Why the Future for E-learning Software is Cohort-based Learning

In the past few years, we've seen an explosion of live online learning and the emergence of new e-learning platforms. Today, we'll discuss where traditional e-learning platforms have fallen short and what the future of e-learning looks like.

zoom call with 9 individuals

The Problem with Existing Elearning and Course Hosting Platforms

For the past 15 years, learning online has meant passively consuming a series of online video lectures. While, there's certainly a place for async video when it comes to online education, self-paced online courses aren't fully serving education businesses as well as the students they look to serve:

For Education Businesses

If you're someone who's looking to build an online education business, online courses don't lend themselves to helping create sustainable revenue. For most people, purchasing a course is a one-time investment.

While selling online courses can be quite a bit more lucrative than selling books, it still isn't the ideal business model for someone who wants to teach online.

For Students

While hundreds of millions of dollars will go into purchasing online courses each year, only 6-8% of these online courses are ever completed. Just like a book you might buy at the airport bookstore, these online courses get opened once and then lay around gathering digital dust.

Introducing Cohort-based Learning

Around 2015, Seth Godin introduced the world to AltMBA, a 4-week completely online workshop designed to help professionals grow their business and leadership skills.

It wasn't obvious at the time, but AltMBA was a big breakthrough for all of online education.

Unlike, other self-paced online courses, AltMBA grouped participants into "cohorts" of students that were guided through the curriculum together.

There were four major advantages to the cohort-based model:

  1. Coaching
  2. Collaboration
  3. Community
  4. Commitment
Curriculum delivered over various cohorts
How to visualize cohort-based learning


When you introduce live curriculum to an audience, it quickly becomes a 2-way conversation. Instead of sitting through hours of lecture, students get to ask questions, discuss, and engage with the material.

AltMBA is designed so that each student has a dedicated coach that they can depend on throughout the program. This person is their main point of contact as they embark on their educational journey. Coaches and mentors are essential to delivering outcomes for students.


One of the best parts about being a part of a cohort is the community of peers who are at the same stage as you. This isn't too dissimilar from a college or university.

Many claim that the best friends they ever made came from college. This is because of the cohort-based effect. We connect best with those in similar life stages to us.

With AltMBA, students didn't just want to learn. They wanted to learn alongside a community that had a shared purposed for the duration of the program. This community curation is the key ingredient to why live courses almost always outperform async courses when it comes to delivering transformation for students.


One of the biggest fears that online educators have around introducing cohort-based learning is around how difficult it can be to scale it. What they don't take into account is the power of peer learning.

AltMBA used peer learning as a core pillar for scaling their program. They knew that coaches and instructors would only have so much bandwidth when it comes to giving students 1-on-1 attention.

As a result, much of the AltMBA programming is focused around peer learning. Students are required to submit peer feedback for every submission that they make. This means that students aren't just learning from instructors; they're also learning from each other.


Self-paced courses aren't time-bound which means students can complete them at any point they'd like. This flexibility actually removes accountability and makes it so that rarely anyone finishes these courses.

When students enroll into a cohort-based course, they're making a commitment to the learning process for the duration of the program. Given the live nature of the programming, students are incentivized to show-up and do the work if they want to see the ROI they paid for...

This is the exact reason why cohort-based courses have completion rates of over 90% whereas only 6-8% of self-paced courses are ever completed.

Recent History for Online Education

After seeing the success of AltMBA, entrepreneurs all around the world were inspired to start their own online schools.

In 2017, Austen Allred launched Lambda School, the first ever fully-remote coding bootcamp. The same year, Tiago Forte launched his first ever cohort-based course, Building a Second Brain.

Within the next three years, there was an explosion in online institutions being born including:

Not only are these programs more accessible, they also help drive better outcomes for the students they serve at a fraction of the cost. Live online learning is here to stay.

How to Leverage CBCs for Your Business

With live learning taking off, it would be a mistake not to take advantage of its benefits to generate sustainable recurring revenue for your business.

Depending on what type of business you're trying to build, you can create bootcamps of varying length and size and layer in as much as personalization and live learning that you feel comfortable with.

Here are the common themes we see across various online learning programs:

Different ways to leverage live group learning for bootcamps, accelerators, coaches, and training programs

We recommend a mix of group, 1-on-1, and peer discussions. Like we mentioned before, nothing is more powerful than helping students build genuine connections with one another.

They may come for content, but they'll stay for the community.

What cohort-based learning can mean for your business

By implementing cohort-based learning, your business will benefit in a few main ways:

  1. Scalable High Ticket Product - Unlike coaching, cohort-based courses is highly scalable way to sell a high ticket product (the average CBC sells for $1,000+)
  2. Recurring revenue source - Each cohort can be a vastly different experience for students. Some may even opt to take a course more than once. Another option is to create an alumni membership to keep your community engaged after they've graduated.
  3. Referral effects - Students who are able to find a community within your course will inevitably share their praise with the world, driving more business to you.

Getting started

It doesn't take much to start experimenting with cohort-based learning. Your first cohort can be as small as 8 - 20 students.

Unlike pre-recorded courses that require hours of scripting, filming, and editing, CBCs offer you the opportunity to iterate on your core curriculum. Each cohort is a fresh start. You can try again. Iterate on what didn't work and double down on what did.

When it comes to tooling, you won't need anything too sophisticated. Zoom, Slack, Paypal, Airtable, and Notion will likely get you most of the way there.


As you start to scale, stitching together various solutions will become less sustainable. You'll need to depend on powerful tools to help manage payments, live events, students records, analytics, and more...

That's where we come in.

Introducing Virtually

If building an online education business that leverages cohort-based learning is something that you're serious about, check out what we've built at Virtually.

You can think of Virtually as the first all-in-one solution for building live, cohort-based courses with support for payments, live classes, and student management. We take care of the heavy lifting so you can focus on what matters most: your students.

Get started for free today.