UX Research: How cohort-based courses are shaking up online education , ft. Stoa School 🔥

Apoorva Patil
8 min readMay 18, 2021

This is a group research project we did as a team for 10kdesigners, the following case study is my personal documentation of it!

Our task at hand is researching an online community, we chose our niche as Cohort-based Courses and community as Stoa School!

📌 Project problem statement

Delve deep into an Internet community to understand its user patterns, find existing gaps and identify product features that can be designed for the users of that community.

🏆 Our Team

🤔 What is a CBC?

Cohort-based learning is a collaborative learning style in which individuals advance through an educational program together.

CBCs are #trending and said to be the most effective way of online learning in today’s time.

Elements that distinguish CBC from other channels of education majorly online courses are:

  • Community
  • Accountability
  • Interaction
  • Impact
Source: https://fortelabs.co/blog/the-rise-of-cohort-based-courses/

Cohort Based Courses are the fourth wave of online learning and are here to stay for quite a while!

🦁 What is Stoa School?

Stoa School is a business-specific online CBC — “A Business School of the Future” as they claim to be.

  • Out of hundreds of applications, the cohort candidates are shortlisted based on their profile and selected after a round of interviews.
  • The ongoing cohort 2 (as of May 2021) consists of 80 members split into two sections.

Since most of the members are working full time, the cohort is smartly divided into two sections, and each section has a different learning process for the week.

Stoa has live formal sessions on weekends and informal sessions throughout the week.

🛠 Tools used by the community

  • Discord - For daily communication (mostly informal)
  • Zoom — For online video classes, workshops, and informal sessions
  • Google Drive — For getting links from team Stoa
  • Circle.so — For assignments or prompts (discontinued now)
  • EduPro — For sharing case studies and assignments with cohort members

😃 Why did we choose Stoa School?

  • Currently being in 10kdesigners (Cohort Based Course for learning Product Design), we truly understand the potential of CBCs.
  • A CBC’s impact heavily relies on its community, and the learning is different for every CBC. Hence we were intrigued to know how other such communities are leveraging this concept.
  • Stoa School has earned itself a good reputation in the CBC space and has enthusiastic members constantly sharing their learnings on social media. Put together these factors made us curious to study the Stoa Community

🎯 Our goals

  1. To research how the Stoa community functions.
  2. To understand the expectations and pain points of Stoa community members.
  3. To ideate product features that could improve the overall cohort experience.

📝 Research Process

  1. We researched online about Stoa and connected with a few community members over Twitter.
  2. Then we conducted 8 user interviews documenting our findings. Post that, we drew few insights and created a user persona.
  3. Using the persona, we drafted a user journey map plotting down the user expectations, emotions, and experiences during the entire user flow.
  4. Finally, we used all the information to identify problems and propose features for them.

🔎 Research Methodologies

🕵🏻 Secondary Research

We did some secondary research to study how CBCs work around the world and where do they come from and to study the online presence of the Stoa community and how it plays a part in their learning experience.

🥸 Self-paced courses vs CBCs

👁 How CBCs currently operate?

  • Tools like Loom, Notion, Drive, Slack, Discord, Circle. are used by CBCs worldwide to communicate with their members.
  • SaaS tools like Leadpages and ConvertKit are helpful for course creators to market their CBCs.
  • Breakout rooms and drop-in audio rooms are an essential part of CBCs as most of them take the bottom-up approach; interaction within the community is key.
  • Most of them are focused on getting their members to work on assignments and tasks, thereby upskilling them in the process.

Some also criticize the expense and exclusivity of cohort-based courses. They’ve been called elitist and overpriced‼️

Source: https://fortelabs.co/blog/the-rise-of-cohort-based-courses/

Some founders/course creators choose to have a premium price as it’s important for them to work with smart, ambitious professionals doing important work in the world, hence a high price for a real commitment

CBC Founders sometimes 🙃

🦍 Evolution of online communities

  • Facebook was one of the first platforms used to create online communities and interest groups. But now it has become irrelevant as most of the communities turned out to be spam groups, and no real connection/conversations happen between the members.
  • Some of the reasons could be that Facebook was initially not designed for building and maintaining communities. In addition, one gets too many irrelevant notifications, and the inability to mute a certain type of conversation is a definite drawback.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4_oY_qy-EI

Eventually, with advancements in online communication tools like Discord and Slack, slowly communities started to migrate to them.

However, with the introduction of CBCs, more specific needs have risen to conduct the courses efficiently. We will look deep down into them by studying the Stoa community.

📱 Stoa Community’s Online Presence

Our main motto to go through their social media handles was to get insights into how active their community is on social media and how they market their CBC.

Doing so gave us a good idea of how they built up their community by engaging people through relevant posts. It also gave us the demographic they were targeting through these handles.

Stoa’s Website 🔗

They also have a dedicated website that explains in detail their cohort structure, its advantages, and what one will gain out of attending it.

🧑 Primary Research

We then decided on doing some primary research -

  • To deep dive into the behavior and mindset of a typical Stoa community member.
  • Understand their pain points and frustrations attending the cohort if any.

In total, we interviewed 8 Stoa members. We categorized them into the following 3 segments:

  1. Current Cohort Members
  2. Alumni Members
  3. Stoa Team

📝 User Interviews

We made sure to make the interview like a free-flowing conversation and not like a viva, this let the interviewees ease out and talk to us comfortably!

P.S We also made some great connections in the Stoa Community

An outline of the questions we asked during the user interviews, which took place through voice calls

  • Tell us a little about your background and how you found Stoa?
  • What is your expectation from this cohort?
  • Why did you opt for Stoa?
  • Do you have a background in business, if yes, what are you trying to achieve through this cohort?
  • Have you been a part of a CBC before?
  • How familiar are you with the tools used?
  • How does a typical day in that community look like for you?
  • How much of the decision to join the course was related to the costs and time involved in Traditional Business School?
  • Where and how did you know about Stoa?
  • What are the best things in the cohort till now?
  • What are some things you think can be improved in the experience until now?
  • How does mentorship work? Do you have a static mentor or do mentors keep changing?
  • How do you get your lessons? Are they all live sessions or do you have pre-recorded content also? what do they prefer?
  • What kind of age groups are there in the cohort?
  • How do you chose the people you want to interact with? How do you make friends?
  • How effective are the guest lectures?
  • How do placements work at Stoa?
  • If you have a chance to add one feature in the whole 6-month course, what would you add?

💡 Insights

After 8 interviews and some vigorous brainstorming sessions, we got the following insights

🧑 User Persona

Here, we used a user persona to show how a typical person in the Stoa community can be represented, this is mostly for simplification purposes, as Stoa attracts people with varied backgrounds. We have tried our best to get the crux of our users (cohort members) from the interviews and represent them through Aditya Bhatnagar.

📍User Journey Mapping

User Journey Mapping proved to be essential for us —

  • To get a birds-eye view of what a typical day would like for a Stoa community member.
  • Map their journey and find their expectations, emotions, experiences, and pain points.

🔹 Course Format

We have represented an average cycle of what happens during a week for each of the sections in the form of a journey map below

🧩 Problems Identified

  1. Too many concepts that are difficult to be grasped in one go (live sessions) can be overwhelming for some cohort students.
  2. Lack of means to find like-minded people with common interests in a cohort of 80 members.
  3. The pandemic, too much input of information from various channels, suddenly being exposed to so many new people made some members anxious.
  4. The opportunities (job-seeking) information being all over the place.
  5. As members are a part of the intensive learning process it’s difficult for them to keep track of the progress in various aspects.

🏁 Suggested Features

Thank you for reading till the end! 😃 If you like the work we have put in, don’t forget to long-press on the “clap” icon! 👏🏻

Feel free to reach out to me for any questions, collaborations or just to say Hi! 🌻

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Apoorva Patil

Why do you want to fit in a glass slipper, when you can shatter the glass ceiling?