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Becoming a Cohort Based Course Instructor and Why It Matters for EdTech
An Instructor's Perspective to Cohort Based Learning
Hi everyone! 👋
Learning live from world class instructors makes online cohort based courses worth their high prices. What incentivises instructors to teach these courses? It can't just be about the money - they are global experts and have lots of other options. To find out, I interviewed my cohort based course instructor Eva Keiffenheim. Eva shares her journey to becoming a self-employed writer and thought leader. Her reason for choosing to teach cohort based courses - it's the most effective and engaging way for her audience to learn online. This bodes well for cohort based startups.
This is a prelude to an upcoming article on cohort based EdTech Sphere.
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What makes short cohort-based courses worth hundreds or thousands of dollars? It is the opportunity to learn from instructors who are world class practitioners. After completing 3 courses, I can attest to this. What is the motivation for such successful individuals to teach these courses?
To find out, I interviewed my writing course instructor Eva Keiffenheim. Her cohort based course is hosted on Andreessen Horowitz-backed EdTech Maven. Eva has over 27,000 followers on Medium and her articles have over 2 million views.
Experts like Eva are a growing class of ‘creators’ who are beginning to monetise their expertise. What matters to them is the ability to build authentic relationships with their audience by providing valuable content. Eva’s insights show that cohort based courses are an ideal way to achieve this objective.
In this article, learn about the effectiveness of cohort based courses, how Eva became an instructor and why cohort based courses will grow in importance. For EdTech investors*, learn how cohort based learning startups like Maven and Sphere are well-positioned to unlock the large amount of valuable content that industry practitioners like Eva have to offer.
* All opinions are personal. This is not investment advice
How Cohort Based Courses Are a Big Opportunity in EdTech
My previous EdTech article described how companies are facing a growing skills gap. For example, 80% of enterprises in the Global 2000 have a skills gap and see lack of talent as their primary business risk.
Our jobs are changing and we can no longer rely solely on our university education. We need to complement this with shorter online courses to ‘plug’ our skill gaps. This is where cohort based courses shine.
Cohort based courses are live online courses where learners progress through the material in ‘cohorts’ or learning groups. They are expensive, costing US$750-5,000 compared to pre-recorded courses at US$10-50. To justify their cost, they are laser focused on outcomes. The learner leaves the course ‘transformed’ with a skill that can be applied immediately.
How do these short 2-8 week courses achieve such impactful outcomes? By combining targeted learning objectives with a highly effective teaching methodology.
Mastery of a skill can be broken down into its skill tree with various learning ‘branches’. For example, customer centricity is a big topic. When I started Venture Journeys, I hardly knew where to begin! I’ve since broken the ‘skill tree’ into the following ‘branches’.
Similarly, cohort based courses target a ‘branch’ for the learner to master.
Their ‘live nature’ allows them to have a highly effective teaching methodology which is described below:
Community: Learners get to collaborate with their peers and the instructor. Working towards common goals improve learning outcomes and builds relationships that continue beyond the course. For example, I’ve collaborated with 2 of my instructors after my courses.
Active Learning: Learners are constantly encouraged to use the concepts taught. Examples include answering in-class questions, participating in break-out groups and providing feedback on projects. The best learning outcomes happen through doing, not passive listening.
Accountability: Learners are highly motivated due to the high cost and live nature of these courses. For example, I prepared for every class so that I could fully participate in the discussions. Courses are bi-directional (learners can talk back!) which makes accountability an even bigger feature for instructors. Their courses need to be in-depth, well designed and interesting.
An example of active learning during Eva’s writing course
Combining targeted learning outcomes and a ‘learning by doing’ course design has resulted in course completion rates of 70-90% and high customer satisfaction scores.
A cohort based course is a great product for learners which is why it attracts instructors like Eva.
The Journey of a Creator - Eva's Growth From Teaching to a Global Thought Leader
Eva’s writing has given her the freedom to be self-employed. I previously wrote an article about the creator economy. It describes a growing trend where ‘creators’ like Eva earn a living through authentic relationships with their audience. How are authentic relationships built? It’s all about providing value.
“It’s not about building a ‘brand’. It’s all about showing what you know in a way that’s helpful to others. You provide value with what you know.”
Providing value for her audience has been a consistent theme for Eva. She had a frustrating experience as a high school student. Armed with a Degree in Education and Masters in Innovation, Eva became a teacher. She was determined to improve the education system for her students. Her students clearly felt her authenticity. How many of us receive such appreciation when we leave our jobs?
Eva’s farewell organised by her students
Eva aspired to connect with global experts in learning and education to create the change her students needed. She saw writing as a way to achieve this. She began writing daily in March 2020 on the writing platform Medium and began to attract an audience. Within 5 months, she was publishing 15-20 blog articles per month. The income she earned from her audience allowed her to leave teaching and become a full-time writer.
To a writer, blog posts are analogous with a software engineer’s GitHub profile or an architect’s portfolio of work. Eva’s frequent posts made her a thought leader in learning and education. Opportunities such as paid research projects, speaking engagements and consulting work soon followed.
She is currently working on a policy paper on the future of education for a UK think tank and has just returned from a United Nations conference on transforming education systems. I was struck by how fulfilling her work is. Her thought leadership allows her to contribute and drive change to education on a global level.
These opportunities illustrate a creator’s perspective on the nature of work. To Eva, it’s not about earning a single source of income from an employer. Instead, it’s about finding the best way to add value to her audience and having different income streams.
As her expertise and audience grew, she began to consider teaching online courses.
How Cohort Based Courses Support the Growth of Creators
Teaching cohort based courses is demanding. Learners have high expectations and can spontaneously question the instructor on the material. Instructors must put considerable thought into the course design or risk being exposed. As Maven co-founder Wes Kao describes, there is no room for bulls**t. So why do instructors bother? Remember, these instructors or creators are global experts with lots of options.
The reason – cohort based courses build authentic relationships with learners through live interactions and high learner outcomes.
Authentic relationships are the lifeblood of any creator. Eva chose Maven to host her courses because of its focus on learner outcomes. Maven’s founders previously founded online education startups like AltMBA and Udemy. They know how to design successful, engaging live courses and provide these learnings to their instructors via a 2 week accelerator course.
To be successful on Maven, instructors must rely on their own audience to attract learners to sign up for their course. For Eva, this is especially true as 70% of her learners pay for her US$997 course themselves instead of being sponsored by their employers. Building the trust needed for someone to pay that amount online is a process best illustrated with a customer acquisition funnel:
Discovery: Building awareness of her expertise through blog articles. Readers are directed to Eva’s landing page built with Convertkit. On this page, readers are shown Eva’s other offerings such as her weekly newsletter.
Consideration: More in-depth content such as Ted Talk videos, weekly newsletters and longer blog articles. Readers build trust in the value that Eva can provide and her ability to ‘transform’ them. Eva includes a link to sign up to her cohort based course.
Conversion: Learners are directed to Maven’s signup page which has an outline of her course and testimonials. Maven handles signups, course analytics and payment.
Eva’s customer acquisition funnel. Note how instructors on Maven must source learners themselves
The personal, in-depth nature of these courses creates authentic relationships with learners. These result in referrals and other opportunities for instructors to grow their audience. For example, I really benefitted from Eva’s course and reached out to her to collaborate on this article. Sharing this article introduces Eva to my audience which includes many aspiring writers. The 19 other learners from my course will be promoting Eva in similar ways.
What keeps Eva on her current cohort based learning platform? She finds the 10% commission Maven charges reasonable given the value its platform provides. Additionally, the time she invested in learning and setting up her content on Maven’s systems, makes starting new courses easy.
Nevertheless, her main reason for staying on Maven remains its focus on learner outcomes. She expects Maven to continue to innovate in online education and give instructors the tools that give the best learner outcomes. Creators like Eva realise that they only succeed if their learners do.
Eva’s journey demonstrates how rewarding the life of a creator can be. Her thought leadership in education now enables her to drive the change she passionately believes in.
Her experience also demonstrates how aligned the cohort based learning format is to the goals of creators. Content creators can build authentic relationships while getting paid for it. As an indication of this, Eva is looking to expand her cohort base courses from 20 to 50 learners twice per year. At that stage, these courses will be a major part of her income.
For EdTech investors, this alignment supports the long term growth of cohort based learning startups. By attracting these creators, startups like Maven and Sphere unlock world class content that learners are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ivy League universities to access. Their journey has only just begun.
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