Cohort-Based Courses: How to Create Effective Online Courses


Creating the best cohort-based course involves a lot of forethought and attention. It might be easy to put together a course outline, but it’s much harder to make a successful one. If you’re looking to make money by selling online courses, you have come to the right place.

Our experts put together this guide, and we’ll teach you how to create effective online courses. We’ll be looking specifically at online cohort-based courses, and you’ll learn how to make one from scratch.

What Are Cohort-Based Courses?

Cohort-based courses are online education programs that guide students through the material as a group (or a cohort). Online cohort-based courses closely mimic how traditional schooling is done:

  • Students get access to the course content at the same time.

  • They complete it within the same period of weeks or months.

  • They take exams at the same time.

Of course, instructors can host cohort-based courses online, so the students aren’t physically taking these exams together. They are virtually going through the same steps.

When you make a cohort course, the structure is up to you. You can use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous online learning. You might have lessons, reading assignments, and quizzes that students can do on their own time, which is called asynchronous. You can also hold discussions and have exercises that are done simultaneously and allow students to collaborate, which is synchronous learning.

What Are the Benefits of Cohort-Based Courses?

Why are cohort-based courses so popular? There are several reasons:

  • They create a strong sense of community. This is something that all online education courses aim to establish, and cohort-based online courses do it by default. Because students are grouped and progress through the course material together, cohort-based courses provide a strong feeling of community.

  • Students can collaborate and learn from peers. Cohort-based courses encourage discussion and the sharing of opinions, which promotes peer learning and cooperation and leads to a deeper understanding of the subject.

  • The course is structured, guided, and flexible. Students benefit from the course's structure, guidance, and flexibility since they have a clear path to follow and an idea of what to expect.

  • Student engagement is higher. Cohort-based courses have higher levels of student engagement because students are more likely to participate in class discussions and activities when they feel at ease with their colleagues,

  • Information retention is stronger. Cohort-based courses improve knowledge retention because students are more likely to recall material they have discussed and applied with their peers.

  • There are higher completion rates. When students feel a sense of community and support, they are more likely to remain motivated and on schedule, resulting in higher completion rates in cohort-based courses. In addition, the course's structure and assistance can help students stay on track to complete the course successfully.

What Are the Drawbacks of Cohort-Based Courses?

Of course, there are also some drawbacks to cohort-based courses. Some of the major drawbacks are:

Some flexibility is lost due to the pacing. Even though this course style is more flexible than others, it still forces students to learn at a certain pace. Some students like going through content much faster via self-paced courses, but cohort-based learning locks content until a certain date is reached.

If students fall behind, it’s hard to catch up. If a student falls behind for any reason, cohort-based courses become less impactful. They won’t be around for discussions, they’ll be late to learn information, and it can become difficult to catch up.

Instructors need to be available during the full course. Other course styles are more hands-off, allowing instructors to simply guide content. With cohort-based courses, instructors need to monitor chatrooms, interact, and be present throughout the course.

How To Deliver an Effective Cohort-Based Course: Seven Pro Tips

If you want to create your own cohort-based course, we have some tips. In this section, we’ll highlight seven pro tips.

1. Develop a Clear Course Outline and Objectives

No cohort-based learning can start without a thorough outline and objectives. This is the heart of everything your course teaches. Start by putting together some key learning objectives, then build your outline around those objectives.

Doing this will keep your content cohesive and structured, making it easier for your students to follow along and hit the milestones.

As you’re creating your course, keep checking back on the outline and objectives to make sure you’re following them.

2. Create a Syllabus and Schedule

After laying out your outline, you have a loose schedule. Step #2 is to firm up that schedule and create a syllabus. This step will vary greatly between cohort-based courses, based on how long your course is and how you structure things.

At a minimum, your schedule should walk students through the major modules that make up your course.

The syllabus shows students what they will learn and introduces how cohort-based learning will flow. A good syllabus will keep students on track. Students can look back at the syllabus during the course to understand what they should expect next and see if they’re keeping up the right pace.

The syllabus should give a weekly or monthly breakdown. It can specify the weekly lectures, assignments, readings, exams, and discussion assignments. Giving students a schedule establishes the pace that should be kept throughout the course.

3. Communicate Expectations and Guidelines

With an online course, communication is very important. You need to clearly communicate what you expect from your students and the different guidelines that they need to follow. You should do this at the beginning of the course.

Guidelines for cohort-based programs should include goals, objectives, required material, assignments, assessments, attendance, and participation requirements.

If you simply release the cohort-based learning content without adding your expectations and guidelines, every student will take the course differently and might skip important steps.

4. Deliver Engaging and Interactive Content

Your content also needs to be highly engaging and interactive. Online learning makes it easy for students to get bored and tune out what you’re saying. If they’re simply playing lecture after lecture, they’ll lose interest and might stop showing up.

However, if you keep your content fun and enjoyable to listen to, they’ll be excited to learn more. It also helps with information retention and eagerness to finish the course.

You should remember this through every lecture, discussion, group activity, and multimedia presentation.

These are considered “informational products.” Information products are online content that people need to pay for to unlock. The goal of an information product is to teach the viewer more, which is the main purpose of your cohort-based course in the first place.

5. Provide Support and Resources for Students

This course shouldn’t be done in a vacuum. As an instructor, you should be around to give feedback, answer questions, and help students however they need it. Commonly, instructors will offer online discussions, office hours, one-on-one sessions, and email responses.

Another good idea is to provide extra resources that might help your students. Cohort-based programs typically use online readings, videos, podcasts, or blog posts. All of these resources and support are there to help your students learn more and retain more.

You shouldn’t have any quizzes or tests that use these resources; they are strictly supplemental for the students.

Think about your favorite high school teacher when you’re going through this step. They were likely very supportive and went above and beyond to help their students. You want to be the same role model for your students in this cohort-based course. It’s even more important since they’re missing the face-to-face contact of in-person learning and taking your course electively.

6. Foster Collaborative Learning

Online learning typically works best when it’s done collaboratively. As an instructor, you should aim to foster collaborative learning. How can you do that? Encourage students to work together, share their ideas, and compare experiences.

Using a cohort-based learning model is a great start, but it isn’t the extent. Focusing on including collaboration in your lesson plans can dramatically enhance how much a student learns and how much they retain.

You could plan collaborative activities as well. This could refer to group discussions, group projects, and peer reviews on submitted work. Before any group projects begin, set out ground rules and stress the importance of collaboration. Make sure students aren’t punished for having group members who don’t pull their weight.

Collaboration should always be productive, especially as it surrounds important course content.

7. Assess Student Progress

You should routinely check in and assess how the students are progressing. This is commonly done through assessments like quizzes, exams, and graded assignments.

By having a graded assessment, you can tell what content is tough to understand. If all of your students do poorly in a certain section, you should revisit how you teach that content. It’s likely that you rushed through the content or didn’t put enough emphasis on how important that content is.

If everyone did great and passed their assessment, you can pat yourself on the back. You presented the information in a great way.


Cohort-based courses allow students to learn in a unique way. They can benefit from structure and community building between their peers, but it’s not as easy as you think. By using our best practices and following these seven tips, you can put together a successful cohort-based learning experience. The results will be rewarding for everybody.

Make sure you collect feedback from your students to ensure you meet their standards. You can trust Simplero for any course hosting that you need. Try a free demo today to learn more.

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