How are Cohort-Based Courses Different from Traditional Classrooms?

Ever thought about whether cohort learning or the traditional style is best for you? In this article we’re comparing the two styles.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the internet has dramatically changed the way we learn.

While many people may still associate education with an idea of traditional classroom learning, involving anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of students in a classroom listening to a lecture, today this is simply one model among many.

Thanks to the prevalence of the internet and virtual communication tools, cohort learning has risen to prominence as a popular alternative to this traditional model. A cohort learning style involves students working together in a small group to complete a set module of learning, usually completed in less time than a normal semester.

This article will compare and contrast both types of learning to help you decide which one is best for your needs. We’ll also go into some more detail about cohort-based learning to help you better understand this relatively new form of education.

Positives of Classroom Learning

People have been learning in the conventional-style classroom for thousands of years, dating back to ancient cultures like Egypt and Mesopotamia. No matter where you are in the world, you’ll likely be able to find students learning in a manner similar to the classrooms you probably attended when you were younger.

All this to say that classroom learning is well-understood and well-respected by most employers. People are familiar with the traditional classroom setting found at many of the top universities and business schools in the country. They likely won’t need you to provide extra details or explain exactly what kind of learning they engaged in.

Because the normal method of classroom learning is so familiar, it often comes with more prestige among employers. This is especially true if you are able to attend one of the top institutions in the country like an IIT or an IIM. People who are looking to hire have a natural tendency to favor candidates who have come through experiences and circumstances they understand, including their education.

But, to be honest, it’s the extremely tough entrance exams and the selection criteria that recruiters value over the classroom education at these institutions. The entrance exam serves as a proxy IQ test, and the prestigious institutional label offloads some of the risk of hiring a bad apple from the recruiter’s head.

Negatives of Classroom Learning

What are some reasons you may not want to pursue a traditional path for higher learning?

At the top of many people’s minds, especially given the ongoing economic impact of COVID-19, is the cost. Depending on what you are studying and where, the price of attending a traditional learning institution for just one year can reach over ₹20 lakh.

When you also consider other costs like having to move to a new location and the price of living there, the price tag gets even higher. This is an unfortunate reason why many of the top schools in India are out of reach for a significant portion of the population.

Besides the financial investment, classroom learning also requires a significant investment of time. Taking one complete course at a normal, classroom-based institution might require 3.5 to 4 months of time or more. To complete an entire degree program, you may be looking at 2–4 years of these classes.

This significant investment of time may not be a huge deal to a young student in their early 20s, but if you are someone who already has a job or is responsible for taking care of a spouse and/or children, the opportunity cost involved  — both in terms of time and money — may not be realistic.

Positives of Cohort Learning

In a cohort education model, you team up with a smaller group of fellow students than you would typically find in a traditional classroom. Depending on the nature of the program, you might be in a cohort with only a few other students. In this way, you receive the benefits of working together with others without some of the drawbacks of a traditional classroom, where instructors sometimes simply don’t have the capacity to give appropriate attention to every single student.

Cohort learning programs also tend to be more tightly-focused, with learning that is more immediately actionable. Where a course at a traditional learning institution may cover a range of general subtopics within a given field like accounting or management, a cohort is usually focused on building a more specific skillset. A cohort may be presented with a hypothetical challenge such as turning around a lagging business or launching a new product or service. This tighter focus often means it’s much easier to gain relevant, applicable education that you can use quickly.

Accordingly, cohort learning also takes up less time than a traditional classroom program. Not only does the full cohort module take less time to complete, they’re typically much more adaptable to the schedule of a working professional. Many cohort programs take place on weekends, for example, so that you can still complete your normal responsibilities during the week.

Cohort learning is usually much less expensive than a traditional classroom learning program. You might pay a fraction of the cost that you would for a regular classroom education, often without sacrificing anything in terms of the material quality and the kind of people you’ll get to be around.

Speaking of being around people, a final advantage of cohort learning is its importance in building your network. Whereas a regular classroom program is often populated by students at the early stages of their career, cohort learners tend to be more experienced and focused when it comes to learning. The relationships you build in a cohort can be longer-lasting and more mutually beneficial than a normal program – though it’s possible to form valuable bonds with peers and mentors in both settings.

Negatives of Cohort Learning

While cohort learning is a modern, highly efficient method of gaining professional knowledge, there are some drawbacks.

First, when compared to the traditional classroom model, cohort learning isn’t as widely understood or admired in the corporate world. This is especially true of many at the management level, who are likely from an era when cohort learning was either unavailable or very hard to come by.

Even today, cohort learning programs aren’t as common as conventional classrooms. Smaller cohort style programs are not offered by as many different institutions, so you may have to spend more time seeking out a good program.

Which one is right for your needs?

Now that we have gone over the pros and cons of both styles, an obvious question comes to mind: which one is best for your needs?

There’s no black and white answer to this question. Everyone is different and has their own learning preferences as well as day-to-day responsibilities.

To make this decision, consider your goals and where you are in your life and career. If you haven’t started working yet or are in the early part of your career and can devote a few years fully to school, a traditional classroom model may work — especially if your goal is to join investment banking, consultancies, or other corporate companies.

On the other hand, with cohort learning you get to learn actionable skills focused on a particular niche. Naturally, they are better for you if your aim is to get started working in the field as soon as possible and accumulate experience there. Additionally, startups today focus on skills and proof of work over certifications, so with a cohort-based course, you’re very well poised to make a case for a good role at a fast-growing startup. In fact, many of the people you meet as a part of a CBC may be already working at good startups and want to collaborate with you.

StoaMBA is one such CBC, where we offer a business education that prepares you for taking on some of the most challenging business roles of today’s startup world. Whether you have dreams of launching your own startup some day down the line or you simply want to be part of India’s best startups, the 6-month program can provide you with the tools, coaching, mentorship, and career support needed to make this transition from a corporate to a high-growth startup. Check out StoaMBA here.

Carlotta Schaden
November 29, 2021

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