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ATD Blog

Come Together


Wed Jun 12 2024

Come Together

Luke Hobson, senior instructional designer and program manager at MIT xPRO, writes about cohort learning: “This method is especially pertinent for adult learners. We, as educators, are always striving for our adult learners to become self-directed learners, and it makes sense with today’s day and age. However, it’s also true that solo efforts don’t always cut it for many adults, who might benefit from a more structured support system.” In his blog post “Why Cohort-Based Learning Is so Effective for Adults,” Hobson continues by emphasizing the structure—L&D professionals can’t simply create a group in a learning management system (LMS) with some content and expect the individuals to take it from there.

And that’s where Rich Reitter and his TD at Work guide, “How to Implement Cohort Learning,” come into play. In the guide, Reitter outlines various cohort learning models, poses questions for L&D leaders to consider before moving forward with the learning mode, and offers guidance for executing a cohort learning program.


Why Cohort Learning and What’s Available

Cohort learning is a mode of learning where a group of individuals begin, work through, and finish a course or program together. This type of learning provides a natural source of peer support and collaboration, a chance for participants to hear a variety of perspectives, networking, and shared learning. It allows participants the opportunity to practice their communication and collaboration skills, in addition to learning the content at hand.

A cohort learning program may be arranged into synchronous, asynchronous, or a combination. It can be facilitated through peer-to-peer interaction or be mentor led. The type of program that works best for any organization or department depends on the content, circumstances, and what is possible, for example, if the team is global, a strictly synchronous model will likely present scheduling challenges.

While there are many types of cohort learning, whether any of the models makes sense depends on several other factors, among them:

  • Do you have leader buy-in?

  • Are there adequate resources available?

  • Will your infrastructure and technology meet cohort learning needs?

  • Do learners want and will they thrive in this type of learning environment?

Next Steps

If the answers to these questions lead you to want to move forward, you will need to develop your program’s objectives. Consider:

  • How will cohort learning provide the skills or knowledge you want and need individuals to gain?

  • How will you measure success?

  • How does the program align with the organization’s larger strategic goals?

  • What types of resources do you need for the program to operate effectively?

Design the learning content that meets program goals, and sequence it appropriately. Will you incorporate videos, presentations, interactive activities, or readings?


Reitter offers several other pointers for assembling a cohort based on his experience. A cohort of between 15–25 individuals generally works well so that you have diversity of voices and thought, but which still allows for people to share their views. A six-month to one-year program is often effective, though again it will depend on program content and its complexity. And regular engagement is key to sustain momentum, so consider frequency of connection—weekly for interaction with additional work outside of those gatherings can be good to begin with; adjust as needed.

Executing the Program

A pilot can help L&D teams address any snags in their cohort program, either in curriculum or delivery methods. Among the common challenges in cohort learning:

  • Varied skill levels. While there are times when disparate skill sets can work, such as more advanced learners teaching less advanced learners, it can be a drag on learner progress. Keep that in mind as you create your cohort and consider breakout groups with comparable skill levels if needed.

  • Scheduling issues. Recording sessions can help meet the needs of learners unable to attend a gathering. Setting a schedule at the beginning of the program so that learners’ expectations are clear can help mitigate challenges as well.

  • Lack of engagement. In addition to regularly planned assignments and meetings, the L&D team may want to consider adding a surprise reflection prompt or posing a question on the group discussion board to keep participants engaged.

Measuring and evaluating your cohort learning program provides you room to improve upon your success, as well as to share that success with stakeholders. Establish key performance indicators, such as knowledge retention and learner engagement, to help.

Creating Community

While we seek to improve, it’s also important to celebrate the wins of a cohort and the collective achievements. It validates learners’ efforts and reinforces the collaborative nature of cohort learning.

Hobson notes, “Adults in general desire a sense of belonging and community. We want to feel like we are a part of something and to find like-minded individuals … Community and a sense of belonging are key to making a welcoming learning environment.”


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