Should I Enroll in an MSW Program with a Cohort Model?
If you are looking for an MSW program, you might have considered one with a cohort learning model and wondered if you should enter such a program. Cohort learning is common in many universities and has several benefits, but there are also certain disadvantages. The character and effectiveness of cohort learning is dependent upon individuals taking responsibilities not only for their own learning, but for the progress of the group.
What is Cohort Learning?
The National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy defines a cohort as a “tight-knit, reliable common purpose group.” The groups are formed under the assumption that all people are “creators of meaning.” That means that group members all contribute their interpretations of material using their unique experiences and then continue forward in the learning process building shared experiences. Students who enroll in cohort studies will study with the same group of people throughout the program.
What are the Advantages of this Type of Learning?
• The groups support and validate members. Because the assumption is that everyone creates meaning, every member is a valued contributor to the learning experience. The concept involved is a phenomenon called “collective wisdom.” A group answer to a problem is often closer to the solution than the answer of any one individual.
• Cohort groups challenge members to learn. Every group member has a different potential, and begins from a different point of familiarity with the subject. Members who grasp ideas faster will pull other members along with them because of the nature of the group. In addition, diversity in wealth and ethnicity among cohort members can do much for those studying sociological and psychological subjects.
• Group members build friendships. They experience the same events and materials in their programs and so they have shared experiences. This also can become valuable beyond the life of the group, serving as a networking resource.
• Learning is student-centered. The group progresses at its own pace and explores some issues in greater depth.
• The cohort learning experience is one of inquiry. Group members ask questions and explore the answers instead of memorizing facts from a lecture.
Are There Disadvantages to Cohort Learning?
Unfortunately, there are. While cohort models seem to enhance academic learning, there are a few drawbacks to the programs.
• One of the problems educators see is that, because of the empowering nature of a cohort, an adversarial relationship might develop between the instructor and the students. Students feel they have the power to change priorities and policies of the class. This makes the teacher an outsider and pits him or her against the class.
• Groups must have strong leaders. If they don’t contain some students with strong personalities and leadership abilities, group members may “pull in different directions.” That means the cohort may become passive or get stuck at some point. It also might mean that the group could be less energetic and settle for mediocre success. If, however, there are too many “leaders,” the group may be fragmented.
• There may be some group members who do not carry their share of the load; assignments and projects may put stress on the more participatory members of the cohort. A few people might do the work of the projects but all will share in the grade.
• If strong bonds form between some group members, others may be excluded in discussions and projects. Since the success of the group depends upon cooperation and everyone having an equal voice, these friendships could damage the group.
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Should you look for a cohort model in your program? If the school that you want to attend offers the degree program as a cohort, and you would rather study in a traditional lecture environment, you might have to choose between programs and institutions. Still, evidence suggests that students in a cohort-modeled program may have a superior learning experience. The deciding factor in whether you enroll in a cohort-modeled MSW program could be your own personality and interest in working within a group.