• Never Grow Up

A New Approach to Professional Upskilling - Cohort-Based Learning & The Promise It Holds



If you’ve ever thought about how you could do your job better, or help your team do their job better, then you are not alone. What does it even mean to do one’s job better? Is it simply to tick off every task in the list by the end of the day? Is it the process of filling every educational requirement cited for the job?


Or is it the process of involving and absorbing all that you have learnt through life and channelling it to give the very best to your job in a way that only you can? You – the sum of your learnings, your experiences, your reading, your conversations. But also, the sum of all those around you – the people you interact with, the people you look up to, the people you guide.


The advent and significance of cohort-based learning

In today’s value-based society, the absorption of information and insights takes place at an individual level, but also spreads much beyond to be implemented and shared at a group-level. Millennials in particular, enjoy and thrive on sharing knowledge. For this generation, learning together has become especially significant in the professional context not just because of the potential for knowledge exchange, but also because the sum of these learnings positively impacts teams, and consequently the organisation as a whole.


With over 75% of the global workforce set to be comprised of millennials by 2025, this is a key way to engage them. They want an inclusive workforce, and cohort-based learning can help you achieve this. In fact, there is a direct link between feeling included and reduced absenteeism, hence cohort-based learning can directly positively impact your bottom line even in ways outside of the knowledge-sharing experience.


Key features of cohort-based learning

While cohort-based learning has been a traditional method of study, especially in on-campus programs, its relevance in the professional context is making itself known increasingly today. From technical know-how and hands-on training to soft skills, leadership training and coaching – a cohort-based approach is community learning at its most productive. For individuals, teams and companies as a whole, the time-bound system alongside the spirit of collaboration and healthy competition has proved beneficial in absorption, retention and application of knowledge.


What leadership stands to gain from such a learning model

Every aspect of leadership training has the potential to be covered in a cohort-based approach. From coaching and mentoring to developing authenticity and building on the principle of servant leadership, learning together helps current and future leaders to pursue common goals and develop common philosophies that are ultimately in alignment with larger organisational objectives. It is particularly valuable in succession planning because it not only allows for cross-functional links to form, but also ensures that training extends all the way down the ranks.


When silos are an impediment to growth, then cohort-based learning can be one of the key ways to foster a common culture, thereby enabling greater realisation of business objectives as a team. Additionally, this form of learning, particularly over longer periods of time, produces ‘alumni’ who enjoy working together, helping to break down barriers and share knowledge and support more effectively.


The value of cross-functional cohort-based learning

Cross-functional upskilling allows access to diversity of thought and experiences. It also helps ensure that different teams in the business start to understand each other better and develop long-term relationships that ultimately benefit everyone. Shared understanding and shared skills improve results, augmenting employee engagement – hence improving retention, success and culture-building. This not only augments the more obvious aspects of collaboration and mutual respect, but also strengthens a sense of ownership in individuals, as everyone feels they are an integral and equal part of a larger purpose.


A three-pronged guide to developing community learning courses


1. Initial functional training – shorter courses where subject matter is highly technical and time-bound.

2. Career and organisational training - more diverse courses that meet key needs and will have different lengths of time allocated depending on the topic. These modules should ideally include cohorts that are cross-functional to broaden the outcomes and develop internal links and support.

3. Leadership training- 3-month/6-month learning blocks to hone core leadership skills and ensure a common leadership philosophy is developed in the business.


While there is no formula or cookie-cutter approach to developing such courses, this differentiation is a useful way to define one’s objective and then build programs that address this objective in a streamlined and structured manner.


Whether it is to break down silos through deeper shared understanding, to define and structure job roles better, or to ensure personalised learning through continuous assessment and module-building, cohort-based learning is a tool that companies cannot ignore for much longer. It’s time for knowledge exchange to become as horizontal as it is currently vertical. After all, reciprocal and shared learning is the future of learning & development in the modern workplace.


The author, Lisa Askwith, Director of Apex BRS, is a highly motivated and skilled CHRO/ Senior business leader, whose passion is business success through engaging people. Having extensive experience in people management, strategic planning, restructures, reinvigorating companies, and establishing successful start-ups, Lisa also lectures for Cambridge Corporate University as an Associate Professor in their Global MBA course.