This week, J Thorn and Crys Cain talk about the new trend of “cohort learning” (spoiler… it’s a new phrase for an old technique) and how it’s useful, how they’ve participated in it, and how it might be helpful to you.


Crys: Welcome to the author success mastermind. I am Crys Cain with my cohost J Thorn.  

J: Summer of chaos, continuing.  

Crys: Into the fall.  

J: We’re batching because we have a lot of stuff going on.  

Crys: Yeah, theoretically I will be in Costa Rica in November and somewhat settled in a home by December, or in December. We’ll see how that plays out. Okay. So since we are batching, no comments, no new news.  

J, I asked you to bring a question for us this week. So whatcha got? 

J: Yeah this was sparked by this was an episode on the the Smart Passive Income podcast with Pat Flynn. And they were talking about this new thing called ” cohort based learning.”  

And the idea is that completion rates on online courses are abyssmal, like, across the board. Most people will buy an online course and never finish it. 

That’s the reality of it. And this thing called cohort. Oh, I can’t say that word today. I’m giving you the blooper for the week. The cohort based learning model is where you move with a group through the course together in real time. So whether that is a matter of weeks or months, there’s a start point and an end point and an instructor or a leader brings the group through together to the desired result at the end. 

And I was like, wow, that is revolutionary.  

I’m being sarcastic.  

That’s called school.  

Crys: I’m sitting here going so it’s online school for adults, right?  

J: Yeah. It’s school. That’s what it is. And it kinda, it made me laugh cause I was like, yeah, I did that for 24 years.  

This idea that somehow bringing people through a learning process together is like something new, I was like, okay that’s fine.  

I’m not trying to, yeah. I’m not trying to throw shade on, on, on that Podcast or that revelation, but I, it’s something I’m seeing a lot popping up now and I’m like, Hey, we teachers, guys. We’ve been doing this for a long time. 

So I thought it would be an interesting question to ask you, because I think in all fairness, school is not the same as being an adult. I think the big difference is with with adult learning and a cohort based learning program, you’re opting in you’re investing in time and money, whereas school’s compulsory. You have to be there and that’s a completely different thing.  

So Crys, have you recently been in any type of online learning cohort? And if so, what’s that experience been like? And if not, is that something you would desire to do?  

Crys: Yeah, I actually, these are the classes that I do finish. The most obvious one that comes to mind is the mastermind that you’ve been ,the platinum level as we’ve been calling it in The Author Success Mastermind, that you’ve been doing for… we’re coming up on, is it three years now?  

J: Three years now, I think.  

Crys: And I finagled my way in the very beginning and have been with it ever since. Three years of being in a classroom every week. Lovely. Clearly I like it, so I’m still here. And I’ve done shorter ones as well.  

Becca Syme does her Clifton Strengths ones. She’s got ones that are like every week for six weeks and intensives that are everyday for a week. I’ve done a weekend one with Mary Robinette Kowal on short stories.  

And the thing I really like about having these kinds of classes, when I’ve participated in them, one, you get to know your classmates. So you’re not just showing up for the one to many instruction from the teacher to everyone, you’re showing up for the interaction with everybody else. 

In some classes there’s assignments where you are connecting with other people and reading each other stuff, that was like in Mary Robinette, Kowal’s class.  

And others like with our mastermind, you’re seeing these people every week, getting an update on how they’re doing every week. Answering really intense questions when it’s their turn on the hot seat. You’re all learning the same things, learning the same vocabulary to talk about problems.  

So there’s that community aspect that’s very similar to when you are a kid in school and you’re going through your classes with the same people for… I didn’t actually go to high school. So I don’t know what that looks like, but a year in grade school, the same people for an entire year and that’s your community.  

But it’s your chosen community often in a chosen field of interest. So it’s not oh my gosh, we’re sitting here complaining about history or science or math. No one complains about English literature. I’m just saying that.  

But you’re all focused on something that you have chosen and are excited about doing, and that is definitely an elevated aspect of it for me. 

J: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve been involved in countless online learning cohorts in the publishing world over the past decade. And I think the most recent one is I did… I’m trying to remember the name of it. It might have been The Freelancers Workshop through Akimbo. And this was back when Seth Godin was still a part of Akimbo. It’s now some sort of nonprofit, he, I forget what the designation is, but he doesn’t, he still promotes it and he loves it, but he’s not running it anymore.  

But I was in there when he was doing it and there is a comradery and an accountability that takes place because you’re all experiencing the same thing at the same time. 

And you’re much more likely to finish. I think the completion rate on those Akimbo workshops is 90% or higher. You’re there for other people, not just because you purchase something.  

Now I will say, and I’m being completely honest, and you guys know I’m a Seth Godin fan boy, so I’m being completely honest. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about with Akimbo is that there were hundreds of people in the cohort.  

Crys: Yeah.  

J: And that it was fine, but like I only had one interaction with Seth the whole, whatever it was 19 weeks or however long it was. And I really didn’t get to know many people well, because the group was just too big. 

So I personally, I love, I think for me, 25 is probably like the max. If I’m in a group of 25, I feel like I can get to know people from week to week or from session to session. But any more than that, and you lose some of that magic. So that’s been my experience.  

Crys: Yeah. I think especially with online, it does need to be smaller because there is less opportunity for chance encounters outside of the “classroom” where you might be able to connect with a slightly larger group.  

I was in a five day 60 person, really intense business workshop a couple of years ago. And while I didn’t get to build relationships with every single person, that was fine. , that number really worked for that group because of the breadth of experience, while still providing a very intimate gathering. 

J: Yeah, there’s no question about it. And you and I know this because you’ve been in the mastermind group from the beginning, but there are there several people who have been in the mastermind from the moment that launched and many of us have met at multiple real world events since then. I don’t want to, I don’t want to name people, but like there, there are people who have been to multiple events we’ve been hanging out together. 

There is, there’s definitely a connection that takes place when you have an online cohort of a reasonable number and you get to know people. It just naturally bleeds over into real life. And those relationships that people have with each other and I have with those people are some of the strongest friendships and business relationships in my life.  

Crys: I have now stayed at or visited enough people’s houses from The Author Success Mastermind that I’m seriously considering like getting little like lapel pins that say like “Crys was here”, that I give to people when I crash at their house.  

J: I love that. 

Crys: I just thought of it right now. I’ve been trying to think of something that I would give people when I do stay at their house, but a specific, TASM member one… that just popped into my head. I was like, oh, I really like that. I want to do that. So it has a members look out for your special “Crys was here” pin. 

J: Nice. And I do get asked about this a lot and I don’t really talk about it very often, and the reason being is that it’s only even open to people inside the community, but the sort of upper level mastermind group that I run opens once a year in January. And as we’re recording this it’s October, so I don’t have anything right now. 

If you’re inside the community, just, keep your eyes open, your inbox open, because probably sometime in the next four to six weeks, I’m going to start sending out some feelers with some information about what the options are going to be come January, for people who are interested.  

It’s an application process and Crys, you know, from being in it from the beginning that it’s selective by design. It’s only meant to be a certain number of people, and folks who have joined our community sometime during 2021 might not even know about this.  

So if what we’re talking about in this cohort based learning is of interest to you, nothing to do now, but just kinda, keep your ears open because there is going to be some information coming your way short. 

Crys: Yeah. And if anybody has any questions about it, feel free to hit me up. If there’s things you’re afraid to ask J about, cause he’s pretty intimidating.  

J: Yeah. And there are also if you message either Crys or I, we can give you some of the names of the people inside the community who’ve who are in the mastermind or have been in it and you can talk directly to them. 

And if you’re I want the real deal, we’ll hook, you. We’ll tell you who those people are and you can talk to them.  

Crys: Now one of the reasons we have The Author Success Mastermind called the mastermind is because, I don’t know, like the last 5, 10, 15 years “mastermind” has been the buzz word. I’m assuming we’re not going to change to cohort because it’s the new buzzword, but this way, isn’t new, this, the style classroom. Isn’t new. I’m really curious why you think it’s become a buzzword all of a sudden? 

J: I wish I knew. I really wish I knew. So I think… I honestly don’t listen to the Sell More Books Show very often, meaning not at all. But occasionally will pop up as a news item and I’ll listen to it. And I’m friends with Brian. It’s nothing against them. It’s just they talk about things that aren’t really relevant to me anymore, where I am in my career.  

There was some pushback on one of the things that I published around masterminds. And one of the pushback was on me saying that I think there needs to be someone who guides the group. 

You can have a Facebook group and everyone just does what they want, but I’ve found in my experience both as a teacher and a learner, that it really helps someone to have someone guiding the ship. That someone who knows where the group needs to go, or who’s had the experience that the group wants. 

That’s the responsibility that I’ve accepted and you’ve accepted as leaders of this community. And I think we have a responsibility to not just sit on our hands and go, ” it’s just purely democratic and you guys just do whatever you want.” because that’s not why people are there.  

They want guidance. They want leadership. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So I’m not saying there’s not a place for very flat hierarchical democratic groups, but like the online only cohort and masterminds are not those.  

And when I joined masterminds, I want to follow the leader. I want someone who’s past I want to emulate or I want to follow. And I, there’s nothing wrong with that. And I don’t feel any guilt for saying that.  

I don’t know why cohort is the new buzzword or why this has come up other than maybe it’s given the people who run them the permission to say, “And I’m the person who will create the cohort.” 

Maybe it’s as simple as that. I don’t know.  

Crys: You recommended, a minute ago, the book You’re Invited by John Levy to me, and I finally got the chance to start listening to it this week. I’m about a couple hours from the end and I love it.  

One of the things that he keeps hammering on is not so much the focus of like people need a leader or guide, which a lot of people have trouble with that wording. Cause they’re like, no, I’m my own boss. And yes, of course you are. We’re not trying to be your boss.  

He uses the phrasing of “people want an experience,” and they want to have someone they trust to give them an experience that delivers what they want. Whether it is enjoyment, whether it is growth, they want someone that they trust to give them the experience they want. 

That I think is what both you and I really focus on, particularly with platinum, it’s the growth.  

In the experience of connection with the mastermind as a whole, it’s less guided, as far as what are we growing toward with the specific things that we cover, because it is more of the democratic learning, everybody’s sharing what they’re doing amongst the group as a whole versus here’s some lessons.  

But we’re still providing that connection experience, that growth experience. I think that’s the experience element is definitely more what I think that we are focused on, than the “follow me, I know the way.” 

J: Yes, exactly. And that is 100% true. And someone has to design that experience. It doesn’t just happen. There are things that happen when you put a group of people in a room together, there will be things, great things that will happen. But one thing that won’t happen is an experience being designed. 

So yeah we’re not being over authoritarian or demanding, but we are crafting an experience. We are laying down the map of a journey and asking people if they want to come on it. And that just doesn’t happen. That has to be designed.  

Crys: One hundred percent.  

I would like to ask folks what experiences particularly in learning and community with their writer life, what experiences really stand out to them in their memories where they’re like, “That moved me forward. That really connected me. That was a turning point for me.”  

I’m really curious what are the star experiences in people’s writer’s journeys? 

J: Love it.  

Crys: Thank you so much for joining us this week. If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Success Mastermind is all about.