Invest in Yourself Through Cohort Based Online Courses
Overview and honest review of the 7 online courses I've tried.
It's easy to get overwhelmed when you start creating online.
Looking back, I'm surprised I've made it this far without throwing in the towel.
There's so much information on techniques, tools, systems, and hacks.
So many hurdles to overcome, practically and mentally, with little external recognition in the beginning.
Now, 15 months in, I have cobbled together a system that motivates me to write daily, earn money online, send out a bi-monthly newsletter, and engage with online communities on Twitter.
It's been a lengthy process, taking ideas and inspiration from all around me.
One thing is clear: it would have taken me much longer if I had not signed up for cohort-based online courses.
These are interactive online courses where a group of students advances through the material together — in "cohorts" — with hands-on, feedback-based learning at the core. There're live sessions with assignments and feedback.
To me, they're one of the best ways to spend your time on the Internet.
So, my advice to anyone interested in building anything online is to invest time, money and energy in cohort-based courses, learn new skills and connect with people who share your new interests.
Note: there are 0 affiliate links in this post. This is purely my honest review.
An Investment > An Expense
These kinds of courses cost money, that's true. Often a lot of money.
Depending on your financial situation and your preferred learning style, it might not be worth it. That's a personal decision you have to make.
It's also true that you can find most of the information taught in these courses for free.
I find it worth the investment because courses allow you to learn and move at a much quicker pace. The insane volume of information is filtered, condensed and organised for you. You're also learning with other people who share similar interests, adding a layer of accountability.
Yes, they can also take up lots of time which can be tricky to combine with work and other responsibilities — but so does doing your own research.
Don't see it as an expense. Instead, see it as an investment in yourself and your future.
Also, note that most of these courses have parity pricing or scholarships available, plus fair refund policies.
Start by Following Your Curiosity
It's impossible to create a perfect system from the beginning. If you try to do that, you'll get overwhelmed by your own expectations and quit.
Instead, you have to trust the process and experiment. Follow your curiosities, even if you're not 100% yet how you'll use it.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, karma, whatever. — Steve Jobs
Sign up for newsletters, read blogs, and follow people on Twitter. You'll start seeing recommendations on courses and workshops. Check out the sales pages, read testimonials and sign up.
You will learn new skills, which never hurts, but more importantly, you'll challenge yourself creatively, which will benefit you in ways you can't see yet.
I didn't finish all the courses I signed up for when they didn't meet my expectations, and always got refunds. It's about experimenting and trying out different topics and styles of teaching.
My Courses Toolbox
In my courses-toolbox, you'll find an eclectic bunch of topics: writing + productivity + No-Code + Notion + public speaking.
Looking back, this has allowed me to pick up mini skills and ideas from each one, combining them into the system I have now. A system that works for me.
Note: Some of these courses, I quit, and for some, I asked for a refund after a couple of weeks because of my experience at the time. Since then, these courses might have evolved and improved. Do your research and read other people's reviews to determine whether the course would be right for you.
Key takeaway: Taking your writing from 0 to 1
This was my first online course ever, and it was the perfect introduction to this shiny new world of 'online writing'.
Ship30for30 is about learning the fundamentals of being a digital writer, challenging you to write and publish an atomic essay of 250 words online every day for 30 days.
There's an immediate sense of community because of the hundreds of other people going through the same process — liking and commenting on your amateur writing. For a complete beginner, that's exactly what you need: encouragement.
The need to publish every single day was too much too soon for me, and I struggled to hit the 30 days streak (I missed a couple of days here and there). However, this course lit the spark in me to start creating online. It built my confidence. It made me focus on writing something every day.
It also introduced me to Twitter as a way to connect with regular people (not just to read Trump's shit tweets). And tools like Notion and Readwise — key parts of My Life Tech Stack to this day.
I joined the second or third cohort back in February 2021. They're now in cohort 8, so many changes have been made. It started as a bare-bones-ship-at-all-costs writing challenge, but the curriculum has improved and expanded a lot from what I hear.
If you're entirely new to writing online, I would give Ship30 a shot. You can start with a free Digital Writing Course created by the course developers to get a feel for the course and its approach.
Building A Second Brain [Refunded]
Key takeaway: Understanding the importance of the Information Age & building a note-taking system
Hanging out on Twitter, I came across Tiago Forte, a leading productivity expert and creator of a course called Building A Second Brain.
At the time, I was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I was reading so much content, from books to tweets to articles to blog posts to newsletters. A ton of great information, but I wasn't doing anything with it. I started to question the point of all this reading if I could barely remember what I learned the next day.
BASB is a philosophy — an approach to thrive in the modern Information Age. We live in pretty amazing times. A never-ending flow of information and knowledge, direct access to the brightest minds in the world (dead or alive!).
The challenge is absorbing all of this information and applying it to our own lives and careers. You need a way to capture, organise, curate and filter this information with 1 clear goal: CREATE.
How do you turn all this information into concrete results? How do you become systematic and intentional about the information you consume? How can you leverage technology to do this?
I needed a proper system, so I signed up for the course.
After 2 weeks, I asked for a refund.
I did not feel it was worth the steep price tag. The sessions felt theoretical and the groups too large and impersonal. It's great for people who don't have the time or discipline to do their own research.
I had already done a lot of reading about Tiago's work and his philosophy beforehand and felt like I wasn't getting much more out of the course.
That said, the course is expertly run, and most people seem to love it — so it depends on your learning style.
And the ideas and frameworks Tiago teaches are genius, in my opinion. He's a pioneer in this area of 'personal knowledge management', and I believe this is an area that will only get more important as creativity becomes more and more vital to our work.
BASB gave me the foundation of knowledge to start building my note-taking system — an ecosystem of tools and apps:
- Book highlights: Kindle → Readwise → Roam
- Online content highlights: Reader (by Readwise) → Readwise → Roam
- Newsletters / Emails highlights: Email to Instapaper → Readwise → Roam
- My own notes & ideas: Directly into Roam
I talk more about how I use Readwise here and how I use Roam here.
I also took away the importance of time-shifting my consumption, completely changing how I approach reading. This small change of habit allows you to escape from the reactivity loop, which most of us are on whenever we are constantly reacting to what is in front of us, causing overwhelm and blocking creation.
Akimbo Creative Workshop [Refunded]
Key takeaway: Showing up daily without needing to know what you'll use it for
Akimbo Creative Workshop is a 3.5-month workshop developed by creative guru and writer Seth Godin.
As described on the sales page:
This workshop is designed for creatives who want to share, create, develop, build: a novel, a TED talk, stand-up, a play, music, visual art, or a new idea.
I signed up because I liked the idea of a long-term commitment with a heavy focus on community and engagement.
The course is structured around:
- Dailies: a daily post on your art or your reflections on it
- Lessons: prompts 3 times per week to react and respond to, in the form of an article, a video, an interview, a quote, etc.
No live sessions. The idea is that you post something every day related to your craft and actively engage with the community, sharing feedback and reflections on other people's work.
This workshop is about creativity and creative endeavours in general — not just writing. There is a mix of photographers, painters, musicians, poets, novelists and videographers. I quickly noticed people are much more spiritual than in other courses I had done. There was no, or little talk, of tools like Notion or Roam.
I stopped the workshop after about a month because the overall vibe didn't resonate with me. I also struggled with spending so much time giving feedback on creative ideas far removed from what I was trying to do, which was writing non-fiction.
My big takeaway was the importance of writing every day, even when I don't feel like it, and using questions as prompts to guide my thinking. It taught me the power of writing For Your Eyes Only — writing without the pressure of publishing, ironically leading to some of my best work.
If you like the idea of connecting with many different types of creative people with a more 'old-school' approach to creativity (no focus on digital) — you will love this.
The prompts are great, and the course is well run. There are also no live sessions, so in terms of commitment, it is easier to combine with busy lives.
No-Code Fundamentals [Quit]
Key takeaway: The endless opportunities on the Internet to learn and create
Hanging out in these online communities on Twitter, I saw a lot of talk of no-code.
No-Code is an umbrella term for the ecosystem of tools that allows you to build on the Internet and automate processes — all without writing a single line of code.
Now, you have a range of tools that use drag-and-drop components and graphical user interfaces to visually build things you would typically have to write code for.
Sounds great and easy, doesn't it?!
On a whim, I signed up for Makerpad's No-Code Fundamentals.
A 4-weeks course where you learn to use several no-code tools to create something every week: a website, a database, automation, a mobile app.
Unsurprisingly, for someone non-technical like me, this was way too much too soon. Who would've thought…
To do it properly, I'd have to spend all my free time and energy figuring out the no-code tools and building the assignment — leaving me no time for writing, which was supposed to be my main focus.
I only ended up doing 3 sessions and 2 assignments.
I created a Carrd one-pager website on my Life Tech Stack (my most popular Medium article ever) and was picked to present it to the cohort during a live session.
Embarrassingly, I wrote a post about it and even put No-Code as an interest in my bio. Cringe!
At the time, I was beating myself up for wasting my time and money, but now I can see this experience taught me 3 valuable lessons:
- While it's good to follow your curiosity, you need to be clear on why you're signing up for a course. Make sure you're not falling victim to the 'shiny object syndrome', where you're just excited because it's new and promising.
- Don't get pulled in too many directions. Yes, it's good to learn different new skills, but don't lose focus. You want to be a writer, not a builder.
- While I did not need to take a course to learn this, it opened my eyes even more to the huge potential of the Internet to create a different kind of life for myself. Every skill can be learned online if you're willing to invest the time. There's no more excuse really.
If you have some No-Code knowledge, this is a great course. I wouldn't recommend it for complete beginners, as I felt like there was too much onus on the student to learn the basics of the tools to deliver the assignments. The live sessions were more about discussing the assignment and the recommended tool without much detail. To learn more about No-Code, I would shop around to see what other courses are available.
Notion Mastery [In Progress]
Key takeaway: The insane potential of using Notion to run your personal productivity systems
Notion is the 'all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, documents, habits, ideas and creativity', and one of the most popular note-taking tools on the market.
It's also crazy overwhelming when you're new to it.
I started learning Notion on my own, using it for the courses I was taking and by watching free YouTube tutorials by Thomas Frank.
It works, but my systems are pretty basic and unorganised.
I am now at a stage where I am ready to take my Notion systems to the next level. I see the potential of running all my professional and personal systems here.
I also want to start creating digital products in Notion. You can check out my first experiment here, a free guide for a Consistent Writing System.
Notion is becoming more powerful and popular by the day, so I see it as a useful skill to develop.
There are many complex features in Notion I'm not using, and unless you invest significant time and energy to figure it out on your own, it's best to sign up for a course.
Notion Mastery is a self-paced course and community by one of the most well-known Notion creators, Marie Poulin.
It's the only course in this list that is not cohort-based but self-paced, without a beginning or end date. You go through the material in your own time, although there is an active community to ask questions, plus a calendar full of live sessions and workshops you can sign up for.
It's pretty insane how well the course is structured, obviously all in Notion. There are 4 different levels, with 4 different tracks, depending on your level of proficiency and needs.
I'm slowly making my way through the material, but so far, so good!
Ultraspeaking Fundamentals [Completed]
Key takeaway: Public speaking is about speaking before you think. Trust your brain.
I LOVED the Ultraspeaking course.
Now, why did I sign up for a public speaking course?!
A couple of reasons:
I'm good at writing and self-reflection, but I struggle with speaking my thoughts out loud. I have an overeager inner critic — berating me for forgetting something or eagerly making assumptions about what whoever I'm talking to might be thinking.
I appear confident, but inside I'm screaming.
The thing is, deep down I believe speaking could be one of my strengths. I enjoy speaking when I feel relaxed and know exactly what I'm talking about. I have potential and skills, but something is holding me back.
Another reason is that, while I love the written word, technology is moving us back to spoken/oral communication. Podcasts, videos, TikTok, Clubhouse. The ability to speak well off the cuff is now a pre-requisite skill. Our ability to speak authentically and put less value on perfection has never been more important.
Ultraspeaking is not a typical public speaking course. It's not about adding more layers to your speaking, like posture, hand movements, and facial expressions.
It is about separating content from confidence. Learning learning how to rely on your brain. Trust the words will come. Trust the autocomplete function of the subconscious mind.
You do learn this through a series of digital games you practice in groups and on your own.
There are a few reasons why I loved this course:
- Teacher/student ratio. You get assigned to a small group (3 people in my case) and work with that group and one coach for most of the course (5 weeks). Since it's a speaking class, we would tell personal stories which made you feel connected to these people, even virtually.
- Fast feedback loops. You speak and get immediate feedback from the coach and other students. I could feel myself learning, growing, and improving after each session.
- The sessions were super fun and engaging. This is partly due to the nature of the games, but also the instructors and coaches.
You get access to the game for 3 months, allowing you to keep practising after the course.
If you're someone who wants to get more comfortable speaking to strangers or speaking on camera, I can 100% recommend this course!
Write of Passage [Completed]
Key takeaway: Community is everything.
Ahhh, Write of Passage, the holy grail of online writing courses.
I had my eye on this baby from the beginning, but I couldn't justify the price tag.
Looking back, I'm glad I waited until I was deeper into my writing journey.
The course is full-on and designed to be overwhelming, and I wouldn't have gotten as much out of it if I had been completely new to writing and note-taking.
It’s impossible to do it all:
- Weekly live sessions
- Weekly essay assignments, with the expectation to provide CRIBS feedback on other people’s essays
- Mentor sessions
- Video lessons
- Cross-Fit for Writing (yes that’s as intense as it sounds)
My strategy was to skip the live sessions (mostly due to time difference), review the lessons in my own time and prioritise joining the mentor sessions.
There were 10 different mentors to choose from, each focusing on one of these 3 areas:
- Improving your writing tactics (website setup, email newsletter setup, building systems to capture and generate ideas, creating a distribution system)
- Improving your writing craft (writing with rhythm and style; finding and improving writing voice; structuring, refining and clearly sharing ideas)
- Improving your writing perspective (finding your purpose as a writer, building a unique niche through writing, building leverage through an audience, career-focused writing)
I cannot praise the mentor sessions enough. They’re what made the course special for me. 10 people with different experiences and backgrounds. Small groups of students, with practical exercises and breakout sessions. Here’s where you really get to know other people and create connections.
Write of Passage focuses heavily on community, engagement and feedback.
As you know, I’ve done a few courses by now, and 'community' is the buzzword they all like to advertise. For me, Write of Passage is the only one that truly delivers on that promise.
Community is more than just getting a bunch of people together — it's about coming up with interesting ways to have them interact and keep that energy and momentum going.
I met incredible people on paths I didn't even know existed. Course creators, Indie makers, freelancers, people-who-combine-writing-with-full-time-jobs-and-kids. It's invigorating to talk with people who are just as obsessed with writing as I am but struggle with all the same worries and insecurities.
Even now, weeks after the course ended, we are still organising weekly feedback and writing gyms.
I also met up with 3 of my cohort mates in London — in person! I know, wild.
All in all, this course completely transformed my approach to writing, moving from a solitary experience to a community experience.
If you have the time and the money and are serious about writing online for years to come - Write of Passage is more than worth it.
Keep Learning, Keep Growing
More than anything, all these courses have shown me how learning is a lifelong process. In every single course, I'd meet people from 18 to 70 years old, all looking to do something creative and different with their lives, no matter their age.
It's inspiring to see.
The old me would've felt embarrassed to admit that I have taken this many courses without finishing.
I don't feel that way anymore though. I'm proud of my curiosity.
Now, with 15 months of experience under my belt, I will be more selective and focused.
It's easy to get wrapped up in thinking that you're learning and progressing, but after a while, these courses risk becoming another form of "planning" i.e. "procrastination".
At this stage, my strategy is to pick 1–2 courses per year and double down on applying the learnings and making long-term connections with people.
I hope this was helpful, and good luck out there!