Will Cohort-based Learning & Working Be the Future?

By Kevon Cheung in


February 28, 2021

We keep forgetting one simple truth. We humans are tribal.

When I came across a new platform called Contra and offered my suggestions to optimize their landing pages, I learned that they are creating a community for the future of work. And I started thinking about what "humans are tribal" means to the future of our education and work.

If we're tribal, why do we grow communities to thousands of people knowing that we'd lose touch with it? What sort of communities will empower people to learn and work in the best way?

The death of large communities

A large community is losing its charm
Large communities are losing their charms.

When I think about the concept of a community, I see a group of like-minded people gathering around a bonfire. They're talking about their meanings in life and they're engaging in conversations that help each other get closer to their goals.

In my mind, when Slack created a whole new meaning of communities that power thousands of people online, that image of a community faded out. From that onwards, I started to see larger and larger community groups being formed. The communities had great missions that brought together their members, yet not a lot of them were engaging enough to keep people around.

I observed and came to a conclusion that explained why a large community makes an unwelcoming place.

When you're talking to everyone, you're talking to no one

Human interaction is interesting. It has to be at the right level, no more and no less.

When there are a lot of things going on in a community, people get overwhelmed and give up.

On the flip side, when there is nothing happening, people don't see any value in participating. And they leave.

When a community is purely an open platform where everyone meets everyone, it can be, unfortunately, encouraging the opposite.

No genuine relationships to support the exchange

"You've got my back, and I've got yours."

All meaningful relationships, including online ones, happen because of amutual exchange.

But as a community grows in size, the ratio of genuine exchange tends to fall because of the number of disengaged members. And it often snowballs until the community becomes just a place for people to spam their links and articles.

Lack of incentive to go back

Everyone is occupied with their own priorities in life. There is no reason for someone to revisit a community when they don't get recognized or have anyone to exchange values with.

A tribal era emerging

Smaller cohorts allow people to get to know and support each other
Smaller cohorts encourage people to build authentic relationships to support each other.

When large online communities become unwelcoming, there are more smaller groups being formed around the Internet. 20-50 people groups are set up on Twitter to share their latest content and discuss their views on timely topics.

These groups are more engaging because the small size allows everyone to know one another. The cozy environment also encourages closer relationships and more open conversations. The members also keep one another accountable to push their work forward.

In the next few years, we'll see an influx of these cohort-based communities, with smaller groups embedded inside large communities. And they will be mainly in two categories: learning and working.

Learning together as a cohort

Learning is part of our daily lives, so the education space is moving fast to adopt this model. Companies like OnDeck and Gagan's new company are both making cohorts their core offerings to group students together to learn.

In each cohort, there is a sense of belonging and students get to know every single classmate. They keep each other accompanied and accountable to work through a traditionally lonely learning experience. A good percentage of students stay in touch afterward, and that forms a powerful network that is equivalent to an MBA group.

This style of learning has been popular in education for a while, and it is not surprising to see that as it recreates the traditional classroom experience.

I run a small, cozy #BuildingInPublic Support Group on Twitter. If you're interested, say hi to me here.

Working together as a cohort

Compared to learning, working together as a cohort is a completely new concept. Mainly because it requires significant changes from our current approach of working.

However, looking closely at the mindset and behavior of the new generations, I can see that the future of work is heading in this direction.

More and more workers these days enjoy building their own brand and portfolio, monetizing their valuable skills, and working to pursue their meaningful lives. Instead of prioritizing the bosses' opinions, they're valued based on what they can bring to the table.

And this is how I boldly envision the future of working to be:

Will this happen anytime soon? I'm optimistic that this will become the preferred way of working sooner than we expect because after all, we all enjoy working for ourselves and not for others.

This is also the reason why I'm fascinated by the vision of Contra to reinvent work for the digital world.

How I know cohort-based is the future

In my January newsletter, I shared that I came to realize running an angel-funded startup wasn't what I wanted at the moment. It surely sounded amazing to be able to raise funds, build a team, and pursue high growth opportunities, but underlying the hardcore, out-of-balanced work life, I was living a life that was out of my control.

What I want to focus on is building a brand and a voice of my own. I love sharing thoughts based on my learnings and interpretations of the world.

That's what drives me to go on an independent path to become a creator. In the process, I come together with a group of talented, like-minded people. We cheer, support, and keep each other accountable.

Having gone through the realization myself, I know a new era is shaping up.

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