5 min read

Course Clubs

Course Clubs

Almost every weekday morning for the last six weeks, I’ve gone on a Zoom call with 8-10 people. I’ve also written more than I ever have in one month. I’ve gotten to know people across the globe, and we’ve pushed each other to create more and better content than any of us had before. Who are we? We’re a small band of students from David Perell’s Write of Passage, a popular Cohort Based Course (CBC), who formed a writing group to push ourselves.

CBCs are all the rage right now, and many are excellent. Write of Passage improved the quality and output of my writing. On top of the caliber of the material, the community makes the course work. The cohort provides motivation, feedback, and accountability. Tiago Forte gave an excellent overview of online learning. He says that self-paced courses require too much time, energy, and discipline. CBCs solve this problem with communities providing accountability and interaction in order to create an outsized impact.

While CBC’s can be great, there are drawbacks. While many CBC’s are worth every penny, they are expensive. The price can act as a commitment mechanism, but it can also make a course inaccessible. Also, quality CBCs may not yet exist in your area of interest and you may have problems with timing, particularly if you’re in a different time zone.

I recently saw Nat Eliason’s tweet:

There’s tons of self-paced content out there that is valuable and relatively inexpensive. The problem, as Tiago said, is that it’s hard to stay motivated and go through a whole course by yourself. These types of courses have abysmal completion rates below 20% [1][2][3][4].

We’ve all bought courses with the intent of doing them but failed for one reason or another. I have a long spreadsheet with log-ins of courses that I’ve barely touched. How can we dust off these courses and finally gain the skills we want?

Introducing Course Clubs, self-organizing cohort-based-courses using self-paced courses as textbooks. Like a book club for courses. A group of learners can start the course at the same time and reinforce what they’re learning.

Course Clubs are an economical alternative solution to CBCs that addresses cost, timing, and content to generate the same impact while also solving the problems of self-paced courses.

Staying on track is a huge problem with self-paced courses. It’s very easy to put off watching that video for another day, every day. A course schedule and regular video chats keep everyone on track and hold the learners accountable. While it’s hard to stay self-disciplined and motivate yourself, it’s easier to push through if you’re surrounded by a group going through the same challenges. In my writing group, we have a call six days a week where we state what we will work on for an hour, work for an hour individually and then come back and say what we’ve accomplished. Because of this support, we each completed many of the assignments that were given for Write of Passage. Not everyone is on every call, nor does it need to be this frequent, but the consistency creates momentum.

Another problem is engagement. Just watching the videos or reading the lessons is not sufficient, you have to get your hands dirty. An important part of a Course Club is to define a challenge or mini-project for each week that is tailored to the lessons of that week. In Write of Passage, the weekly assignment forced us to apply the lessons of each week in our writing. We refined the skills through rounds of feedback and revision. Having a community of diverse backgrounds and opinions where you both give and receive feedback is essential. Through the process of giving and receiving feedback, you both see where your work needs improvement and identify areas of improvement for others. This allows you to simultaneously teach and learn. By using this process of iterative feedback to complete a mini-project you both instill the lessons and create a better project.

The completed mini-projects are learners’ portfolios, showcasing the skills they acquired. Through Course Clubs, you replace certification with proof-of-work. In Write of Passage, we each wrote five essays, created a personal website, and started a newsletter to foster an audience. By the end, we each had a body of work that we feel proud of. Anyone looking to evaluate us doesn't need to believe in a piece of paper, they can see our actual work.

Since Course Clubs are self-organized, learners can handpick tools for their specific needs. Essentials are a central repository and methods for asynchronous and synchronous communication. For example, in my writing group, we created a Notion database to keep ourselves organized. It contains ideas, resources, and tools to help with scheduling and accountability. We use Zoom for video chat, and since we were often working on our writing outside of the video chats, we set up a group chat in Signal in case anyone needed help right away. These tools helped us complete many of the assignments in Write of Passage.

My idea for Course Clubs comes from my writing group. I know that I wouldn’t have learned or done as much without them. By applying this idea to self-paced courses, learners learn what they want, when they want.

And by joining Course Clubs and completing courses, learners also support the course creators. Besides creating content, creators’ biggest problem is marketing and creating and maintaining a community. Many course creators don’t have the skills, time, or effort to give live lectures and foster a community. They just want to ship. Course Clubs build a community around self-paced courses and allow creators to focus on their area of expertise, producing great content. And the Course Club community enables learners to discover that content and master the skills they want.

So what courses have you bought and not taken? What courses have you had your eye on? Now there’s a way to get to that best version of yourself.

I’m planning on experimenting and building tools for Course Clubs. If you want to explore this with me, DM me.

How to Start a Course Club:

  1. Find a group of people who want to learn the same skills with similar schedules.
  2. Buy the course.
  3. Design a schedule for when to watch/read the modules.
  4. Develop a weekly project for engagement and to apply the ideas.
  5. Have regularly recurring video chats for discussions, reviews, and accountability.
  6. Create a repository like Notion to track progress and hold notes.
  7. Use a chat app/Slack/forum for asynchronous discussion.

  1. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/01/16/study-offers-data-show-moocs-didnt-achieve-their-goals ↩︎

  2. http://www.katyjordan.com/MOOCproject.html ↩︎

  3. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/01/16/study-offers-data-show-moocs-didnt-achieve-their-goals ↩︎

  4. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1067937.pdf ↩︎