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Better Together: The Cohort Model of Professional Development

By April Witteveen on December 3, 2015

Higher ed is changing fast right now, and so is librarianship. Traditional in-person library and information science (LIS) education provided students with a robust network of peers for support. Over the last couple of decades, however, trends in higher education have reduced that automatic peer group—not only asynchronous online courses but also “unbundling,” in which students take classes at their own pace and from a variety of institutions. Postgraduate professional development opportunities, ranging from one-day conferences to workshops to certificate programs, were already more isolated, and these, too, have felt the further distancing impact of the digital shift. In addition, the proliferation of new competencies in librarianship can mean that a given librarian’s coworkers may have few if any points of overlap with what they do every day or need to learn—especially if they’re the sole representative on staff of a new library function.

Fortunately, there’s a movement afoot offering learners increased peer support without forgoing the benefits of self-directed and distance learning. Back in 2004, in a College Quarterly article titled “Cohort Based Learning: Application to Learning Organizations and Student Academic Success,” Kristine Fenning defined the term, noting that a paradigm shift toward learning communities, particularly those supported by a cohort-based framework, was under way. The cohort model has gained significant traction in higher ed. Cohorts are also growing in popularity across the LIS field, creating new venues for professional development and project management at multiple points in career paths, from MLS graduates just starting out to seasoned library leaders.

How it works

A cohort is a group of learners who share common learning experiences in order to build a stable, ongoing professional community. A cohort-based model, Fenning writes, results in a positive feeling toward the subject matter and learning becomes more meaningful. The social environment of a cohort is “the key to preventing isolation [on] the learning journey.”

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