A year ago I announced my investment in Maven, the first platform to enable creators to deliver live, online, community-driven educational programs to learners all over the world.
Today I’m officially announcing that I am becoming an advisor to the company. Whether you are creating your very first online course or making the shift to live instruction, Maven is my official recommendation for where to start building.
Maven is enabling a new generation of educational programs known as CBCs – or Cohort-Based Courses. These represent a new kind of online course in which a group of learners (known as a “cohort”) come together and move through a curriculum at the same pace. The instructor provides guidance and feedback over video calls and other communication platforms, while students share what they’re discovering in real time and give each other feedback and encouragement.
CBCs skyrocketed to prominence over the last couple years as people moved online for education, connection, and community. As I wrote in The Future of Education is Community, this new wave isn’t replacing what came before. Each successive wave of online education over the last 15 years has built upon previous ones, and this one is no exception.
Cohort-based courses take a university-style education and make it vastly more affordable and accessible to people regardless of where they live or their formal qualifications. They add powerful accountability and feedback not only from instructors, but peers and previous graduates as well. This is a fundamentally community-centric, social approach to learning.
I created my own CBC, Building a Second Brain, in late 2016. Since then, I’ve taught over 5,000 people how to create a system of knowledge management (a “Second Brain”) for themselves. And how to use that system to capitalize on the full potential of their knowledge through the practice of digital notetaking.
The growth and impact of our course has far surpassed anything I ever expected when I first started out. In a couple months, my book by the same name will be released in 10 countries and languages. Everything written inside has been developed, tested, and refined within the community that has formed around our alumni.
As proud as I am of what my team and I have built, it’s clear that our industry is entering a new phase. We’re leaving the era of solo teachers managing everything on their own – from growing their audience, to driving sales, to troubleshooting tech problems, to creating original content, to delivering live instruction. 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 large companies start pouring money into the space, there are now two viable paths: You can either hire a team, or leverage your efforts with an all-in-one platform like Maven.
I’m seeing more and more demand for CBC-related content from teachers who want to jump into the field. But my focus is the subject matter of Personal Knowledge Management and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Working with Maven not only as an advisor, but as a guest instructor in their accelerator will allow me and my team to pour our knowledge into an organization that is perfectly equipped to share it further. That way we can share the most valuable insights we are learning in real time without distracting from our main priority of helping people everywhere create a Second Brain.
I’ve never been an official advisor to any company or platform before. But something has changed: the path I’ve followed to creating my course is no longer the best one. I had to hack together different platforms, customize and tweak them endlessly, and hire a full staff to run it all. These are major endeavors that many course creators don’t want to take on or can’t afford, and they shouldn’t have to.
Maven is changing all that – finally we have a single, unified platform specifically designed to enable live, cohort-based programs. For anyone getting started today, I recommend skipping the mess of trying to hack together your own solution, and using Maven instead.
Case Study: A New Wave of Course Creators
Until now, most CBCs have been taught by big-name influencers with massive existing followings. They’ve often had teams of people working under them to manage marketing, operations, customer service, and instructional design.
But I believe we’re about to witness a sea change in the kinds of people who create these courses. As an example, take Angelica Tonatzin, the creator and instructor of Sacred Birth Energy: A 5-Week Online Pregnancy Circle.
In early 2020, my wife Lauren signed up for Angelica’s program, where she became part of a group of 6 women at various stages of pregnancy. They met every Sunday for 90 minutes, and Angelica would lead them through a series of prompts and self-reflection exercises designed to bring them into closer connection with their bodies and their intuition. Lauren describes it as “the best course I’ve ever taken,” and two years later she still keeps in touch with her fellow participants as they share pictures of their growing kids.
From Angelica’s perspective, this format allowed her unique knowledge and skills to shine: her patience, empathy, curiosity, and ability to hold space for other women. She says, “I was more the facilitator, which made it easier. One of my strengths is tuning into the energy of the room to help them tune into their own wisdom and their own answers.”
She didn’t need a huge following or online presence – 4 of the women found her through prior experience with her coaching or word of mouth, while a fifth came through her Instagram following of 2,600 people. She shared with me, “You don’t need a huge following if you’re able to touch the right niche and the people who want what you have.”
She didn’t need complex operations – the course was simply a weekly Zoom call and an email sharing some reflection prompts.
She didn’t need a lot of polished pre-recorded content – in her words, “They can go and get information anywhere, but there’s not too many spaces where they can tune into their own answers. And that’s a big part of pregnancy, learning to trust yourself.”
She didn’t need to do a lot of market research – her starting point was her own pregnancy experience and creating something she herself would have wanted.
Each of the participants paid $597 for a 6-week program. This represented an incredible value for a reasonable price, and on Angelica’s side, amounted to $3,000 in revenue, a substantial amount for someone with no team and little overhead. As a new mother herself, this arrangement allows her to offer what she knows on her timeline and schedule. Teaching a live course allows Angelica to earn a living with her knowledge by teaching a small group, versus having to find a babysitter and schedule individual coaching calls with each person.
Angelica’s biggest challenges are the marketing and operations needed to sustain her business. And this is where the importance of a platform like Maven comes in. On the backend, it provides a consistent interface specifically designed to support a live program, such as a customer relationship management system so you can track your students from interested to purchased to course completed, a content management system so all of your course materials can be in one place, and a community platform where students can interact and engage each other. On the frontend, it provides exposure to an audience already familiar with such programs who are looking for an expert to learn from.
If we’re going to unlock the potential of CBCs, we need to open the doors to talented teachers with valuable expertise who don’t necessarily have technical skills or unlimited amounts of free time. We need to automate the more mechanical, rote tasks of course management so that the instructor’s human skills can shine more brightly. Angelica’s story shows how CBCs could enable an entirely new kind of career path for teachers: autonomous, flexible, sustainable, and with some dedication, well paying.
By doing so, we will unleash the power of community-driven learning to make a transformative impact on students’ lives. Maven is supplying the tools that will make it possible to teach online without the hassle and headache that was required in the past. They are democratizing the opportunity to reach anyone, anywhere with the knowledge and expertise you have to offer.
The Maven team runs a free 3-week accelerator to help qualified instructors build their first Cohort-Based Course. I am joining as a guest instructor and will be sharing behind-the-scenes details of how we built our own course (and education business in general) that I’ve never made public before.
If you want to jump into this new wave with both feet, apply here to be a part of the next cohort (the 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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