I’m proud to announce my investment in Maven, the first platform to specifically enable creators to deliver live, online, community-driven educational programs to people all over the world.
Online education is exploding. Udemy reported a 260% increase in its annual recurring revenue in the first six months of 2020. Coursera raised $130 million in new financing at a valuation of $2.5 billion in July. Thinkific reported a 221% surge in new course creation in the first weeks of the pandemic, which leveled off at 115% to 263% (depending on the country) in the ensuing months.
Cohort-Based Courses, or CBCs, are a new kind of online course in which a group of learners (known as a “cohort”) join together and move through a curriculum at the same pace. The instructor provides guidance and feedback over video calls and other channels, while students share what they’re discovering in real time and encourage each other to keep going.
I recently shared my thoughts on why I believe Cohort-Based Courses (known as CBCs) are the next big wave in online education. They leverage the unique properties of the Internet – that it is two-way, interactive, and open-ended. Instead of buying a static, off-the-shelf product to consume in isolation, students get to be part of an interactive, personalized peer-to-peer learning experience.
I created my own CBC in late 2016, though I wouldn’t have known to call it that until much later. It is called Building a Second Brain, and teaches people how to capitalize on the full potential of their knowledge through the practice of digital notetaking.
It’s now been 4 years since my first tiny cohort of 30 people, and over 3,000 people from around the world have completed the course since then. It has far surpassed anything I ever expected or hoped when I first started out.
But here’s the thing: as certain as I am that CBCs are the future, I’m equally certain that the path I followed isn’t the best one. I had to spend years hacking together all kinds of different systems since there wasn’t any existing platform for what I was doing. I had to hire someone to write custom code to get existing tools to work the way I needed them to. I burned out and almost gave up several times before I was finally able to hire a full-time team, a major responsibility that many creators can’t afford or won’t want to take on.
The early days of CBCs are coming to a close, and that’s a good thing. The wild frontier is turning into a frontier town, where intrepid travelers can at least stock up on supplies and get something to eat. We’re leaving the era of solopreneurs managing everything from growing their audience, to driving sales, to troubleshooting tech problems, to creating original material, to delivering live experiences all by themselves. There are far too many roles to play and hats to wear for one person to do it on their own. Especially as competition heats up and venture-backed companies start pouring money into the industry.
I couldn’t be more excited to see the best practices developed by us and many other pioneering course creators embedded into the all-in-one platform that Maven is building. It’s going to unlock the potential of CBCs for all the talented teachers with valuable expertise who don’t have technical skills and unlimited amounts of free time. By doing so, it will unleash the power of community-driven learning to make a transformative impact on students’ lives.
The 12th cohort of our Building a Second Brain course is welcoming over 1,500 students this week (and we do them twice per year). By comparison, Harvard accepted a 2021 incoming freshman class of 1,700 undergrads. In other words, in 4 years we’ve reached nearly the scale of the country’s most prestigious university, and at a small fraction of the cost. I believe we are well on our way to matching the quality of an Ivy League education as well.
Many people have realized that we need to “scale” education to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving workforce. But traditional institutions are incentivized to accept as few applicants as possible, and self-paced courses lack the accountability that most learners need to succeed.
Education isn’t and will never be perfectly scaleable. It inherently has friction, because learning is always accompanied by resistance. We have to feel the resistance of our mindset shifting and new muscles developing to know that we are changing. CBCs are the perfect blend of the scalability of the Internet combined with the intensity of human interaction. I believe they represent our best hope of educating the millions of people we need to tackle the challenges we face as individuals, as companies, and as a society.
I’m betting on Maven because I’ve been watching them closely for the past year, and I believe they’re perfectly positioned to capitalize on the CBC wave. Wes Kao (Creator of the altMBA, the gold standard in online professional development) consulted with us on two of our flagship courses last summer, and I got to experience firsthand her insights into community-building, curriculum design, business strategy, and communication. I’ve been following Gagan Biyani (Co-Founder and former President of Udemy) closely as he’s patiently explored the space, and I think he’ll be able to build on his previous impressive accomplishments in online education. Gagan and Wes are joined by Shreyans Bhansali, whose previous company Socratic was acquired by Google, for a true founding dream team.
Maven is supplying the pickaxes and shovels that will make life on the frontier not only survivable, but profitable and enjoyable. They are democratizing the opportunity to reach anyone, anywhere with the knowledge and expertise you have to offer. If you’d like to hear more about what they’re building, subscribe below:
The Maven team is offering a free Cohort-Based Course on how to create a Cohort-Based Course, with applications closing on May 8, 2021. If you want to jump into this new wave with both feet, apply here to be a part of the inaugural cohort (application takes about 10 minutes to complete).
They are also hiring for a range of early roles, which you can find details on here.
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