When an entrepreneur begins a CO.STARTERS program, they are placed in a “cohort” of other entrepreneurs. Over the duration of the program (around 10 weeks for our signature CO.STARTERS Core program), that entrepreneur will use each session’s material to build their business in real time—alongside their fellow cohort members.
When we started CO.STARTERS ten years ago, the word “cohort” was divisive among our team. Some didn’t like its military connotations; it felt too self-serious. But “class,” “team,” and “group” all failed to capture the full depth of the CO.STARTERS experience.
“Cohort” seemed, somehow, to fit the best. So it stuck.
Ten years later, “cohort-based learning” has taken off. Seth Godin’s altMBA workshop has equipped thousands of participants, each placed in various cohorts. Platforms like Mighty Networks and Maven are cropping up to help instructors create cohort-based learning courses and foster community.
Why the sudden boom in cohort-based learning? What did the founding CO.STARTERS team see that the world at the time didn’t?
CO.STARTERS is often asked if our program content will ever be available in the form of a self-guided online course, like the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) you’ll find on Udemy, Skillshare, Masterclass, or edX.
The answer is “probably not.” There are serious problems with self-paced learning that stand in the way.
Only 5-6 out of 100 MOOC participants actually complete the courses they start. While self-guided courses are great money-makers for the instructors and platforms providing the programs, they’re ineffective as a way to educate and equip students.
The CO.STARTERS Core program boasts an impressive 82 percent completion rate. This is partly due to many elements that MOOCs lack. In a CO.STARTERS cohort, your facilitator and fellow participants see your face and expect you to show up every week. You can ask questions in real time, and you have a group of people who will follow up with you after the program finishes.
You don’t get any of that in most self-guided courses.
Cohorts Replicate How Humans Naturally Learn.
Early humans figured out fairly quickly how we learn best—together.
Schools have existed on record as far back as ancient Egypt, India, and Greece. We know that students need to learn from each other, not just an instructor. They need dialogue and discussion. Because everyone has different life experiences and perspectives, everyone has insight and value to add.
We also intuitively feel how flawed our factory-inspired contemporary education system is. The classes where students learn the best are smaller classes where questions are welcome and discussion participation is high.
People, upon finishing their formal education, often find it difficult to learn anything as quickly and effectively as they could in their best school classes. We crave structure, accountability, and community for our learning process. We need teachers and mentors, as well as fellow students making the same journey.
This is the environment that CO.STARTERS cohorts replicate.
The Benefits of Constraint
There’s something undeniably attractive about “independent learning,” the kind of learning you can get out of a self-paced course or watching YouTube videos.
But there are unappreciated benefits from structure and constraint. CO.STARTERS Core, for instance, is typically limited to 10 sessions (which usually spread over ten weeks). There’s a time frame for the course. Participants who are discouraged or having a tough time have a fixed point, Celebration night, to look forward to.
Cohorts are limited in size for the benefit of participants. There’s a proven curriculum laid out for facilitators to lead the cohort through. Many CO.STARTERS cohorts are geographically constrained; you have to live in a specific place to join one.
These constraints create a structured environment for active learning and participation that embraces local context. At CO.STARTERS we know that this is how we can best support the entrepreneurs in our local communities.
Entrepreneurship isn’t a solo sport.
If you visit various “entrepreneurship” corners of the internet, you come away with a very off-putting image of what an entrepreneur is: someone (usually a man) who “hustles” and “grinds” in their basement, working on their business until 2am, only to wake up at 5am and do it again.
Not only is this narrative unhelpful, it’s just false.
The reality is that most entrepreneurs are not born in basements; they’re made on Main Street. They’re creative and embedded in their local community, not lone wolves hustling in search of “passive income.” They get ahead, not by “working harder” on their own, but by learning from the experiences of mentors, other entrepreneurs, and their customers.
This is why the cohort works so well. Group learning environments push even the most introverted of entrepreneurs to collaborate and learn from other perspectives. It builds trust and forges connection.
As the old proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Our culture needs to reboot its vision for who entrepreneurs can be. Making community and connection the foundation of our support is the first step in the right direction.