Executive Health Administration

How Cohort-Based Learning Enhances Online Learning

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 28, 2017 10:10:00 AM / by Frank Farrar


When considering online graduate school programs, the learning environment is a major decision factor, leaving many students asking, "Who will my classmates be?"

Cohort-based learning has grown in popularity with the rise of online education. Learn how cohorts elevate online learning, provide richer learning experiences and often lead to deeper professional connections.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary“in ancient times, a cohort was a military unit, one of 10 divisions in a Roman legion.”

Today cohorts refer more broadly, not just to a unit of troops, but "any group of individuals that share a common interest." In this case that common interest is working through an advanced healthcare degree and earning an Executive MHA.

Benefits of Cohort-Based Models

Although variations in cohort structure and other details may crop up from university to university, the objective and benefits are the same.

In a study on cohort groups and collaborative learning environments conducted by the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy - involving three distinct types of programs – the authors emphasized that despite, “differences in the cohort shape and configuration (and differences in age and social role among participants), the importance of participating in a learner cohort held true."

Benefits of the cohort-based learning model, observed by the NCSALL, include:

  1. Communication skills – cohorts help with interactions at school, work, and home
  2. Learning how to learn – demonstrating behaviors to one another
  3. Social Culture - or feeling "comfortable" when asking questions
  4. Perspective - or recognizing and appreciating different views

“You’re learning from each other,” says Susan Gautsch, director of online learning at USC Price, referring to one of many benefits of the cohort model.

Cohorts at USC never exceed 25 people (a lower cap than established at some comparable Executive Master of Health Administration programs), to foster stronger relationships between group members.

Cohort Design

"We put a lot of attention into designing these cohorts," Gautsch adds, this helps ensure that each student learns from an optimal, representative mix of students.

To provide graduate students at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy with the best online learning experience, Executive MHA cohorts include:

  • Advanced clinicians – Medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physicians
  • Professionals – Executives, SVPs, and directors spanning operations, management, finance, accounting, IT, human resources, marketing, and sales
  • Geographically diverse students – nationally and internationally


Online Learning

Grad School Hub notes cohorts are sometimes referred to as “intentional learning communities.” Elaborating, they tell potential students that the focus on innovative learning and independent thinking drives students to be not just recipients of knowledge but people who “develop their own conclusions and ideas.”

Gautsch said the distance learning format of USC's Executive MHA program is conducive to the cohort model because of the intense, explicit manner in which work and communication needs to be conducted over the internet, making for an even tighter class network and further enhancing relationships.

And the relationships typically last long after graduation.

“It’s almost like you’ve got your own personal advisory board,” Gautsch adds, "who know you and your abilities but aren’t part of your company. They can offer you advice, perspective and opinions."

Determine if an Executive MHA is Right for You

The cohorts model of the Executive MHA program at USC provides students with a consistent learning community and connects them to the broader Trojan Family.

Are you a healthcare professional seeking a master's degree with a lot to offer? Find out now if you prequalify for admittance or evaluate your readiness for an executive-level MHA program by completing a readiness assessment.

executive master of health administration degree readiness survey

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Topics: Online Learning, Cohort-Based Learning, Distance Learning

Frank Farrar

Written by Frank Farrar

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