You can experience this right now by joining our Wharton Marketing and Dino 101 Cohorts / Study Groups (the rebranding is ongoing).
We’re still working on our Spring 2022 Cohort line-up, which we’ll announce soon. If you are an instructor, content creator, or just a dedicated learner who wants to run a Cohort, reach out to @fabio at [email protected]
Class Central Cohorts
A Cohort has three main components:
An online course — that we’re all taking, following a common study schedule.
A discussion forum — where we discuss our learning and support each other.
Weekly Zoom sessions or live streams — where we chat with peers.
The concept is very flexible. Some of our live sessions were led by instructors, some by peers, and some by subject matter experts. For our 8,000 learner Free Web Development Bootcamp we’re using live streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube. In our History of Science Cohort, the course was a YouTube playlist.
When we first tested out the concept, we cobbled together a bunch of tools to make it work: enrollments were done through google forms; learners had to create a separate account to participate in the forum; and we sent announcements via our Gmail accounts using BCC (one time, Google suspended one of our accounts for sending too many emails).
We knew this wasn’t going to work for the 8,000 learner bootcamp, and as we validated the idea, we could afford to expand our platform. So we rushed to build a portal that makes handling the logistics really simple.
Learners can now access information like the study schedule, getting-started instructions, and upcoming streams and recordings all in one place. We also integrated the Discourse forums, so learners can use their Class Central account for everything instead of creating a separate one.
Coordinators can accept enrollments, create a study schedule, post announcements (like weekly updates), and create events (for Zoom sessions) which are sent to learners automatically.
Cohorts, the concept and product, are still very much under development. The three major components — the course, discussion forum, and live sessions — can live anywhere. In fact, behind the scenes, the study schedule is powered by Class Central Lists. So the “course” itself could be a custom learning path, bringing together various learning sources.
We’re still experimenting with what to do during live sessions (especially when they’re led by peers) and thinking about how to make them more interactive — maybe additional projects, assignments, or presentations? For Mountains 101, we had a long thread with people posting photos of their favourite mountains.
I remember going to the forums just before the weekly deadlines and feeling that everybody was online at the same time, doing the same thing. The shared experience, hard deadlines, and help from the community enabled me to finish courses that required significant effort — almost as much as an actual university course.
But by 2016 it was clear MOOCs were no longer Massive. Scaling MOOCs required removing professors from the active role of running the course and moving towards a self-paced schedule.
In 2017, I proposed a MOOC Semester to make MOOCs massive again by bringing back some of the characteristics that made them popular in the first place: semi-synchronous, instructor-led and sufficiently hyped.
Cohorts are an embodiment of the MOOC semester to a certain extent. Class Central’s goal is to make online education work for everyone, and Cohorts are a step in that direction. We’re a team of learners who have completed hundreds of online courses, including online degrees.
From Study Groups to Bootcamp
Last year, a few of us at Class Central formed a remote study group to take an online course together. We loved it so much that we kept doing it.
Before this, I went through a period of more than 4 years without finishing a course. But since we started Study Groups, I’ve completed 8 (only one of those was without peers).
Eventually, we opened up the experiment to the whole world and announced a public study group for Mountains 101. Originally, we’d just be learning with peers. But to our delight, one of the instructors of the course,David Hik, reached out to us to offer his help and be part of the experiment.
The legendary Barbara Oakley, who has 4 million learners on Coursera and five courses in Class Central’s Best of All Time ranking, took part in the Mountains 101 Study Group as a student. Some of her feedback made the Zoom sessions even more engaging.
During our first weeks of study, Zac Robinson, also course co-instructor,climbed Canada’s highest peak. Upon return, he managed to join one of the Zoom sessions and gave us a first-hand account of how the expedition went. It was an extraordinary adventure.
@mervyn (just above Fabio in the image above), a mechatronics engineer from Andhra Pradesh in India, will be coordinating the Dino 101 Cohort which started just this week.
One of our next Study Groups, in which we took A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment from the Indian School of Business, was even bigger: 700 enrollments and 120 people showed up to the first Zoom session, which were led by the charismatic course instructor Dr. Raj.
Happiness being an abstract topic, the threads in the forum ranged from simple to philosophical, as each learner shared their own thoughts and experiences, including beautiful photos, research works, advice, achievements, friendly encouragement, and all-around appreciation for each other. Learners came from a variety of age groups, but that didn’t prevent us from understanding each other.
The most awaited part of the Study Group was the weekly live session with Dr. Raj. They started 30 minutes before Dr. Raj joined, and ended long after he left. During this extra time, learners had friendly conversations with each other and shared interesting facts related to the course. Once Dr. Raj arrived, the atmosphere completely changed. All eyes would be on him. He would give mini-lectures on the topics covered in that week, and then open the floor for questions and thoughts. He interacted with as many learners as possible and kept the sessions lively. These were so much fun. The hour went by in an instant.
Instead of Zoom sessions, Jess runs weekly live streams in two time zones onTwitch andYouTube. She also hosts guest streams, with a new guest every week. Our first speakers were Barbara Oakley and senior software engineerZach Caceres who talked to our bootcampers about The Intuitive Programmer. The YouTube stream alone generated ~2k hours of watch time.
It took some trial and error and serendipity to get here. I would like to thank David Hik and Zac Robinson (Mountains 101 Study Group), Dr. Raj Raghunathan (ALOHAF), Nicky Bull (Excel), Jessica Rose and her gracious guests, and finally Barbara Oakley, for all their help.
Dhawal is the CEO of Class Central, the most popular search engine and review site for online courses and MOOCs. He has completed over a dozen MOOCs and has written over 200 articles about the MOOC space, including contributions to TechCrunch, EdSurge, Quartz, and VentureBeat.