How to Use Group-Based Online Courses to Build Organisational Capability
Organisational capability simply can’t be built by one individual; it requires a herculean effort across multiple employees all pulling in the direction of a common goal. And that’s where cohort learning truly comes into its own.
Why are online cohorts good for building organisational capability?
Yes, individual learning has its place in building organisational capability, but cohort learning can be more central than you realise.
The cohort approach works because it reflects how work happens: In teams. And that’s important for:
- Employees learning to self-contextualise skills and knowledge application
- Developing the social and technical skillset needed in managers
- Providing a risk-free environment for employees to problem solve
- Making development inclusive for dispersed and remote workers
- Institutionalising best practice knowledge sharing for learning continuity.
Look at this way. Say you’ve developed a leadership succession program. The content, even third-party materials, will be specific to the capability needs of your workforce. But while this covers the what, solely providing solitary learning pathways puts the where and when at the whim of learner’s self-motivation. For time-sensitive leadership plans, that’s a big risk.
Group-based courses are time-bound, giving both your L&D team and employees external accountability to meet strategic learning outcomes, linked from a timeline perspective to that year’s strategic priorities. You can also scale online courses across locations, meaning you can make create cross-functional and diverse cohorts and offer broader business challenges as part of the program syllabus.
What are the drawbacks of using online cohorts to build organisational capability?
While most cohorts are designed to mirror the size of real working teams, they shouldn’t be homogenous in design. Diversity of job level, role, function and backgrounds is important for avoiding virtual echo chambers and groupthink. Research shows that homogenous groups create powerful group identities and a sense of comfort for learners, but that the illusion of streamlined decision-making masks their poorer choice of outcomes. And ultimately, this is where the building of organisational capability can drift away, with groupthink taking it in the wrong direction and a resulting snowball effect of not delivering on a strategic priority.
Also of note, diverse cohorts may isolate your more introverted learners, particularly in the absence of an objective facilitator. This can lead to:
- Biased feedback between peers that isn’t aligned with the actual learning outcomes of the program.
- Confusion over priorities and responsibilities amongst projects.
- Combative communication rather than professional networking.
Selection bias may also prevail amongst those not chosen to be in a cohort. For example, a leadership development program may seem exclusive if there is little transparency around how participants are chosen. This can lead to a poor learning culture; the idea that certain development pathways are competitive may turn employees off exploring individual opportunities.
What is the impact of not using cohorts to build organisational capability?
Best-practice knowledge sharing is one of the most effective capability builders, yet group-based online courses are one of the most under-utilised methods for building organisational capability. And while one-off and individual training activities have their time and place, many organisations have the mistaken belief that employees will be able to accurately apply new skills of their merit.
Treat online group-based courses or cohorts as sandbox environments for training enablement. Effective group work offers continuous reinforcement and course correction, without which a continuous learning culture—and the innovation, initiative and competitive edge that comes with it—can’t thrive. Then there’s the psychological safety that allows employees to take risks in problem solving. If knowledge sharing isn’t a systematic way of work, mission-critical information won’t move quickly or efficiently to those who need it. That silos teams and creates disparate understandings of organisational drivers and priorities, ultimately causing lags in productivity and fractures in the workplace culture.
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