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September 5, 2021

Part II: Seth Godin’s Top 10 "Must Haves" On How to Create Exceptional Cohort Based Courses

Seth Godin is the OG of the cohort-based course and an online learning pioneer - founder of altMBA, one of the first online live cohort based courses - renowned for delivering a 97% completion rate. Seth is also  a 5x TED speaker and 20x bestselling author.


Last week Seth  joined our Disco Creator Sessions for a conversation on designing transformative learning experiences. See our Part 1 of insights here:


Here are 10 practical must haves  on how to create truly transformative cohort based course experiences that Seth so generously shared.


👉 #1: People need to feel like they are in a cohort

It begins by having people talk about things they are safe talking about and being heard, and seeing it reflected back to them.So at the beginning, we're not teaching you facts, we're just teaching you, you are part of this. And that goes back and forth.

Here's how:

  • Set up a channel in chat (like we do on Disco!) that allows people to introduce themselves, share some culture (like books that represent themselves), share why they decided to go on this journey and suddenly connections are made.


👉 #2: We become what we do

“And what that means is do things, do things, do things, and then suddenly, you are that thing, right? That if you want to be a writer, you have to write. And once you write a little and write a little and write a little, then the practice then kicks in, and it becomes identity.”

Here's how:

  • Create the conditions for people to build a practise. Your calendar tells the truth - set aside time for people to do their work alongside each other.


👉 #3: Learning to see just like the Wizard of Oz

"Just go watch the Wizard of Oz.  The story starts with this person from out of town coming down and killing a woman and then eventually killing the witch. That's not really what it's about, right? It's about a young woman who first ends up in a cohort, the first 10, 20 minutes of the movie are nothing about her joining a cohort. And then it becomes about her learning to see, about her learning to see relationships and only at the end, she discovers that all along, she had the ruby slippers. That's what we're doing here. It's all the Wizard of Oz."

Here's how:

  • Help people uncover what they need to see so they can go on a transformative journey.


👉 #4: Lectures can be useful if used properly

"When doing lectures, it's more than just the facts. It's about the emotional commitment, narration and support of helping others learn to see. Showing up on video looking right in the camera and speaking clearly from authority, there's a lot of value in this. It's a form of appropriate reassurance, it transfers, not just knowledge that could easily be in a document but also the emotional commitment to that knowledge."

Here’s how:

  • Design your lecture for connection and engagement by asking questions, linking it back to the specific group and using examples that relate to the shared experience


👉 #5: Don’t steal the punchline

"We say Knock, knock, and then we say who's there. And then we say the interrupting cow. And then we say moo, moo moo, right? That's not funny. What makes it work is if the people can finish the synapses in their own head. Because in that moment, they are the author of the story, not you. So we establish the conditions for the revelation. And then we let the student discover the revelation. And if you discover revelation, you will never forget it."

Here’s how:

  • Framing your role as a guide vs a teacher will help position your material so that it focuses on learners making discoveries on their own versus hearing answers from you


👉 #6: Project based learning — it’s art school, not business school

“I think we're trying to lead projects, not manage them. Managing projects means we know exactly how it's going to go. And people will do it, because we told them to lead projects but it means we're not really sure. But we can establish the conditions. So this is art school, art school is not I will hold your hand while you draw a circle. It's come in tomorrow with something you drew. You can't show up class tomorrow without a drawing. And you learn to give and get feedback about drawings, which is why art school is so much more effective than say business school, because in business school, we're not doing it, we're just hearing people go on about it, which doesn't help us do it.”

Here’s how:

  • Your job is to create the conditions for people to do their own project based work. And we create the conditions for feedback to happen between participants.


👉 #7: What promise did you make? Easy or hard?

Did you promise something that was easy to sell? In which case, you're going to have to give them videos and you're going to have a high dropout rate? Or did you promise people something that's hard to sell, but once they're in, they're not going to drop out, and you're gonna be able to change their lives. There's a school in Maine, where for a few thousand dollars, you can go for five days and you leave with a wooden boat. And you can learn to make a wooden boat by watching videos about building a kayak. But if you go to Maine and build a wooden boat, now you're a wooden boat builder, well, way more people watch the videos about how to make a boat, then actually go to Maine and build a boat. You have to decide which business you want to be.”

Here’s how:

  • It comes down to being intentional about the course promise you make and the journey required to then get them there.


👉 #8: On keeping people engaged

“Where were you? And this idea of creating learning groups, who will miss people if they are gone with creating rhythms, and expectations, maybe that takes a lot more work at the beginning. But it dramatically increases the retention rate of the thing. And if somebody is paying hundreds of dollars for a course, you can afford to send them a text every single time there's a new lesson.

Here’s how:

  • Create learning groups with habits where people will be missed and contacted if they were absent.


👉 #9: On Culture

“You have to set a culture. And culture is a choice. We get what we tolerate. If you act like a troll inside an Akimbo workshop, you're not gonna last five minutes before somebody corrects you, adjusts the way your thing appears. It's just not tolerated. Not around here, we don't talk to each other that way.”

Here's how:

  • You have to set culture, it doesn’t just happen.


👉 #10: On Supporting Each Other - Building A Community of Creators


The Enemy is Apathy, Not Each Other

"If you have a course that can be easily stolen, and it doesn't matter if it's stolen, it's going to get stolen. So that means you have to build something where your presence in it and your point of view and your reputation means it's hard to steal. Because protecting your ideas is not going to get you to where you want to go."

Eagerly and Regularly Blurb Other Work.

"I've blurbed hundreds of books in my career. It's exhausting. It takes too much time. It's rarely satisfying, but I do it anyway because someone did it for me."


Create A Mastermind Community. Hint. That’s What We Want to Do for You Right Here at Disco.

“Invite each other to a weekly zoom call, tell each other everything you know, challenge each other to go to the next level. Don't be alone. Because the idea is that together we can do this. No one on this call is a competitor with anybody on this call our competitors is apathy.”

Seth took the words right out of my mouth. At Disco, we are here to support each other to reimagine learning for the world.


Watch our full session with Seth here 👇 and Join us every Thursday for our Creator Sessions with creators, thought leaders and pioneers of learning.