Over the course of the pandemic, learning models and universities became less central as remote learning and work became the norm. Amidst the disruption, we saw more cohort-based learning programs rise in popularity. Concurrently, we also saw a surge of the creator economy — a wave of creators feeding their content to hungry consumers who were stuck at home. In 2021 alone, creator economy businesses received US$1.3 billion ($1.77 billion) in funding, nearly three times more than 2020.
Taken together, these two trends can have a profound impact on the way we learn and who we learn from. What is the role of the traditional university classroom when cohort-based learning platforms like Reforge offer more convenient pathways to sharing and acquiring knowledge? And what does it mean to be a ‘teacher’ at a time when anyone can commercialise their expertise?
The rise of the creator economy alongside the boom in cohort-based edtechs will further reshape our education landscape. In doing so, it will usher in greater accessibility to education by empowering teachers and skilled experts to become creators, plugging into next-generation platforms to reach bigger audiences and therefore pushing the boundaries of how we define ‘teachers’ in this new era of open education.
The rise of cohort-based learning
The internet has been a driving force in revolutionising education for some time from increasing accessibility and reach through MOOCs like Udacity and Coursera to opening the minds and skills of experts through MasterClass.
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Now, we’re in the midst of the next wave of revolution with cohort-based courses rising as the model of choice for online learning — driven by teachers’ insights rather than slow and outdated curriculum guidelines. According to a 2019 study by MIT researchers, MOOCs have a completion rate of just over 3% whereas cohort-based courses tend to have higher engagement and in turn higher completion rates. Content is available on-demand, but instructors provide guidance and structure with some programs offering live lectures. However, the bulk of the learning happens peer-to-peer, in the community of students sharing their learnings and exchanging insights with one another.
At Folklore, we have invested in Aussie online learning platform ScholarSite, which offers live cohort programs led by experts on relevant topics like the potential of blockchains and the business of space. The platform not only opens up access to leading academics previously exclusive to elite institutions, but it does so against the backdrop of a group learning environment at a fraction of the price of traditional educational models.
Therein lies the power of cohort-based learning programs: they give credible academics and experts a megaphone to amplify their reach, to build and engage a community around their personal brand (and research) rather than their affiliated universities, and they are fully digital and therefore adaptable. As more industries digitise, the flexibility of education is becoming more important than ever.
Defining ‘teachers’ in the era of the creator economy
One of the most powerful qualities of the creator economy is that it has enabled anyone to publish content, build and monetise a social following. Creators develop and distribute their content across online channels and capture many mediums, crafts, personas and audiences – from MrBeast’s 73 million subscribers to micro creators with 100 followers.
The rise of cohort-based courses alongside the creator economy will see us further unbundling parts of the university experience, including what it means to be a teacher. And this is a good thing. Expanding our definitions of teachers to not only include academics and professors but operators with first-hand experience. Who wouldn’t want to learn about product management from Lenny Rachitsky or how to build a successful global startup from Cliff, Mel and Cam?
There are thousands of experts around the world who have valuable knowledge to share but aren’t traditional professors or instructors. Many of them possess skills and subject matter expertise in areas that will shape our future economy — from crypto to product management.
By bringing this creator economy mindset to teaching, it challenges our rigid guidelines around who is qualified to teach, which further democratises and modernises education. However, transitioning from creator or expert to ‘teacher’ is not a simple step as the learning experience is critical. Teachers need to possess the ability to create engaging content, to understand how to communicate and manage groups of students and, most importantly, effectively transfer knowledge to students with varying levels of expertise — from ‘beginners’ to ‘masters’.
To thrive in the edtech-creator-economy boom, teachers must master both building a community around their knowledge whilst also having the ability to transfer their knowledge through engaging content and an excellent learning experience.
As more creators, experts and academics build an independent brand — consider Scott Galloway’s course Section 4 or Ben Thompson’s blog Stratechery — we will move towards a more sustainable and scalable future of learning.
Cohort-based programs signal the start of what could be one of the most powerful and transformative periods in education to date. The model is sustainable, scalable and economical for teachers, not to mention accessible, affordable and engaging for students.
Education will always evolve; it is dynamic. It must respond to changes in what we need to learn as well as how we want to learn. The emergence of the creator economy and cohort-based learning will certainly play a role in shaping the future of education.
With it, the concept of what it means to be a teacher will change. Teachers are no longer limited to the four walls of a classroom or bound by the pedigree of the university in which they teach or the degree which they hold. Teachers are building their own brands, and platforms that are helping them reach potential students — their audience — are ultimately redefining the next frontier of learning.