This section provides an introduction to using cohorts.
To create smaller communities in your course, or design different course experiences for different groups of learners, you can set up cohorts in your course.
In discussion topics that are divided by cohort, learners can also communicate and share experiences privately within the cohort that they are assigned to. Cohort-specific discussion opportunities can help learners 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 that reflect communities of learners, then select a strategy for assigning learners to cohorts.
To provide learners with a consistent experience throughout the course run, do not change cohort configuration or a learner’s cohort assignment after your course begins.
For more information about using cohorts, see the following topics.
For information about discussions in general, see Managing Course Discussions.
Learners are assigned to cohorts either automatically or manually, depending on the types of cohorts that you create. Manual cohorts do not have learners assigned to them unless you manually add learners. Automatic cohorts have learners randomly assigned to them if learners do not belong to any cohort by the time they access the course content (including the course Discussion page or content-specific discussion topics). If you have not created any automated cohorts by the time learners access course content, a default automated cohort is created and used for automatic assignment, so that no learner in the course is without a cohort.
Determine the basic strategy that you will use to create cohorts. An automated assignment strategy means that you create cohorts to which learners are assigned automatically and randomly. A manual assignment strategy means that you create cohorts to which learners are assigned only when you or your course team manually adds them. You can use a hybrid assignment method by creating a combination of automated and manual cohorts. Typically, your purpose in including the cohort feature determines which assignment option you use for your course.
You can add learners manually to any cohort, whether it was created as an automated cohort or a manual cohort.
Although you can change the assignment method of a cohort at any time after you create it, you should have a cohort assignment strategy in mind as you design your course, and only make changes to cohorts while the course is running if absolutely necessary. Be aware of the implications of changing cohort configuration while your course is running. For more information, see Altering Cohort Configuration in a Running Course. In general, to provide learners with a consistent experience throughout the course run, do not change cohort configuration or a learner’s cohort assignment after your course begins.
For more information about strategies for assigning learners to cohorts, see the following topics.
In very large courses, the number of posts that are 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 cohort more manageable, and is more likely to foster community feeling.
If you use the automated assignment strategy, you create several “auto” (automated) cohorts. Learners are automatically and randomly assigned to one of the auto cohorts when they first view any course content on the Course or Discussion page. In this way, each learner who engages with the course content or its discussion community is assigned to a cohort. No learner who particpates in these ways remains unassigned.
The following guidelines are based on the experiences of MOOC teams that have used cohorts in this way. They 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 cohorts and then creates eight automated cohorts. As learners visit the Discussion page or view the course content, they are randomly assigned to one of the eight cohorts. In divided discussion topics, learners read and respond only to contributions made by other members of the same cohort.
For more information, see Implementing an 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 learners from different companies or with different educational backgrounds, or members of alumni or parent groups. When learners 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 learners already belong to. You enable cohorts and then create “manual” cohorts to represent each of the real-world cohorts. You then manually assign each enrolled learner to a cohort. Every learner in your course, including those who enroll after the course starts, must be assigned to a cohort.
To ensure that every learner 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 learners to it if necessary.
For more information, see Implementing a Manual Assignment Strategy.
For some courses, the manual assignment strategy is not feasible to execute, and the automated assignment strategy does not accommodate existing cohorts in the student body. The enrollment might be too large to complete manual assignments effectively, or only some of the learners might have strong defining characteristics among an otherwise diverse student body. For these courses, you can use a hybrid of the two strategies to implement cohorts.
An example is a course that enrolls members of an alumni association. The alumni want an opportunity to have private interactions, so manual assignment of those learners to a cohort makes sense. For other learners in the class, manual assignment is not needed: you can create one or more automated cohorts for the remaining learners in the course.
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 remaining learners 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 cohorts, you create a manual cohort for each student group that you identified. You manually assign learners who belong to each group to the corresponding cohort. You also set up automated cohorts for the other learners in the course, or rely on the default automated cohort. Any learners who are not assigned to a manual cohort are automatically assigned to one of the automated cohorts or to the default cohort when they first view any course content, including the course Discussion page or content-specific discussion topics. For best results when you use this strategy, you should complete all manual cohort assignments before the course starts and before learners begin viewing course content and discussion topics.
If you enable cohorts in your course, all learners must be assigned to a cohort. To ensure that there are no learners in the course without a cohort, the system automatically creates a default cohort and assigns learners to it if necessary.
The default cohort is created only if you have not created at least one automated assignment cohort in your course by the time that the first learner accesses your course content. Learners who have not been manually assigned to a cohort when they access the course content are automatically assigned to the default cohort.
Learners who are in the default cohort see a cohort name of “Default Group” in discussion posts. If you want learners to see a different name for the default cohort, you can change its name. For details about renaming cohorts, see Rename a Cohort.
You can check the learner profile information report for your course to see if any learners are assigned to the default cohort, and change their cohort assignments. Note, however, that in divided discussion topics learners can only see posts by members of their currently assigned cohort: when a learner is reassigned, posts that he previously saw will seem to have “disappeared”. To avoid negatively affecting the learner experience, any cohort assignment changes should be done as early in the course run as possible, so that learners’ views of discussion posts and contributions remain consistent over time.