109: Augment your student success rate with cohorts!


First off… a quick definition for you… a cohort is simply a group or company of people. In terms of online courses, a cohort is a group of course participants who start the course at the same time and are guided through the content. A cohort helps participants actually accomplish what they buy the course to help them with. Because, as we’ve been discussing lately, it’s not enough for us to put out really good content, we need to help our students move through the content.

And a cohort is a great way to really create the impact you seek.

As you know, the two most popular methods of having online courses are evergreen and open cart/close cart. The evergreen course is always being marketed whereas the open cart/close cart has launch cycles. Running a cohort works with both methods but there are obvious differences in the way a cohort needs to be presented.

A cohort is super easy to implement with an open cart/close cart launch method. Because in this method, we only have the doors open for a short amount of time and the students are all going to be starting right after the window closes or right after they sign up. And your cohort students will easily be at the same point within the course by default, whether they choose to purchase on day 1 or day 10 of your open cart.

For courses with an open cart/close cart launch, most of the time introductory information or lessons are provided immediately and the course officially starts after the cart is closed. So the content release schedule is consistent across students. And our cohort students are on the exact same release schedule as the other students… Not only does this make things easier for you and your cohort students but it makes it possible to sell the cohort as an add-on once the course is already up and running.

Remember, your cohort is designed to help the students get through the material. So, our cohorts need to have contact points — like a community forum or private Facebook group, zoom calls, additional opportunities for feedback. I think that the cohort should sell itself!

Now, with an evergreen course, your students have the ability to start at any time. And you want them to get started as soon as they purchase without sitting around waiting for their cohort to start… So how exactly do we make a cohort work with an evergreen course?

Some of this will depend on the number of students you have signup on a weekly and monthly basis. If you have 5 new students a week and you want to have 10 students in every cohort, then you might form your cohort every 6 – 8 weeks. This does mean that your cohort students may be at different spots within the course, but you can normalize this within the cohort progression and accountability plan.

When my clients and I determine that a cohort makes sense for their evergreen course, we list that information on the sales page, but don’t sell it directly, except in the 10 days before the cohort starts. For students that purchase during non-cohort sales periods, we sell the cohort after the fact, via personal outreach, internal announcements and other touchpoints. The advantages of the cohort community often outweigh the DIY approach and I find that when positioned correctly, you can have 25% or more existing students sign up for the cohort program.

So, we’ve covered inviting students into cohorts for both evergreen and open cart/close cart courses. But what does it mean to run a cohort… let’s really think about that right now.

Running a cohort means that you need to get inside the head of your student to understand how they need to be supported.

  • Do they need touchpoints on multiple channels?
  • Do they need checklists?
  • Do they need accountability and check ins?
  • Do they get busy and take time away from their learning for other life tasks?
  • o they want positive reinforcement from you?
  • How much community and social interaction is the right amount for them to stay on track without being another distraction?
  • What is the delta between where they start and where your course takes them?

We want to support and guide and inspire our cohort students. We don’t want our engagement to take them sideways or away from the course material.

Let’s assume you have an 8-week, 6-chapter course.

  • The course material is released on day 1 of week 1, week 2, week 3, week 5, week 6 and week 7.
  • Weeks 4 and 8 are integration or implementation weeks.
  • There is a forum or private Facebook group for cohort members to connect.
  • Each week has a recommended exercise that is submitted to you for feedback and a suggested exercise that is shared in the community.
  • Monthly cohort zoom calls are scheduled in week 1 and week 5.
  • Peer feedback and critique is encouraged in the forum or private Facebook group.

This is the bare minimum of a successful cohort. Accountability and support are what separate cohorts from DIY courses.

I like to encourage my clients to go above the bare minimum with surprise and delights. This could be by

  • Sending a kudos email.
  • Shout-out in your private Facebook group.
  • Shout-out on your public social media.
  • Create accountability partnerships through observation.
  • Bonus calls or going live in your Facebook group to address specific questions that are coming in.
  • Bringing guest experts into the Facebook group or to give masterclasses that are tangentially connected to the goal of your course.
  • Introducing your students to peers or mentors that you are acquainted with.

The idea is that you treat your cohort students with grace and joy, so that they get as much out of the experience as possible.

It’s inevitable, even within a cohort, for students to fall behind and because of the atmosphere we create with our cohort, it’s so much easier to bring that student back into the fold. It might mean outreach in less conventional formats — like a Facebook or Instagram DM or even a text message or phone call.

I love being able to give that personal and individualized attention to cohort students because they have provided me with a mechanism to do so.

A question that comes up a lot with respect to cohorts is pricing the cohort against the standard version of the course. I believe that your course needs to cost at least $297 to even consider a cohort. If a course costs less than $297, there is not enough room to move within the proper order of magnitude to get to a cohort price that reflects the additional work.

Let’s say our 8-week, 6-chapter course has a price tag of $297… actually let’s do $300 for easier math. Our bare minimum cohort requirements mean working an extra 3 hours per week for those 8 weeks. So 24 extra hours. If your cohort has 10 students in it, that’s an extra 2.4 hours per student. Let’s round that up to 3 hours per student for all the bonuses that we include. If your hourly rate is $150/hour, then you’re giving each student an additional $450 of value for being in the cohort. And since we don’t charge our hourly rates for packages, let’s drop that price down to $100/hour so an additional $300. Can you charge $600 for the cohort version of the course… of course you can, but it’s a much bigger hurdle because you’re now asking the student to invest twice as much in the course than the material costs. So, if instead, the course was $497, then we’re offering $497 or $797 which has a smaller order of magnitude.

I like to price cohorts between $250 and $400 more than the stand-alone version of the course and make sure that it is in alignment with the stand-alone version.

Oh, and for evergreen courses, I recommend that the cohort be a flat fee and no different if it’s bundled into the course (during the 10 days leading up to the start) or sold after the fact to enrolled students.

Let’s wrap this episode up with a few more things to consider when you’re weighing the opportunity of adding a cohort to your course or changing things up so that a cohort is a viable option for your students.

Don’t introduce a cohort if you haven’t validated your course. You’ll want to make sure that you’ve had at least 50 people purchase your course and completion surveys submitted by at least 8 students.

When you notice that students stop making progress on a specific section, consider modifications to that section before saying that a cohort is going to fix it. Because the material needs to be strong enough for a DIYer to be successful.

You may run multiple different courses and your students might elect to purchase more than one at a time. Limit cohort enrollment to a single course. So if you have more than one course with a cohort option, make sure that students understand that they can only be in a single cohort at any one time.

Make decisions as to how to wrap up your cohort. We’re going to be talking about this one a lot more in a couple of weeks.

And finally, it’s okay to ask for help. Invite past students to become cohort or community moderators. Understand what is manageable for you and get support to make sure that you deliver a consistent and wonderful experience for your students.

Thank you so much for hanging out with me for the Expand Online podcast today — would you leave a rating and review in Apple Podcasts so that other artistic professionals know that this podcast is designed to help them create a sustainable and enjoyable online revenue stream.

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