Top 8 Tips for Building a Successful Cohort-Based Course on Disco

Last Updated
August 25, 2022

Cohort-Based Courses offer potential members an opportunity to opt into a transformative learning journey with a dedicated community who shares similar aspirations and goals.

While Self-Paced Courses are great for those looking to grow and upskill on their own time, Cohort-Based Courses offer an alternative path: structured and time-bound learning experiences designed for meaningful peer-to-peer interaction and knowledge sharing. In recent years, Cohort-Based Courses have transformed online education and shaken the traditional institution model by becoming some of the most sought after, transformative, and impactful pathways to learning.

According to Tiago Forte, founder of Forte Labs and Building a Second Brain,

“A few years ago online courses were not very profitable, not prestigious, not very desired, low quality, low impact, not community-driven, not social. And every one of those adjectives I've just said has flipped right now. The top live courses are approaching the prestige of Ivy Leagues. It's getting to the point that being part of these online groups can be just as impactful—not just for your skills, but your network, your reputation—as going to Harvard or Yale.”

We couldn’t agree more.

At Disco, we believe that deeply engaging Cohort-Based Courses include both synchronous learning (live, immersive events) and asynchronous learning (lessons, tasks, and assignments), and are a powerful way to deliver transformation and scale your learning business. That’s why we built a platform that enables founders and operators of emerging academies, bootcamps, and micro-schools to build premium Cohort-Based Courses that engage members from first point of contact to post-course Alumni Spaces.

We know that learning is moving away from traditional lectures and the ‘sage on stage’ model to one where the line between instructor and learner is increasingly less defined. Our platform is designed to empower you to create, deliver, and scale Cohort-Based Courses that catalyze many-to-many learning, where each individual is a contributing member of a learning ecosystem.

So how exactly do you build and run a successful Cohort-Based Course on Disco? Here are our top 8 tips:

Curate Your Cohort and Create an Exceptional Onboarding Experience For Your Learners

One of the biggest decisions you can make as you’re building out your Cohort-Based Course is whether to offer an open (public) course that anyone can register for, or to curate your members by implementing an application-based registration process. With Disco, you have the option to do both–-as well as to create a waitlist for those interested in joining your course. While each registration path presents its own set of unique benefits and administrative realities, curating your learners via applications can be an effective way to ensure that they are the right fit and ready to commit to the learning journey.

As Alen Faljic, founder of d.MBA shares,

"One of the first questions [founders ask themselves] is, do you have a curated community or do you have an open community? Both come with pros and cons. So we went with a curated community, and that means we want to have motivated designers. So if you're not a designer, you don't fit in. Secondly, if you're not motivated, you also won't fit in.”

Curating your learners through an application process not only encourages them to thoughtfully consider why they want to be a part of your course, but can also help guide how you design your course content, as well as how you create sub-groups based on learners’ needs, challenges, and goals (more on sub-groups below).

Disco makes it easy for you to design a registration process by enabling you to add and edit registration questions within the platform. When thinking about what to ask potential members, consider the transformation and community experience you are designing for. Here are some themes and categories to consider:

  • Geographical location. Knowing where in the world members are joining from will help you schedule live events everyone can join.
  • Identity information. Knowing your potential members’ race, gender, and other identifiers can help you curate a more inclusive and diverse Learning Community.
  • Greatest pain points. Understanding what potential members are struggling with can help you determine how to best support everyone in your cohort-based course (and how to equip them to help one another).
  • Goals and aspirations. Asking potential members why they want to be a part of your Cohort-Cased Course and what personal and professional goals they’re hoping to achieve will support you in designing a transformative learning journey.

These are just a few categories, and there are many more!

We know that reviewing and choosing applicants can be a long and timely process for operators, which is why we’ve designed features that make it easy for you to curate your membership applications. Once you’ve determined your registration questions and applications begin rolling in, you can view them in the members section of your course (located in the left navigation of your Cohort-Based Course dashboard) and view, accept or deny course applicants with one click. It’s that easy.  

Once accepted into the course, members can access a waiting room (enabled by you), or begin an onboarding process designed by you.

The onboarding process can be a Module you choose to release at a specific date and time. You can upload videos and tasks into your onboarding Module to ensure that members feel prepared for the learning journey before your course officially begins. Here are some things you could include in your onboarding experience:

  • A video welcoming everyone to your course and thanking them for investing in their transformation
  • A video reviewing your community agreements (can be accompanied by a PDF and/or a custom page that lives in the left navigation of your course dashboard)
  • A task to encourage members to add an image, short bio and links to their Member Profile
  • A task to remind members to add all live events to their calendars (which can be done with one click in the platform)
  • And more!

These seemingly small details can make a Cohort-Based Course feel intentional and welcoming and deliver a premium experience, right from the start.

Catalyze Connection by Hosting Powerful Live Sessions That Gather Your Cohort Virtually

One of the main differentiators of a Cohort-Based Course is the inclusion of live events as an integral part of the learning journey. In addition to the asynchronous content in your curriculum, live events help enhance the learning experience by creating opportunities for members to connect, engage, and learn from one another. These virtual gatherings help create a sense of belonging, commitment, and accountability—which ultimately help support the potential transformation each member can experience in your course. We’ve built a handful of features to help you schedule, run, and learn from your live events:

Connecting zoom and scheduling live events

Because we know how important live events are to delivering a successful Cohort-Based Course, we’ve made it easy for you to create and schedule them as part of your curriculum. Each live session is set up as a unique event with a date, start time and end time. Events can be created for all members or specific members that are part of a sub-group. Disco’s deep integration with Zoom allows you to connect one or multiple Zoom accounts (or a custom link) to create a seamless end-to-end experience for members.

Adding events to calendar and automated email reminders

Our goal is to ensure that your members never miss a live event. Once in the platform, members can add events to their personal calendars and join live events either within the Course Dashboard, or from the automated email they receive prior to the event start time. For Cohort-Based Courses that include members joining from various geographical locations, Disco automatically adjusts time zones–-we don’t want you or your members to have to manually calculate time differences!    

Attendance reports and member feedback

When an event is over, you can view and download the attendance report as well as member feedback to keep track of engagement and the impact of the event content. The ability to collect feedback can be manually selected when you are creating an event, and we encourage you to implement. It provides an incredible opportunity for you to learn more about your members’ experiences so you can iterate on your learning design based on what’s landing and what may not be resonating with members.

Making content accessible and available post live events

Another neat feature we highly recommend you use is the ability to upload a live event recording for each event when the live event is complete. Although members of a Cohort-Based Course have every intention of being present for live events, the reality is that sometimes life, work, and time zones can get in the way of attendance. Recording and uploading videos from live events allows you to create a more inclusive experience by making content more accessible, and ensures that members never miss any of your valuable content.

In the words of Disco Customer and BatteryMBA founder, Simon Engelke, on why he and his Chief of Staff, Amandine Bressand chose to build their academy on Disco,

“The main thing for me is really about notifications and reminders. I think that's a massive time sink. To always have these regular scheduled emails to send—follow ups is the key, right? We really want to make sure that people don't forget about sessions. The calendar is a massive thing to help learners not forget. I remember in our early days, creating these Google Calendars was an absolute pain. [With Disco], other people can download it themselves in their time zones. You found a way to integrate both Google calendar as well as Outlook, which is important, especially for some of our corporate clients.”

Create Asynchronous Opportunities For Meaningful Engagement and Peer-to-Peer Support

We know from research that Cohort-Based Course members experience better learning outcomes when they learn actively in community. It’s relatively simple to design for deep engagement when hosting live events on Zoom by using features like breakout rooms, but what about engaging members in between live events?

At Disco, we believe that people learn best when they feel engaged and supported throughout their entire learning journey–both synchronously and asynchronously. Engagement doesn’t have to end when the live event is over. In fact, members may need even more support outside of live events when they are going through curriculum modules–-reviewing lessons, completing tasks, and preparing assignments for submission (more on curriculum modules below).

Knowing how important it is for members to continue feeling engaged and supported outside of live events, we designed features to help you stay connected with your members and help them stay connected with one other:

Feeds

Cohort-Based Courses require regular communication and coordination. We created announcements (located in the left navigation of your course dashboard) to help you stay in contact with your members throughout the learning journey. Announcements are a great way to remind folks about upcoming events and assignment deadlines, introduce and celebrate course members, and provide general information and updates about the course. Likes and comments are also enabled on announcements, which allow for two-way communication between you and your members.

Chat

When you host live events, members are bound to connect and will likely want to continue engaging with other members outside of live events. Perhaps they have similar interests, become accountability buddies, or simply want to get to know each other better. Direct messaging allows members to reach out privately to others in the cohort, as well as instructors and/or course/community managers. This line of communication not only helps people feel more connected, but creates a sense of psychological safety for folks who would rather not express their questions, comments, and/or concerns publicly.

Channels

While Disco integrates seamlessly with Slack, we created channels as an alternative to using external communication tools. If you'd rather keep your members on our platform, our channels are a great way to keep course members connected and engaged throughout their learning journey. With channels, you have the ability to create public (visible and open to all members), or private (visible and open to specific individuals or subgroups) channels. If you’re wondering which channels to include or start with, we recommend:

  • #general – Open to all Members as the ‘central hub’ for communication
  • #assignments – A public channel to discuss all things assignment-related
  • #questions – Open to all members for questions / support throughout the experience
  • #subgroupXYZ – Private channel for sub groups
  • #introduce-yourself – Public channel to ignite the cohort in the lead-up to course start

Comments

We’ve built the Disco platform for social learning, which is why commenting is enabled throughout the course dashboard to allow you and your members to participate in open dialogue. Members can easily comment on lessons, ask questions about assignments, and even respond to one another. Not only do comments encourage peer-to-peer interaction, learning, and support, but allow you to understand where members may need additional support.

Design Both Course-Wide Experiences and Smaller Learning Group Experiences to Create Intimacy at Scale

There is an art to gathering people virtually and creating intimacy at scale. While much of your content and live events may be designed for course-wide participation, we know from delivering our own large-scale Cohort-Based Courses (like Roger Martin’s Create Your Winning Strategy), and from the feedback we’ve received from Disco customers that, in order to truly catalyze and create space for transformation, members require smaller, more intimate experiences in addition to larger course-wide experiences.

That’s why we created subgroups, a feature that enables you to create specific groups based on area(s) of interest, positionality, identity, level of experience, or any point of affinity that enhances the learning experience for your members. With subgroups, you can easily create groups and choose which members to include in each group–-you can even choose custom names for your groups! Once you’ve created your subgroups, you can create events, channels, and even content that is specific to each group, providing your members with a premium and highly personalized learning experience.

Disco customer and Program Manager at Dribbble Education, Madeleine Sava shares,

“Disco has allowed us to build a scalable education offering at Dribbble. The subgroups function has allowed us to break hundreds of students who enroll in each cohort into mentorship groups, giving each student a personal, hands-on, and intimate learning experience."

Dribbble launched and ran their Product Design Course on Disco with over 240 students enrolled in their first cohort., “Even though students are in a platform on Disco with 240 other students, it feels like they're in a platform where there are only 10 other students,” shares Madeleine. Learn how Dribbble enrolled 240+ students in their first cohort.

The benefit of subgroups is that it enables deep connection and engagement between members, creating a greater sense of community, belonging, and accountability to one another. In a large group, some members may not feel comfortable sharing insights or may feel that presence isn’t as important, so they may keep quiet or even skip a live event. But in smaller, more intimate groups, members feel a sense of accountability to one another, which means they’re more likely to attend live events, commit to course work, and support one another on the learning journey. When members know that their presence matters, they’re more likely to show up, and showing up is what enables their transformation.

Seth Godin, founder of altMBA and Akimbo shares that being ‘missed’ is why someone might pay a substantial price for a Cohort-Based Course, and a powerful reason for why they may show up consistently and actually complete the learning journey.

“Learning online is not, ‘how do I get someone to pay the tuition?’ It's how do I create a community so that there's social pressure, status rewards, and affiliation for people who enroll?” - Seth Godin

With subgroups, members are not only part of a course-wide community, but also part of a micro-community where they can contribute, learn, and feel supported in deeper and more meaningful ways.

Offer a Variety Asynchronous Learning Opportunities by Including Lessons, Tasks, Assignments, and Evergreen Resources as Part of Your Curriculum

Now that you know how to create and schedule live events for your members, we want to highlight the importance of asynchronous content and how easy it is to build a highly engaging curriculum on Disco. While live events are an essential part of delivering an exceptional Cohort-Based Course, members benefit greatly from having accompanying content like lessons, tasks, and assignments to help them achieve their desired transformation.

What happens asynchronously (outside of live events) is just as important as what happens in session. Here are our top features and recommendations to help you build an engaging curriculum and deliver an unforgettable learning journey:

Curriculum Models

On Disco, your Cohort-Based Course curriculum is organized into weekly (or daily) modules with a specific release date and time manually selected by you. You may choose to release all your modules at once or make each module available as the course progresses to avoid overwhelming members and ensure they are completing one module before moving on to the next. How you design and release your modules has a profound impact on a members’ learning journey–make it easy for them to find the information they need, in the order they need it, so they can spend more time learning the content and less time trying to find it.

Lessons

Once you’ve created curriculum modules, you’ll want to populate them with valuable content for your members. With lessons, members can easily access and watch high-quality videos uploaded by you, read and download any relevant documents, and ask questions via comments. You can upload videos directly or use Disco’s rich text editor to embed links of existing videos (i.e. from YouTube or Vimeo), images, tables, and more.

When it comes to creating engaging content, we’ve found that long, lecture-style videos may not be as effective. We recommend breaking up your videos into multiple lessons and keeping them short and concise to increase engagement and completion. We also encourage you to include supporting materials in addition to your video lessons to be inclusive of different learning styles. Some members will appreciate being able to follow along with transcripts, visuals, and content summaries.

Tasks

Tasks are activities you’d like to have members complete on their learning journey. They help make the member experience more inclusive and take the guesswork out of what to do and where to find important content. Include specific tasks in each module to easily guide your members once they’re in the course dashboard. We recommend getting granular and including as much detail as possible in your tasks to create a more seamless onboarding experience and learning journey for your members. Use Disco’s rich text editor to include everything from graphics, tables, videos, images, embedded links, and more. Some examples of tasks you could include in modules are:

  • Complete an intake survey
  • Introduce yourself to the community
  • Add live events to your calendar
  • Download slides from this week’s live event
  • And more!

Assignments

People learn best by doing and by reflecting on their work. Assignments are a great way to deeply engage members in your course content and create opportunities for members to integrate their experience by practically applying what they’ve learned. We’ve made it easy for you to create assignments within each module and to have members submit assignments right within the platform. Once assignments are complete, members can upload files or use the rich text editor to embed images, videos, documents, and links. Instructors are then able to view, download, and comment on individual members’ assignments and, if you so choose, members can also view and comment on each other’s assignments.

Evergreen resources

As members go through modules, you may also want to include evergreen resources they can have access to at any point during their learning journey. Perhaps you have a series of videos on a specific topic you’d like your members to have access to, or you’ve designed downloadable guides that could enhance their learning experience. Evergreen resources live in the left navigation of your course dashboard and can include everything from important course documents, to videos, images, links, and more. Evergreen resources are a great way to include more value for your members beyond curriculum content and live events.

Track Your Members’ Progress to Better Support Their Transformation and Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Impact of Your Learning Journey

Learning is a deeply unique experience, and while there will be similarities in the content and events members have access to, how they engage and respond to that content can be vastly different. As course members move through your Cohort-Based Course, it is important to understand how engaged they are with the curriculum content, live events, and with the cohort community so you can provide them with better support on their learning journey.

Disco’s progress reports enable you to track the progress of each individual member of your cohort by providing you with detailed data on their engagement with various parts of the course. At a high level, you can track their daily activity levels, the number of modules, lessons, tasks, and assignments they’ve completed, the number of events they’ve attended and total number of comments they’ve contributed.

For a deeper dive into a member’s experience, you can easily view which modules, lessons, tasks and assignments have been completed, which events a member has registered for and attended, when a member last logged into the course dashboard, and a summary of their comments.

Why is important to track member progress and what can you do with the data collected?

For one, the support you can provide members on their learning journey is one of the most important and differentiating factors of a Cohort-Based Course. While most Self-Paced Course members have opted into a self-guided journey with little to no community or instructor support, Cohort-Based Courses offer members an engaging, guided, and hands-on approach to learning. When you have insight into each members’ progress, you can get a deeper understanding into how engaged they are with the course content, where they may be falling behind, and how connected they may feel to the cohort community.

This data empowers you to determine who may need additional support with course content, an extra nudge to attend live events, or encouragement to contribute to community discussions. When you provide personalized attention for your members, you create a culture of care that is an incentive for people to continue being a member of your Learning Community and to become advocates of your offerings.

As Alen Faljic, Founder of d.MBA shares,

“Care is something that changes the way you approach the whole learning experience.”

Creating a culture of care is what helped d.MBA build a world class academy for designers.

Disco’s progress reports not only help you support members during the learning journey, they’re also a fantastic tool in guiding future versions of your learning and community design. You can use the aggregated member data to look for insights and patterns:

Which modules did members engage with most?

Which events had the highest attendance?

At what points in the curriculum did engagement drop off?

Answering these questions is why Tiago Forte began offering his wildly popular course, Building a Second Brain as a Cohort-Based Course, what he wanted was deep engagement with his members and insights into their experience:

“Your goal is to discover—one cohort, one group at a time, one zoom call at a time— which 20% of the material provides 80% of the value. One of my favorite metrics is time to value—from the minute someone starts giving you their attention, how many seconds pass until they are getting tangible, unique value? It should be 30 to 90 seconds.”

Progress reports empower you to design and lead better, and in turn, they help your members achieve their transformations.

Make it Easy for Your Cohort to Celebrate Their Accomplishments and Become Ambassadors of Your Offerings

Cohort-Base Courses require time, energy, and commitment from members. Chances are, if they signed up for your course, they made compromises in other parts of their life to bring their whole selves to the cohort and consistently show up for their community. Considering the realities of life and work, and the unique challenges each member may be navigating, successfully completing a course is a huge accomplishment!

At Disco, we believe that how you end a learning journey is just as important as how you begin, which is why we created certificates and other shareable assets to make it easy for you to celebrate your members and ensure they feel seen and appreciated. We know how important that is to designing a premium experience and creating potential advocates.

With Disco’s certificates feature, you can easily design a personalized ‘Certificate of Completion’ for every member in your cohort using the custom branding/visual of your choice. Once deployed, these certificates can be downloaded by members and used as social assets across different channels or as a certificate of proof for their resumes.

Having designed and run a wildly successful Cohort-Based Course with Roger Martin, we experienced the power of certificates firsthand. Before long, and without us having to ask, course graduates were posting their certificates on LinkedIn and sharing candid testimonials about the transformative experience they had.

Roger Martin's 'Create Your Winning Strategy' founding cohort certificates

This type of organic marketing is paramount to the success of your Cohort-Based Course(s) and to the growth of your learning empire. By taking the legwork out of creating shareable assets, you save time and make it easy for your members to advocate on your behalf—building an organic referral effect that will undoubtedly help you sell future offerings.

Run Multiple Cohorts a Year and Continuously Iterate on Your Learning Design to Grow Your Learning Community and Business

If you’re in the learning business, you’re likely offering multiple Cohort-Based Courses or running your premium offer several times a year. You’re no stranger to how much time and energy it takes to build out a Cohort-Based Course, creating and uploading lessons, tasks, assignments, and events is no small feat.

Since our mission is to enable emerging academies, bootcamps, and micro-schools to easily build and scale their learning empires, we designed a feature that allows you to seamlessly duplicate your Cohort-Based Course so you’re not building from scratch with every new cohort.

This feature alone has saved our customers a tremendous amount of time and money, allowing course and community managers to choose the content they want to duplicate in a matter of seconds.

When you decide to duplicate your Cohort-Based Course, you can choose to duplicate the entire course, or choose from curriculum, events, resources, and admins. Simply select what you want to bring to the new cohort and choose the start date for your upcoming course. Voila! You’re ready to make any necessary edits (like changing the dates for modules and events) and begin accepting registrations for your new Cohort-Based Course.

Running multiple cohorts is essential to the success of your learning empire. With each new cohort, you get a deeper understanding of your member’s greatest challenges, needs, and goals while continuing to grow your Learning Community. In the wise words of Cohort-Based Course pioneer, Tiago Forte,

“You don't have to reinvent everything. Just imagine yourself delivering the same content, but making it 10% better each time.”

Learn more about how Tiago approached learnign design and how he scaled his Chort-Based Course, Building a Second Brain, to 5000 Members worldwide.

And there you have it!

Building and delivering a Cohort-Based Course takes a lot of time, care, and people power.

As Eliot Gattegno, former Head of Education at On Deck shares,

“Running a program is incredibly operationally intensive. With Disco there are so many parts that can now have a much more product-guided and product-led experience than we were previously doing."

We built an all-in-one learning platform so you could focus on human tasks. The integrations, features and automated processes we’ve built into our product enable you to spend less time on administrative and operational tasks and more time focusing on building and running exceptional experiences that help you scale your learning empire.

Need additional support? Check out our Resource Center or submit a support ticket.

Last Updated
August 25, 2022
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