In this article, you’ll learn:
- How the future of learning is evolving because of innovations like cohort-based courses, and what makes them such powerful tools for learning with community
- The must-haves you should put on your checklist when picking a cohort-based course platform that's best suited for your online learning business
- Our five picks for best cohort-based course platform from the dozens founders have to choose from (and what makes them a cut above the rest)
ONLINE EDUCATION, as we've experienced in recent years, is changing fast.
With the learning industry set to hit $1 trillion by 2030, we're entering the Golden Age of learning. Now anyone, anywhere can become a teacher and create cohort-based courses to share their wisdom with the world by creating new means of teaching and learning.
One really powerful form of learning many of today's founders and operators of learning communities use are cohort-based courses. Cohort-based learning allows founders to deliver content and curriculum while bringing people together to share in the learning experience. The student experience is built around learning new skills and developing their own understanding within the confines of a private community.
These are typically synchronous experiences, meaning the cohort comes together in live classes to learn through lectures, coursework, case studies, and more, but they may include some self-paced learning to be completed individually.
A cohort-based course involves a lot of moving parts, which is why using a platform dedicated to creating, hosting, and managing learners of a cohort-based course is a must-have for any founder or operator offering online courses.
Let's discuss the power of launching a cohort-based course and what to look for in a platform that would host these learning experiences. Then, we'll break down our top 5 choices for the best cohort-based course platform that are worth considering before choosing the perfect tool for you.
What makes cohort-based courses so powerful?
Of all the new types of learning experiences created in recent years, a cohort-based course looks the most similar to the traditional model of learning; a classroom of people all working towards achieving a common goal, whether that's to learn a skill or pass a test or earn a grade.
But virtual learning, especially as a post-secondary option, is becoming far more popular. Online learning creates a level of accessibility and flexibility that in-person, traditional learning can't match, and that's just one of the many reasons cohort-based courses are so powerful:
Traditional education tends to put up barriers where there should be doors. Cohort-based courses unlock access to collaborative learning that many would otherwise not have access to.
The virtual environment of an online course means anyone, anywhere can access their curriculum and engage in learning without having to commute or be physically “present” in a physical classroom setting. Because learners aren't bound by those typical constraints, they can access educational content at global scale and learn from the brightest minds in learning.
Cohort-based courses also tend to be more affordable or offer more flexible payment options because they aren't bound by traditional methods. Teachers can offer students payment plans, income share agreements, lifetime access for a flat fee, discounts, and scholarships as they choose to bolster participation from underrepresented communities. Students can maintain financial security by finding a learning community that fits their needs.
Our customers are using cohort-based courses and learning communities around them to increase accessibility to learning for all kinds of underrepresented individuals.
As mentioned above, cohort-based sessions mimic the physical classroom experience because you're still learning with a body of other kindred learners. Unlike asynchronous, self-paced courses — which are still great learning tools, but have lower completion rates — cohort-based courses are highly successful because they create shared accountability.
You lean on not only your instructor but your coursemates, as well, to complete coursework, adhere to a course schedule, and master material.
This learning model is often far more intimate than a traditional classroom, and the right cohort-based course platform will foster different levels of communication and collaboration.
Traditional curriculum is rooted in state mandates, standardized testing and other measures that historically do not determine proficiency of material. What makes cohort learning so powerful is the level of freedom creators of these courses have; they can make their own curriculum, allow as many people into the fold as they want, and determine what student success looks like.
The result? A transformative experience, shared by only those who have completed your course content. But few founders and operators — if any — of cohort-based courses can simply throw a course up online and watch it take off.
Using a platform to manage the administrative, operational, and even marketing tasks that are associated with building and delivering a course is the best way to guarantee legitimacy and to keep your cohort-based course running smoothly.
But what should you be looking for in the platform you'll ultimately choose? We're breaking down the most important elements to consider.
“Disco has allowed us to build a scalable education offering at Dribbble. The subgroups function lets us break the hundred of students who enroll in each cohort into mentorship groups, giving each student a personal, hands-on & intimate learning experience.” - Madeleine Sava, Program Manager at Education Dribbble
What should you look for in a cohort-based course platform?
Intuitive Curriculum Building
A capable cohort-based course platform can support hosting every learner of your cohort-based course and their journey through the curriculum you've created.
Your platform should also support different types of learning within your curriculum with an intuitive curriculum builder. This includes lessons, tasks, assignments, projects, and assessments, or anything that can be designed to help your learner achieve their goals. Every experience offers a different means of learning and mastering material, so it's important that the platform you choose supports their creation.
Finally, the right platform will support other experiences outside of cohort-based course material, including self-paced courses and event series. Remember — learning doesn't happen in silos, and you're only making the learner experience more enriching by offering other learning experiences to supplement your cohort-based course.
Learner Onboarding, Profiles, and Progress Reports
The most important factor in any cohort-based course platform you're considering is their support for learners in your learning community. Your learners need to have a great experience so they tell friends and family, who become fellow students. Without built-in support, you can't measure the type of impact your teachings are having on your learners and curate the experience based on feedback.
That comprehensive learner support starts by making the onboarding experience as seamless as possible. Whether you're starting fresh on a platform or migrating from another tool, the platform you choose should support learner onboarding with features like bulk email invites, checklists, or video walkthroughs of what learners are about to learn.
Next, learners should be able to create their own profiles. This allows each learner to brand themselves, share personal or professional information, and put a face to names they see in their cohorts. This helps founders or operators on the back-end to get to know their learners and create personalized progress reports.
Speaking of progress reports, it's a must-have for any platform you choose: Knowing how learners are progressing through your coursework, attending events, and engaging with other cohort mates is crucial to not only their success, but your community's success. Progress reports can be hyper-personalized and referenced if you need to step in and help steer a learner back on course.
Clean, User-freindly (Branded) interface
Are you wasting precious time making learners navigate between tools, pages, or features? Not on the perfect cohort-based course platform.
A clean user experience and interface will ensure your learners know where to find the features they need and find them quickly. Having an option to further brand that interface adds to the learner experience and lets your personality shine through.
Communication tools for fostering collaboration
Learning can happen in a community chat, a direct 1:1 message, or in intimate subgroups. The perfect cohort-based course platform will support all methods of communications, including channels and posts, so your learners can engage asynchronously. But this goes beyond simple text exchanges — video or calling integrations are perfect for when you want need to host virtual events or jump on a quick call with a learner.
If the platform of your choosing doesn't offer proprietary communication tools, they should integrate with other tools like Slack, Zoom, or Skype.
Now that you know what features to look for, let's go over five great cohort-based course platforms you should add to your consideration list:
The 5 best platforms for selling online courses in 2022
Disco is a community-focused learning management system that supports the building, operating, monetizing, and scaling of all kinds of learning experiences, including cohort-based courses. Everything you need to create and monetize your community plus support the learner journey is intuitive to the Disco platform. Our clean user interface makes it easy for you to customize the end-to-end experience, and even easier for your learners to navigate.
No matter what stage your cohort-based course is at — whether it's your first attempt or you're a seasoned community curator — you can find value in Disco's mission to bridge the gap between community and learning, because one truly can't exist without the other.
Key features of Disco
With Disco, founders and operators will have every feature they need to build, operate, scale, and monetize their learning communities and cohort-based course offerings.
From massive open online courses to small businesses, we put course creators in the driver's seat to create their own learning experiences and run their community the way they want. Learning and community become one on the Disco platform with our suite of features and integrations, such as:
- All the tools for community building and engagement, like channels, posts, and messaging, plus options for video calls and community-wide events with Zoom or another chosen video platform
- The ability to dictate course capacity, price, and access
- Bulk invitations to invite new and current members onto the platform
- An intuitive curriculum builder, so founders and operators can create enriching cohort-based courses with lesson plans, assignments, projects, case studies, and other tasks to ensure a deep learning experience
- Tailor-made application processes; make admission to your cohort-based courses and learning community as easy or nuanced as you'd like
- Payment processing with the ability to create discounts, scholarships, and other payment options
- Course duplication to easily recreate lesson plans, videos, resources, and other tools you use from cohort to cohort—with a click of a button!
- Easy-to-use loops to collect feedback from individual students
Pricing for Disco:
Disco Pro: $75 a month gets you 1 admin and 3 instructors to teach your cohort-based courses. With that, you can design an unlimited number of learning experiences for learners. Create spaces for communication and collaboration with our proprietary tools or with integrations like Slack and Zoom.
Disco Organization: $399 a month unlocks 5 admin accounts and 10 instructor slots for your cohort-based course. You can also further customize your platform with branded logos, colors, and iconography. With Disco Organization, you'll have access to progress reports to really track proficiency, engagement, and other metrics of learner success.
Disco Enterprise: Disco will design a custom price that matches your cohort-based course and community, as well as the goals you have in mind for when you scale. Enjoy customized onboarding and dedicated success management to begin hiring a full-time team and achieving large revenue goals.
We go more in-depth on our pricing plans and what’s included at each tier here.
Disco is a learning and community management system first, but we offer the deep functionality and integration of a true cohort-based course platform. If you hope to offer additional learning experiences in the future, Disco will be the platform that can scale with you and create operational excellence by offering everything you need on one sleek cohort-based course platform.
“We moved to Disco because we needed a platform on which we could run the program, which would minimize the time and effort we put into the admin, but also would increase our time in terms of content creation. So for us, we had reached a turning point. Disco was honestly the best platform we looked at in terms of enabling us to do just that. Everything is accessible on the platform itself.” – Amandine Bressand, Chief of Staff at BatteryMBA
Teachfloor is another option for those looking for a cohort-based course platform. They allow founders and operators to build their course on the platform, follow each individual learner's journey, and foster communication amongst students.
Like Disco, they also allow communities to white label with personalized branding and integrate payments through Stripe.
Key features of Teachfloor
Teachfloor ticks many of the boxes we listed above in terms of functionality, features, and integrations necessary to hosting a cohort-based course successfully. Depending on the payment plan you select, you'll unlock some of the following:
- Support for unlimited learning activities
- Course landing pages and duplication so you can repurpose learning content and other course materials
- Bulk invitations onto the platform, as well as to learning events within the cohort-based course (that adhere to the learner's unique timezone)
- Zoom integration to host and record classes
- Zapier integration, however, is not available at the most affordable price point
Pricing for Teachfloor
Pro: $69 a month lets you run unlimited courses and invite up to four instructors with integrations like Zoom to help host.
Business: For $349 a month, Teachfloor lets you add up to 15 instructors, create a custom domain, and white label your platform with your logo and brand identity. You'll also be able to use the Zapier integration for more automated workflows both internally for your team and externally for learners.
Enterprise: Teachfloor offers enterprise-level custom pricing where you have more of a tailor-made plan fit for your business for scalability
Teachfloor is a comprehensive platform for hosting cohort-based courses but, at comparable pricing, Disco allows founders and operators to host all kinds of learning experiences, including self-paced courses and event series that can happen in tandem with, in addition to, or completely separate from your cohort-based course. This gives you the opportunity to create multiple income streams rather than be siloed into only offering a cohort-based course.
Maven looks a little different from other cohort-based course platforms on this list. Maven, rather, is a marketplace of cohort-based courses, built by teachers all over the world, that lets learners shop for courses they're interested in. Teachers use the Maven platform to set their course and price, and use features of the platform to build their offerings.
Key features of Maven
Because anyone, anywhere can start teaching on Maven and market their offerings to the Maven audience, they make their platform intuitive enough to create a course, though the functionality and customization options are limited:
- Single dashboard drops content, community, and learning in one place for learners to easily navigate
- Templates to build course offerings from, like worksheets, fill-in-the-blank templates, how-to guides, and other building blocks
- Marketing solutions like email automation, gathering of social proof and testimonials, and the chance to showcase your offerings on Maven's homepage
Pricing for Maven
Pricing for Maven is set by the individual teacher, and the platform collects 10% of earnings. Learners pay by the individual course they wish to complete.
While Maven is a useful tool for new founders and operators of cohort-based courses to get their start, the platform isn't intuitive enough to scale a full-fledged learning business from. Reviewers also note that teachers have little to no control over application flow and the tool is not user-friendly, as creating content is difficult and time-consuming.
The right cohort-based course platform for your community should be easy for both your team and your learners to use. It should also scale with your business, not hinder you from growing, and unfortunately, Maven's offerings don't give you the reins to own your learning community and the business that comes with it.
Graphy's website claims that over 100,000 creators have built cohort-based courses on their platform, using their suite of solutions to create, market, and sell their course offerings. The platform supports live, lecture-led courses as well as “drip” courses that can be completed asynchronously.
Key features of Graphy
Graphy's main objective is to make the end-to-end process of building, marketing, and selling a cohort-based course as seamless as possible to give founders and operators a revenue stream for selling their experiences. It's fairly straightforward, and while community is noted as a “feature,” growing and fostering communities is not a front-page feature of the Graphy offerings, which include:
- The ability to create a host of multimedia course options; they can be synchronous or asynchronous, private or public, and even mobile-only
- Templates for building out quizzes and assessments, but not many other types of learning experiences
- Watermarking options for marking content as yours and yours alone
- Built-in marketing tools to generate and track leads, sticky landing pages, affiliate programs, and a referral program
- Integrations with tools like Mailchimp, Vimeo, Zoho Mail, and YouTube to combine multiple tools into one
- Highly encrypted platform so any content you upload to the site stays on the site
Pricing for Graphy
Like Maven, Graphy makes pricing straightforward, taking a 10% cut per sale on the platform. They also tack on a $999 onboarding fee, which can be a large expense for new founders and operators who are just starting out.
Graphy is an intuitive tool that can ultimately become quite costly. 10% of every sale can start to add up if your course takes off and you're generating a lot of learnerships. Platforms like Disco simply charge you a flat fee per month or year and allow you to keep 100% of the profits you earn from learners who join your community.
Scenes brands themselves as “The Whitelabeled Discord.” Fans of Discord (or those looking for a brand-able community platform) will know that Discord doesn't offer the same branded customization that other platforms do. In doing so, Scenes gives you a handful of the tools necessary for bringing your learning community to life and providing a learning experience.
Key features of Scenes
While Scenes boasts themselves as a community platform more so than a cohort-based course platform, they do create opportunities for founders and operators to offer other learning experiences with their range of features and integrations, like:
- A fully white-labeled learning environment, branded the way you want
- Mobile app for both founders and users
- The ability to create live events, forums, and different types of courses
- Bespoke community currency learners can earn and use to purchase merch or other goodies
Pricing for Scenes
Scenes' pricing was not made public, but we believe it's custom based on the features you choose and the integrations you'll need to host your offerings.
Scenes boasts a lot of great features and customizations to make the platform feel uniquely yours, but community is a major afterthought in the platform's messaging and marketing. Founders and operators of bootcamps, academies, micro schools, and other use cases for cohort-based courses want a platform that puts learning and community as separate but equal priorities — and there's only one platform on this list that does just that.
Why Disco is the cohort-based course platform for building a successful learning community
For communities big and small, Disco creates solutions at every stage of your learning business that are not only affordable, but more accessible and sustainable. Disco was designed to grow with your learning community.
It's our mission to democratize and decentralize learning at a global scale. Learn about Disco's ‘Why' here.
By putting community at the nucleus of all learning, our team was able to create solutions that other platforms can't provide; these include all of the features you need to create, host, and scale cohort-based courses, as well as other learning experiences, while keeping your community healthy and happy.
See for yourself why it's the learning management system, if not simply the cohort-based course platform, that you need to build, operate, scale, and monetize. Start your free 14-day trial to see what the buzz is all about, or book a live demo to dive deeper on the platform with our team.