve banded together…So, in other words, a community!

    Mighty Networks - Graphics - Livestream Paired Light

    In other words, cohort-based courses are essentially the traditional way of teaching in-person classes—the same one you probably know from grade school or college. Even if it’s been a while, you likely know what we’re talking about: a classroom, desks, students in various degrees of attention, and a teacher standing at the front of the room.

    But what many don’t realize is that cohort-based courses can take place in a physical classroom or online, in a virtual space.

    With an online cohort-based course, you can bring together a group of people with a common goal and teach them how to achieve it through live lessons. Whether you hold a class once a week or multiple times a week, you’ll bring together your cohort of students and go through the lesson materials with them just like an in-person class.

    When you start unpacking all of the new ways you can connect people through cohort-based courses a whole new world opens up.

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    What makes cohort-based courses so great?

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    There are many benefits to utilizing a cohort-based course model. But the one that we value the most is how it allows you to build a strong community while also structuring a way for your members to master something interesting together.

    Think about it this way: When you create a self-paced course, your members can still get a phenomenal value out of your content, but they’ll be weathering the storm by themselves. There are benefits to offering self-paced online courses, but it can often lead to more work on your end as you rally your members to the finish line.

    Alternatively, when you rely on a cohort-based course model, you’ll have to set aside time to meet with your members to go over your lessons, but you gain a deeper connection with them.

    Additionally, cohort-based courses open up the possibility for emergent learning. That’s a fancy way of saying that when you bring members together in a live setting, new ideas, perspectives, and insights will be uncovered simply by interacting with one another about your content. So your members will learn from you and each other.

    At this point, you might be wondering, “What are some actual concrete reasons for why cohort-based courses are so great?” We’re glad you asked, reader!  We have five major factors for you to think about below.

    Opportunities for collaboration

    One of the biggest challenges for any creator building an online course is figuring out ways for members to interact with others who are trying to accomplish the same goal. Cohort-based courses create a social learning environment where your members interact with one another, share ideas, and learn together.

    We’re sure that you’ve had a time in your life where you were stumped on finding a solution to a problem you had been mulling over. What do many of us do in situations like that? “I’d like to phone a friend, Regis.” Okay, dated references, but the point is what matters—we ask our friends/peers/colleagues for help!

    When you choose a cohort-based course model, you’re providing your members the chance to do just that. Plus, you’re offering them extra value by giving them an opportunity to collaborate with people who are just as energized as they are.

    A bigger support system

    Another benefit of cohort-based courses is that when you connect members together in their learning journey, you are no longer their only line of support.

    mighty networks - Graphics - Modern Creator - Chat light

    Let’s face it, you’re not always going to be available to answer your member’s questions on lessons and course material. But when you have a cohort-based course the blending of community with your content will allow members to interact with one another when they have questions, concerns, or ideas.

    On top of that, think of the value you’re providing your members by giving them room to connect and collaborate. Using a cohort-based course model, allows members to share their successes with each other and provide encouragement when they are struggling.

    A structured experience

    When you choose to build an online course around a cohort-based model, your members will have a more structured and immediate experience. A benefit of self-paced learning is that members can complete the course content on their own time and at their own pace. While this is great for people leading especially busy lives, not everyone will be driven to complete your content without a bit of push.

    Mighty Networks - Graphics - MC Courses Paired Dark

    Cohort-based courses are perfect for providing structure to students who need it. How? Since everyone in the course is progressing at the same rate, you can control the pace of the course by setting due dates, scheduling office hours, and more. For some of your members, having more guided experiences that holds them accountable for turning work in will be a major benefit.

    More perspectives, more chances to learn

    One of the most exciting parts about designing an online course and teaching your members new skills is hearing their unique perspectives on the topics at hand. This might seem counterintuitive—your members are paying for your perspective on whatever your online course is about—but let’s think about this a bit more.

    Part of growing any community is making sure that your members feel that their voices are heard. Of course, you’re providing them a pathway to achieve a goal they couldn’t on their own. But in a cohort-based course, your members are also providing you something too: new perspectives.

    You might be thinking, “Why are their perspectives important to me? Shouldn’t I be running the show?” The answer is yes, you’re running the show. But their perspectives will provide you new insights into how your potential members think, as well as new ways to develop course work that helps your members reach new heights. This is an incredible value not only for you but also for your members.

    Networking opportunities

    When you create a cohort-based online course you’re opening up networking opportunities for your members.  A key component of keeping your brand alive and thriving is creating a space that fosters relationships between your members.

    The people that are taking your online course are already highly motivated individuals who are taking their learning into their own hands. By connecting them with other people—people who are driven by the same goals and motivations—you’re providing lifelong connections on top of awesome content.

    A great example of this idea is the very reason that many opt for going to college in the first place. In addition to gaining the needed skills and knowledge to acquire jobs, students who attend a college are also forming a network of connections with other students that they can tap into for the rest of their lives. Who says you can’t create the same environment with an online course?

    Now that we’ve covered some of the wonderful reasons for building a cohort-based course, let’s touch upon an example of one.

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    It’s time to starting building your course

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    If all the above sounds great to you, but you’re still unsure of what a cohort-based course experience is like. Why not give it a try yourself?

    Here at Mighty Networks, our flagship cohort-based course, the Community Design Masterclass™, teaches creators how to build a community, membership site, or course that’s so valuable, you can charge for it. We go over how you can structure your community and content to increase engagement between members, how to convince people to pay for your awesome work, and all of the components you need to get started successfully.

    The best part? It’s all taught live and cohort-based. That means course members can ask questions, form connections with their fellow creators looking to build a community, and have a guided experience to help them achieve their goals. And if you need to step away from the class for a while, we also offer the option for a self-paced learning experience too.

    So we’ve covered why cohort-based courses are a great option for any creator thinking of offering an online course. But now comes the most important step: Getting started.

    When you choose to build a cohort-based online course, you’re investing more of your time to be around for your members, but also more time to build real connections with and between them. And you’re opening yourself up to reaping more benefits, too.

    On a Mighty Network, you can design your own cohort-based online course in addition to offering paid memberships, virtual events, and more. And the best part is whatever you decide to build with your Mighty Network is instantly available across web, iOS and Android which gives your members flexibility for how they interact with each other and your content.

    So what are you waiting for, let’s make something great!

    Ready to start building your community?

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