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Cohort-Based Learning vs Traditional e-Learning: Which is better?

Learning changed dramatically over time. How did we go from traditional e-Learning to cohort-based learning? Why cohorts are king these days?

Table of Contents

Since the computer was firstly invented by Charles Babbage in 1822, learning changed dramatically. It goes beyond our imagination compared to how we learned centuries ago vs how we learned today. What have been the changes? How did we go from traditional e-Learning to cohort-based learning? And what are the most effective methods in these current times?

Let’s explore that today. But first, let’s look at how we learn centuries ago, and how it evolved into e-Learning.

The Evolution of e-Learning

19th century. The primary driving force of learning & development was the industrial revolution. Due to its drastic advancement, there has been a skill gap in the labor force.

Manufacturing companies hardly push their workers to upskill. They ensure their skilled workers have met the needs of the industry advancement. As a consequence, the L&D training started and continues to grow in the 20th century.

World Wars. When World War I broke down, workforce development continued. Because of the war, there's been a change to the training topics. Some of these are the manufacturing of ammunition, advanced training for new armed forces, domestic jobs for women training, etc.

After World War II, people focused on building training for the construction workforce. This is to rebuild infrastructures after the war.  In short, people built training dependent on society's reality and current happenings.

1960s. After a century, the term “e-Learning” has been a buzzword in 1999. In the 1960s, educators and technicians firstly introduced the Computer-Based Training program (CBT) to University of Illinois students. As a consequence, different schools ended up using the program.

1970s. Online learning has been more interactive. In Britain, their education system focused on “learning at a distance”. Britain's Open University took advantage of the power of the internet and used emails to offer an interactive educational experience to its learners.

1980-1990s. Virtual learning environments fully thrive after the launch of the first MAC where they built computers that you can use at home. By the early 1990s, schools delivered online courses to bridge the learning gap due to the challenges of distance and time constraints.

2000s. Businesses began to use e-Learning to train their employees. And then, traditional e-Learning and cohort-based learning have evolved.

Today. Everyone--schools, universities, businesses, and even professionals creates their online courses. They use technology to teach learners and train employees.

What is Traditional e-Learning?

Traditional e-Learning is where you learn online using technology. It can be learning through your smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet. The difference between traditional learning vs e-Learning isn't huge. Therefore, their only difference is e- stands for "learning using technology or electronic devices". Meanwhile, traditional learning doesn't use any of these.

Apparently, information overload happens in traditional e-learning. That's why, students don't learn much due to its classic features. Almost all traditional eLearning content is boring, inflexible, and lonely. This might work in Web1 where computers aren't used for socials. However, these absolutely won't work in Web2, where social apps are on the rise.

Traditional eLearning examples are:

  • Self-paced learning. It is where you can access content from your computer and learn them at your own pace.
  • Lectures with teachers. It's eLearning if you can communicate with your teacher using your e-devices.
  • Virtual classrooms. It's where you meet and learn with your classmates and teachers or trainers virtually.
  • What else can you add?

What is Cohort-Based Learning?

Obviously, traditional e-Learning is dead. The individual contribution has ended. Collaboration has emerged. Not just in the workplace, but even in classrooms.

Studies show that traditional eLearning has never been so effective. We, human beings learn well with others. Transformative learning happens in place with the right collaborative environment. This kind of model is what we call cohort-based learning.

Cohort-based learning is a learning environment where students learn and collaborate together. It's highly engaging and learner-centric. It allows students to learn through peers actively.

Meanwhile, Digital cohort-based learning is a learning environment built online where diverse students learn together despite their location, time zones, and societal background. It breaks the status quo of learning only with your circle. It's diverse and inclusive.

In previous years, content might be the king. Now, cohorts are.

Cohort-Based Learning Advantages

Experts say cohort-based learning is the future of learning. Why is it so? Let's discover what are the benefits of cohorts in online learning.

Social and collaborative.

In cohort-based learning, students are frequently learning with their peers. Collaboration is at the core of the course design. Basically, it's about exchanging ideas, discussions, and even arguments that are open and highly encouraged.

Diverse and inclusive.

In a cohort-based, everyone can join wherever they are located. This sets the environment into a more inclusive and diverse place to learn. Imagine an 18-year-old student from Guatemala learning with a 30-year-old professional from Japan. How cool is that? It bridges the gap between time zones, locations, and societal status.

It's also inclusive. Due to technology, disabled persons can now learn and work from their homes. It doesn't matter if you're disabled as long as you can speak, understands, and use your electronic devices.

Learner-centric and reflective.

The cohort-based learning environment centers its attention on its learners, not the instructor. It's not content-dependent, but it's peer learning-dependent. Cohort-based learning allows students to learn not just from their instructors, but from and with everyone--even from their environment.

It's reflective too! The course design should encourage peer-to-peer feedback and self-reflection. Studies show that knowledge retention and active learning are better when students self-reflected.

Community centric and relationship builder.

Cohorts are best with learning communities. Cohort learning is incomplete without building a learning community on the side. And sometimes, cohorts are communities first before they become cohorts. The difference? Communities can grow up to 1,000 to 10,000 members, while cohorts are best with 20 to 100 members. In short, they are micro-learning communities.

It's also a relationship builder. Because of the highly interactive, gamified activities that cohort-based learning encourages, it's never been so easy to build relationships with peers. And when this happens, learning becomes more effective and transformative.

Cohort-based Learning vs Traditional e-Learning

What are the differences between cohort-based learning and traditional e-Learning?

Bloom's Taxonomy using cohort-based learning and traditional e-Learning
Source from vanderbilt.edu. Edited by Teachfloor.com

In Bloom's Taxonomy, the peak of learning is when you create, evaluate, and analyze. On the other hand, the baseline of learning is when you remember and understand.

Traditional eLearning mostly falls into 'remembering' and 'understanding'. Since students are learning with themselves alone, the content is inflexible and unresponsive, the learning stops at the bottom. It grows up unless they will faithfully apply the concepts of the content materials.

Meanwhile, Cohort-based learning falls into 'applying' to 'creating'. Most cohorts are project-based and workshop learning. These encourage students to create, evaluate, and act--making them roll their sleeves and do the work!

Students knowledge retention happens at the peak. Hence, transformative learning happens at the peak. Meanwhile, knowledge don't retain and don't transform at the bottom. Which one would you choose to effectively transform your students?

Here's a clear visual of the differences between cohort-based learning and traditional e-Learning:

The difference of cohort-based learning and traditional e-learning
Source: Teachfloor.com


It's true! Traditional e-Learning is dead. As Wes Kao said, "Content is no longer king. Cohorts are." Therefore, learning evolves as humans and technology evolve over time. And due to social factors, cohort-based learning is here to stay.


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