Why You Should Take Cohort-Based Courses
Access to education has never been easier. It’s practically at your fingertips. Don’t know how to change your oil on your 1990’s Ford Bronco - there’s a tutorial on YouTube. Need to learn how to sew-in a hole in your pants - there’s a graphic tutorial on WikiHow. Need inspiration for tonight’s dinner - TikTok and Instagram are full of mouth-watering recipes that you can consume in 15 seconds or less.
With online learning, you can circumvent the physical classroom and find a resource on the Internet in seconds. The covid years actually forced a lot of people to use online education as default.
“We’re in the post-content age. In the past, educational content was expensive and scarce. It became a major selling point for universities.
Today, however, educational content is cheap and abundant. YouTube, newsletters, blogs and social media all serve as modern universities”
— Wes Kao, co-founder of Maven
Same goes for learning (AR/VR or real-time 3D) design and development. There’s tons of resources. The problem isn’t finding the information, it's curating it!
As a regular earth-dweller with access to the Internet and motivation to learn, you’ll face the same problem — which learning path will get me the best education in the least amount of time.
Let’s explore the options:
- Self-learner’s path — free or very low investment ($)
- The path of on-demand online courses — small to medium investment ($$)
- Online Bootcamps - expensive ($$$)
Everyone starts with self-learning. When you’re looking to learn more about your subject, you’ll inevitably go online and search anything you can find about it. The amount of resources is often overwhelming.
Paradox of Choice
Depending on the subject of your learning there’s thousands of results: from one-off tutorials, broad but shallow explanations, to video assets on YouTube. The way search algorithms work is, it serves you the results search browser thinks is the most valuable and complete. But when you depart on a quest for mastering the skill, you are met with so many options which pull you into seventeen different directions.
In the book Paradox of Choice, the author Barry Schwartz explained that the more options we mere humans have, the harder it is to choose. And even when we choose one thing, we are siren-songed away with other choices that battles with our attention. The bounty of decisions leads to indecision.
Ironic, isn’t it?
That’s the first drawback.
No Accountability, No Victory
The other one comes with the utter lack of accountability. If there’s nothing on the line, what gives you the motivation to complete the project? The students with a god-tier level of discipline and self-reliance can follow through. The others… Well, we need help.
Professional writers like Neil Gaiman, locked themselves in the room until they got bored. Then they start writing. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld follow the “don’t break the chain” framework, where they take action every single day. Missing one day would toppled the jenga tower.
“I'm much better at putting my phone away, going for boring walks, actually trying to find the space to get bored in. That's what I've started saying to people who say 'I want to be a writer,” I say 'great, get bored. '” — Neil Gaiman
Most people need to have a schedule along with a logical roadmap so they know when to show up and where they are going.
Sometimes the free self-learning route is the most expensive one since you never achieve your desired goal. Instead of paying with your local currency, you’re paying dividends with your time.
These are the second and third drawbacks: no accountability and lack of structure.
Pros of Personal Learning:
- Exciting to start
Cons of Personal Learning:
- No direction
- No accountability
- Poorly structured
- Can be frustrating by slow progress
- No support
Self-Paced On-Demand Courses
There’s hundreds of courses online, with new ones popping up almost every day. Just pick a niche you want to learn and there are hundreds of options: from (self-proclaimed) industry gurus to low-cost specialized platforms such as Udemy, Teachable, Coursera, EdX and a number of others Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Some platforms like Skillshare, Linkedin Learning, or amazingly produced MasterClass offer a subscription based platform with a plethora of online on-demand courses.
There are also University-offered courses like the famous Hardvard’s free Introduction to Computer Science course CS50 with 3.5 million enrollments.
While these courses might have good structure and are way better thought out than your own teaching schedule they have notoriously high dropout rates.
According to Wes Kao, CEO and Co-founder of Maven, only 7 to 10% of students who start self-paced courses actually finish them. Some stats are saying that could be as low as 3%. Quite ironic that course modules aren’t finished even when taken on students' own time.
Students who enroll in these classes aren’t as motivated as they thought in the first place. Some courses which cost several thousand dollars do come with “a skin-in-the-game” factor because of the high price. Others, ranging from low to mid-cost (below $100 to ~$500) are having terrible completion rates. That’s not good. Students who paid for the course are having the intent to acquire a skill and create, build and use the skill for a project.
“It’s not the lack of intention that is missing — it’s the lack of accountability.”
The lesson format of on-demand courses is a basic transfer of knowledge from an instructor to a student through a monologue, presentation slides and in some cases, over-the-shoulder screenshare.
- Some structure
- Easy to follow along
- Relatively affordable
- Requires effort
- No accountability - paid courses online have 7% to 10% completion rate
Cohort-Based Learning with Online Bootcamps
The category of the cohort-based courses is not new, but it works well because of the accountability factor. The cohort courses have a start and an end date, and you as a student learn the curriculum with other students in the cohort.
One of the biggest benefits is the actual obligation itself. You have to follow the schedule, log into live classes in-person and focus on the lesson with other students. The added benefit of having a community - some of them are your actual classmates is another major sticking element that makes you excited to get back to the class but also students stay in the online communities as long as they want which is a net positive for them and the community itself becomes larger and larger.
It’s a natural living peer body which is very supportive and lives on its own with the help of moderators.
Circuit Stream has been doing cohort learning courses for the past four years and our completion rate is 88%.
Students who are taking the cohort-based course are engaged. They crave social interaction in real-time and want to connect with the instructors, other students and participate in post-lesson discourse in private community channels. The sense of community is an essential part of cohort-based courses — it’s baked in as a mandatory piece.
Instead of learning from a pre-recorded video, live classes follow the structure of the “I do , we do, you do” concept. The ratio of teaching versus collaboration is different — about 25% is presenting the lesson, and the other 75% is working together and actively learning in a small group of students.
Better By Each Iteration
The benefits are amazing even for the course providers. The instructors collect the qualitative data subconsciously with each cohort. For each and every cohort the course providers can adapt, optimize and upgrade the learning experience based on the changes in the industry along with the live (and retroactive) feedback from the live classes. The adjustments in pace, delivery, and frequency are easy to make when you have a fast feedback loop.
This heavy collaboration does come at the price. Cohort-based courses are usually more expensive because instructors and materials have to be prepared for live lessons. It’s also harder to scale. Circuit Stream courses are capped by the number of students, making it sure the class experience is intimate and not overpopulated with too many participants.
When You’re Done, You’re Not Done
If you want to become an expert at something you know that learning never stops. People who finish an online course often have this feeling of “what now?” Once one milestone has been achieved, you’ll have to find the next level. With self-paced courses this next-level is often ignored, while at Online Bootcamps, there’s enough community engagement that there’s always something to learn even if there’s no official product to conquer.
- Structured approach
- Learning in a cohort of other students
- Up-to date curriculum
- Access to community and 1on1s
- Extra Features such as career coaching, student-focused events etc.
- Expensive compared to other options
- Requires commitment
Circuit Stream has been offering a cohort-based approach since 2015. It’s the default format for the majority of our courses: from 10-week XR Development with Unity and Interaction Design and Prototyping for XR classes to the newly-minted 30-week Unity Game Development Bootcamp which comes with career support services.
We've enjoyed 88% completion rate across all these courses and students love the intractability, relationships with instructors and other classmates as well as the overall experience coming out of the course.
If you’ve been thirsting to take a course on Unity or AR/VR but you’re not sure about the price, you can also use your employee budget from your company to win your supervisors over.
Download the Unity Game Development Bootcamp Syllabus