By setting up cohorts in a course, you create smaller communities of students. You can design different course experiences for students in different cohorts. In discussion topics that are divided by cohort, students can also communicate and share experiences privately within the cohort that they are assigned to. Cohort-only discussion opportunities can help students develop a sense of community, provide specialized experiences, and encourage deeper, more meaningful course involvement.
If you use cohorts in your course, you define a set of cohorts to reflect communities of students, then select a strategy for assigning students to cohorts.
To provide students with a consistent experience throughout the course run, do not change a student’s cohort assignment after the course begins.
For more information about using cohorts in courses, see:
For information about discussions in general, see Managing Course Discussions.
You can configure the cohort feature so that students are assigned to cohorts automatically or manually. You can also use a combination of both assignment methods. Typically, your purpose in including the cohort feature in your course determines which assignment option you will use for your course.
In very large courses, the number of posts made to course discussion topics can make for a daunting amount of daily reading. In such courses, dividing the enrollees into separate cohorts makes the volume of posts, responses, and comments by the members of each one more manageable, and is more likely to foster community feeling.
To implement this assignment strategy, you enable the cohort feature and create a set of “auto” (automated) cohorts. The first time a student views the course Discussion page or any of the content-specific discussion topics, he or she is randomly assigned to one of the auto cohorts. Together, all of the students who are assigned to the same group form a cohort.
These guidelines, which are based on the experiences of MOOC teams that have used the cohort feature in this way, are suggested to help you determine how many automated cohorts to define for your course.
For example, two days before it starts, a course has an enrollment of 80,000 students. To create small communities within the discussions, the course team enables the cohort feature and creates eight automated cohorts. As they visit the Discussion page and view the discussion components in the course content, students are assigned to one of the cohorts. In divided discussion topics, students read and respond to contributions made by other members of the same cohort only.
For more information, see Implementing the Automated Assignment Strategy.
In SPOCs and other courses with small- to medium-sized enrollments, known existing commonalities can be used to identify cohorts. An example is a course that enrolls students from different companies or with different educational backgrounds, or members of alumni or parent groups. When students are assigned to cohorts on the basis of a characteristic that they share, they can privately discuss applications for what they are learning and explore resources and ideas that are of particular interest.
To implement this assignment strategy, you identify the “real-world” cohorts that your students belong to already. You enable the cohort feature and create a “manual” cohort to represent each of those cohorts. You then assign each student to one of the manual cohorts. Every student who enrolls, including those who enroll after the course starts, must be assigned to a cohort.
To ensure that every student is assigned to a cohort, you can set up a single automated cohort, as described for the hybrid assignment strategy. If you do not create an automated cohort, the system automatically creates a default cohort and assigns students to it if necessary.
For more information, see Implementing the Manual Assignment Strategy.
For some courses, the manual assignment strategy isn’t feasible to execute, and the automated assignment strategy doesn’t accommodate the existing cohorts that exist in the student body. The enrollment may be too large to complete manual assignments effectively, or only some of the students may have strong defining characteristics among an otherwise diverse student body. For these courses, you can use a hybrid of the two strategies to implement the cohort feature.
An example is a course that enrolls members of an alumni association. The alumni want an opportunity for private interactions, so manual assignment of those students to a cohort makes sense. For other students in the class, manual assignment isn’t needed: you create one or more automated cohorts for those students.
Before you implement the hybrid strategy, you identify the characteristics that define existing cohorts in the student body. You also decide whether you want the rest of the students in the course to be divided into their own, similarly- sized cohorts, or if you want them all to be in just one other cohort.
After you enable the cohort feature, you create a manual cohort for each cohort that you identified. You manually assign students who belong to those cohorts to the corresponding cohorts. You also set up automated cohorts for the other students in the course, or rely on the default cohort. The students who are not assigned to a manual cohort are automatically assigned to one of the automated cohorts, or to the default cohort if you choose to use it, when they view the Discussion page or a discussion topic in the course content. (For best results when you use this strategy, you complete all manual assignments before the course starts and students begin viewing discussion topics.)
In a course that has the cohort feature enabled, all students must be assigned to a cohort. To assure that all students are assigned, the system automatically creates a default cohort and assigns students to it if necessary. Creation of the default cohort only occurs if you do not define any automated cohorts for your course. Any student who is not assigned to a manual cohort is assigned to the default cohort automatically when they visit the Discussion page or a discussion topic in the course content.
Students who are assigned to the default cohort see a cohort name of “Default Group” in discussion posts.
If you want students to see a different cohort name when your course starts, you can add an automated cohort with the name that you prefer. See Define Auto Cohorts. (Adding an automated cohort to your course for this purpose is not recommended after your course starts.)
You can check the student profile information report for your course to see if any students are assigned to the default cohort in your course, and change their cohort assignments. Note, however, that in divided discussion topics students can only see posts by members of their currently assigned cohort: when a student is reassigned, posts “disappear”. As a result, any cohort assignment changes should be done as early in the course run as possible so that students see discussion posts and contributions that remain consistent over time.