What is a Cohort-Based Course and is it Right for You? - Jenna Kutcher

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What is a Cohort-Based Course and is it Right for You?

Jenna Kutcher 

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We talk a lot about online courses on the Goal Digger Podcast. After all, online courses play a major role in my business and have changed my life completely. We’ve talked about mini-courses, signature courses, how to build, sell, and automate your course… But maybe the structure of the courses we talk about doesn’t quite fit the topic or idea you have. Maybe you need a different kind of online course for what you want to teach. Ever heart of a cohort?

Wes Kao helped create the modern cohort-based education movement with Seth Godin. Now she’s taking the category she helped create to the next level with her new startup Maven, the world’s first digital platform for cohort-based courses. 

Cohort-based courses combine live workshops, videos, articles, and projects to create impactful learning experiences. It’s about your students learning from each other and by doing. I am so excited to explore this different kind of online course and learn from Wes myself. If an online course is on your heart and mind, this is your episode.

Identifying the Problem

As part of her early work with Seth Godin, she was tasked with creating a course for him that would be available on Udemy. While researching these types of courses, which Wes refers to as MOOCs (massive open online courses), Wes learned that the completion rates are incredible low – about 3-7% according to a recent MIT study.

“So it was just insane that so many amazing creators and instructors are creating MOOCs, these video driven courses, and so many students were optimistic at signing up for these courses, with this dream of learning and changing their lives and transforming themselves and having access to the best education,” Wes continued, “When in reality, a tiny percentage of people who signed up for these courses actually stayed long enough to even learn anything.”

Wes and Seth decided they needed to change up the model and help more people start and actually finish a course.

The Opposite of Self-Paced

Wes and Seth brainstormed ways to flip the self-paced course model on it’s head. Instead of self-paced, students would work through a curriculum in a cohort setting with other students working on the same material. Students would also have an interactive component to the coursework and be mentored by coaches along the way. The course would also be at a much higher price point so students had enough skin in the game to keep going.

The very first experiment with this type of course began in 2015 with about 75 students. Wes was skeptical at first, but it was a true success. Wes shared, “It was like digital sparks were flying and students were connecting with each other outside of the channels that we had set. They were DM-ing each other, they were hopping on Zoom calls without us. They were doing the projects that we had created for them, but also partnering up and working on side projects together.”

What was interesting about the first cohort course was that Seth Godin never even showed up in the program! At first, the potential students were upset by the announcement that a course priced in the thousands of dollars wouldn’t actually have any engagement with the man the course was created around. But this was by design.

“We don’t want to do a course where it’s basically more people thinking that what they need is a guru telling them what to do,” Wes explained, “I wanted to have a program that was all about empowering entrepreneurs, intra-preneurs, innovators, and change-makers by coming together and introducing them to other people around the world who are doing amazing things, who are on a similar path, who are facing similar challenges and create the infrastructure for them to connect.”

Key Elements of Cohort Courses

Cohort based courses have a set start and end date and you learn with a group of students together during that period of time. “It’s a lot more community driven. It’s a lot more active than a self-paced video driven,” Wes explained.

As far as subject matter appropriate for this style of course, Wes is seeing topics ranging from watercolor painting to cryptocurrency, to leadership and management, yoga, plant care, coding and more. So really, “Any topic that benefits from interacting with material and working with a group of other people in your field.”

Want to Start Your Own Cohort Course?

Wes has created a platform to facilitate the cohort style of course called Maven. Press play on this episode to learn more about Maven and cohort based courses from the expert, Wes Kao.


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Before you get any further... Hi! I'm Jenna Kutcher!

A small town Minnesota photographer, podcaster, educator and puppy rescuer, my happiest days are spent behind my computer screen sharing my secrets with the world. I'm glad you're here.

I’m an expert at online marketing, a nerd when it comes to the numbers, and my obsession is teaching others how to make a living doing what they love (without it taking over their life). 

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