Learning Platforms, my view

Updated: Jun 18

Over the last 10 years I've had that opportunity to work with countless Learning Platforms (Learning Management Systems, Learning Experience Platforms & Learning Record Store) as a learner and front-end administrator.


In this post, I'm going to share my thoughts and experiences on what they do well and what it's like using it as an administrator and user/learner. And I'll talk about these things:


  • User Interface (UI) & User Experience (UX) as an Admin: What the platform looks like and what is the experience of administering it.

  • UI & UX as a user/Learner: What the platform looks like and what it's like to use it for your learning.

  • Admin Reporting Capabilities: What type of reporting is on offer as an administrator

  • Uploading and Managing Content: What it's like to upload and manage content

  • Integrations: What is my experience of integrating the platform with HR systems and other tools

  • Manager View & Reporting: As a manager, what can you do to manage/track your team's activity


Disclaimer: These thoughts are based wholly on my direct experience and I'm aware some aspects will be limited by the configuration each instance has had. If you think I've made a mistake, let me know.


Cornerstone On Demand

User Interface (UI) & User Experience (UX) as an Admin


As somewhat of an expert administrator in Cornerstone, I've had over a decade of experience using it. So I'm incredibly familiar with even the most nuanced of function or feature in administering it.


The UI is primarily driven by your company's own branding and themes, in addition to the different modules or admin level you have. From the 'Super-User' point of view, you're able to do anything in the system and for the most part it's easy to get to what you need. There's also a billion and one different ways you can configure the platform for different parts of your business, whether this is Org Unit or User Type.


There are, though, three things you should be aware of in Cornerstone as an Administrator:

  1. Cornerstone seem to have taken an 'agile' approach to enhancing some aspects of the system, which in and of itself is great. This does however mean that there are corners of the system, usually less used, that have an old UI. And this is most common as you go deeper into specific functions. I've used it for ages so this isn't a major issue for me but I've seen many an administrator with a puzzled look as the UI all of a suddenly switches to something looking completely alien.

  2. Unless you're willing to pay Cornerstone, you can't delete anything, ever, in some areas of the system. So whatever you create/add, think it through first. It's incredibly easy for your whole platform to be a mess in minutes.

  3. I often tell people there's 'Logic' and then there's 'Cornerstone Logic'. Because there are somethings that happen in the system that just feel overly complicated, unnecessary or downright bizarre! That said, it has been getting better in recent years.

It does tend to take a while to become familiar with all of the different elements of the platform as an administrator so if you have the chance to attend any CSOD training, take it.


From a 'user admin' point of view the 'Proxy' login as a user to resolve users is excellent. It gives you a great tool to use if someone is having issues you can't replicate as an administrator.


Oh, and the 'Help' section of CSOD is far and away the most comprehensive and useful I've seen for any Learning platform.


UI & UX as a user/Learner


Again, this is mostly driven by how your business has configured it. If it's really bad, it's probably an internal thing because the default CSOD UI & UX is pretty reasonable. A few things to note:


  • Getting anywhere usually needs lots of clicks - custom pages and layouts combat this easily, so if you want to offer a good experience to your employees, invest in your layout

  • This is a pet-hate more than anything. The default 'menu' bar in CSOD looks like it's clickable. It's not. You need to hover to expand the drop-down options for each section. This has easily been the most common cause of user navigation issues in my experience using the system

  • The great thing about the CSOD platform from a learner UI/UX point of view is that (aside from the random old bits I talked about earlier) it's structures and sections are fairly consistent and after only an hour or two in the system you'll know what's what for the most part.


In terms of the 'training record' I love the CSOD version. It's incredibly detailed and you can add in an array of things like adding CPD records, Certificates and all manner of 'offline learning'.


From a 'multi-device' perspective, I'm personally not a big fan of the CSOD mobile experience. It's okay but not a great experience.


Admin Reporting Capabilities


This is far and away the best thing about CSOD in my opinion. You can report on pretty much anything.


If your learning resources are configured correctly for tracking you can identify what people have completed, answered correctly, shared as feedback etc. etc. through the reporting options. There's also a really useful dashboard set up and the newer Reporting 2.0 module is even easier to use.


As usual, the availability of certain reporting functions depends on what you've paid for but if you've got the main things, you have an armoury of data at your disposal and an almost infinite number of ways to report, track and analyse.


Uploading and Managing Content


I repeat what I said earlier. When you add something to CSOD, it's there. You can't delete it.


Much of my work with clients in the last few years has been about helping them deliver the best experience for learners using the platform and in most cases this has required a root and branch review of the platform. What happens in the majority of situations is that a client has purchased and launched CSOD and then an administrator has loaded content using the mass-import tool and only considered the way it's being managed after the fact.


This can be a fatal error and in many of my experiences has required a mammoth effort to 'tidy things up'.


So always, every time, think about what you want the experience to be first. Make sure your learning and content strategy is crystal clear and use these to drive your actions on CSOD. Otherwise it's an absolute headache to fix.


Although not 'content' it's worth noting that CSOD also has things like Certifications, Badges and Observation Checklists which support long-term programmes, compliance based certifications and so on. I spent a good chunk of 2019 working on these for a client and they're really comprehensive. And easy to configure.


That said, if you're just adding content, creating events and sessions etc. The process is pretty easy. I'm a fan!


Integrations


As one of the biggest players in the field, with end-to-end lifecycle of platform modules beyond learning (like recruiting, performance, talent management etc.) Cornerstone can plug into almost anything fairly well. I've come across a few headaches with lesser known HR systems or Compliance platforms but this is usually driven by limitations on the other platforms.


Manager View & Reporting


This is a great feature in CSOD. The hierarchy available in CSOD is comprehensive and as a manager you have a 'My Team' view that allows you to view, track, assign, report on pretty much anything to do with your team and I can't ever remember a time when a manager has wanted to do something in the system that hasn't been available in My Teams or through the reporting permissions they can use.


My Verdict


Working with Cornerstone as an administrator, learner or manager can be a double-edged sword because of the niggles I've mentioned already. But in my opinion it is far and away one of the leading platforms available right now and has been for some time. It does most things very well out of the box and if your administrator knows what they're doing and you have clear governance, clear strategy and willingness to invest time then it will do anything you need it to.


The biggest problem for me is Cornerstone themselves. The platform itself is expensive. And adding on specific modules is often prohibitively expensive. Add in that any support from Cornerstone post-implementation is costly too, and response times can be just terrible and you can find yourself in a really stick situation.


Workday Learning


User Interface (UI) & User Experience (UX) as an Admin


I'll be honest. I don't like most of Workday's UI/UX across their Learning Platform or HR systems. It's getting better but it just doesn't float my boat.


That said, this is personal preference and I'm sure lots of you love it. I think it's also important to say that it is improving regularly.


As an administrator you can, as with CSOD do pretty much everything you need to in the system though it's more difficult to do this independent of Workday than it is with something like Cornerstone or CrossKnowledge. Any wholesale structural changes are best undertaken in partnership with Workday simply because you'll end up breaking all manner of things if you've not got your own Workday expert. The same isn't true of other platforms.


Given the agile development approach and multiple improvements to the system through the year it's not uncommon for things to change regularly in the admin platform either, so familiarity is essential.


I mentioned that CSOD had it's own 'logic' which seemed bizarre and in my experience Workday is just as guilty at this.


I've used Workday quite a bit in the last 3 years or so and in that time it has progressed in leaps and bounds and I'm often quite vocal about how I'm really cheering Workday on. It's got more potential than something like Cornerstone, it's just not there yet from what I've seen.


UI & UX as a user/Learner


This is a strange one for me. A big stream of my work is centred around helping businesses define, implement and improve their learning strategy, culture and experience across all people-people/people-system/system-system interactions and a great many hours of my time in the last few years has involved doing this with Workday Learning in the mix.


It's got some great default layouts and it plays into many UI & UX elements we're all familiar with outside of work (Like playlists, approach to navigation & recommendations). But it feels like a halfway-house. It's neither a clearly 'work' platform or a 'social' platform and because of this the whole UI/UX feels clunky in places.


There's little you can do about this too as Workday lockdown the vast majority of the UI with only colours/logos and (some) labels able to be changed. I understand why, I just think it's rubbish. Workday are NOT experts at Learner Experience or User Interfaces and to lockdown any clients from making it better is just wrong, in my opinion.


Then there's the notifications. There are notifications for pretty much everything which is fine. But they tend to be sent for everything. And while you can turn of most, if not all, it's still notification heavy. And very quickly it become bothersome as a user.


As a final note, Workday Learning is much more 'mobile-friendly' experience. Far better than things like Cornerstone.


Admin Reporting Capabilities


This isn't a strong-point for Workday. Don't get me wrong, you can report on plenty of things. But unlike Cornerstone you can't create your own custom reports. If you want something more than you had defined at implementation then you're going to need to work with Workday to get them built.


Unless I've misunderstood this and it's more to do with the license you have from them, I think this is just shit. There's no other way to describe it.


Uploading and Managing Content


A strength for Workday here. Uploading content and creating sessions etc. is a real strength of the system when compared to the likes of Cornerstone. It's straightforward and you can add the usual things.


What I really like is the User-Generated-Content features. As much as I'd like to think I know everything, I don't. And neither do you, or your learning team. So all learning functions should be embracing UGC and SME created learning to put learning into the hands of the skills, knowledge and technology experts around their business.


Workday Learning's UGC function makes this very easy. I've worked with a number of clients who were nervous about enabling this function but it's been awesome every time.


Integrations


As you'd expect, it integrates with pretty much anything and Workday themselves are, in my opinion, very helpful in helping build and configure integrations. Much more so than Cornerstone.


If you've got the wider Workday HR suite, you're in a great position because your entire 'People' systems landscape will work seamlessly.


And another thing I must mention here is the Onboarding. If you take this platform alongside Workday Learning & Workday HR you genuinely have an End-to-End employee lifecycle governed by a consistent suite, despite the pitfalls I've mentioned already.


Manager View & Reporting


The real strength of the Manager view and reporting options comes when you're maximising the whole Workday suite. As an example, when onboarding new employees you can interact with new team members during 'Onboarding' pre-start. And you can track, assign, approve all manner of learning & people requests using the Workday app dashboard, inbox and announcement functions.


As with most things in the world of Learning Platforms, your configuration is going to define what's possible but Workday easily does the essentials well.


My Verdict


The simplest way to explain my verdict on is this.


Right now it's good. In a few years, I feel it might well be the market-leader when combined with the broader Workday suite. The big thing for me is that it should open up the UI design more to clients and let people customise it.


Because of the limitations I've worked with a few clients who load an alternative Learning Experience Platform (LXP) as a front-end and use Workday Learning as the learning data master. This is complex and a nightmare from an integrations & administration perspective but it means you have much more control of the UI & Learner Experience.


CrossKnowledge


User Interface (UI) & User Experience (UX) as an Admin


This is something I've used a great deal of recently as I'm helping a client implement the CK platform as their first ever learning platform.


There are two sides to the UI/UX as and administrator.


First, it's super-easy. While, like most others, it has it's own language & jargon it's all fairly common sense. You have clear areas to administer and manage the platform and resources and reporting.


The other side of the coin is that it isn't attractive by any stretch. As a UI, it's not nice to look at. It's totally functional, which is what it should be but compared to many other platforms it looks weird. You've also got the issue that it looks nothing like the learner platform.


Some people will find this as a plus but for me it's always good to know that what you see in the admin can quickly and easily be traced through to the Learner view and experience.


There is some strong elements of customisation with the Widgets on the Home Page and you can create restrict specific section (channels) and more to certain users or groups. The Blended X courses are a bit boring and you can't customise all that much with them.


The biggest and best part of the CK Platform is that you can do pretty much anything you want to it without ever needing to speak to CK again. You can control everything.


UI & UX as a user/Learner


Again there are positives and negatives here. With the Homepage/Channel/Blendex layouts they're all pretty easy to navigate by default and again, the way you configure your layouts in the HomePage and Learning Channels directly determines your learners' experience. So plan, be smart and focus properly on this.


The BlendeX part of probably the biggest issue for me. You can customise the content of each section fairly well but the overall layout of the Blendex elements can't be changes beyond colours and it's a bit of a boring view.


There is a CK Mobile App too which is perfectly functional and works well. But you can't make it a unique look and feel so you're stuck with a colour change from the default CK product.


Admin Reporting Capabilities


This is a strength of the CK Platform, the reporting works really well at all levels and if you integrate or export into things like PowerBI you can do all manner of clever things.


The default configuration isn't as powerful as something like Cornerstone but for the main learning reporting needs you're well covered.


Uploading and Managing Content


I dare say the experience of uploading in CrossKnowledge is unique. That's not really a good or bad thing if I'm honest. It's just different.


You can upload all manner of things, but it doesn't support xApi. If you've got the Mohive tool along with the LMS platform the you're in a really good spot because it's integrated. It makes publishing much easier.


With the 'Blendex' function (it's basically a learning path/course) it has it's own specific menu setup interface and you can add any type of media, virtual or face-to-face sessions.


If you're wanting to incorporate something more advanced than Mohive can offer you can import your usual Scorm 1.2/2004 modules too.


Integrations


The rolling theme for all of these platforms is that you can integrate with your HR system really well. It's straightforward enough.


The plus with CK is the Mohive authoring tool integration.


Manager View & Reporting


I do like the manager dashboard in CK. It's pretty easy to navigate. It's nothing standout but it's definitely one of the easiest to use and fairly straightforward.


My Verdict


I think it's perfect if you've got less than 5000 users or you've got a fairly light and loose learning strategy and a very small team but if I'm being honest I wouldn't be advocating CrossKnowledge over the likes of Edcast, Cornerstone or Workday if you have a comprehensive learning strategy or have a large Learning team because with other tools and the right resources you're probably better off with one of the other tools.


It has it's place, and it's great at what it does.


EdCast LXP


User Interface (UI) & User Experience (UX) as an Admin


I love the EdCast UI in most areas but for me the Admin of it is a bit clunky. It's not a mess but the way you need to add and manage resources is less 'engaging'.


It's not terrible by any stretch, I just think it would benefit from keeping a similar UI as the general learner interface.


The great thing about the Admin of the system is that it takes seconds to add, assign, share and remove content from the system.


It's also ridiculously easy to set up groups etc. An absolutely breeze! You can also view report and analyse data very quickly & easy.


A word of warning though, if you delete any learning from the system learners will lose view of it in their learning records. As an administrator you can still see and report on this completion which is fine, but learners will get confused and should expect queries about this as and when you delete things.


UI & UX as a user/Learner


Far and away EdCast offers the best experience I've seen for learners. And it should be pretty good at it, it's a Learning Experience Platform after all.


It feels much more like a system/app that you'd use at home than a 'work' system. It's genuinely refreshing and intuitive. As a user you can add and share content with peers effortlessly too.


The drawback I've felt with EdCast is your own learning record. It's not attractive or that informative - the data it shows is fairly basic. But it's wholly functional and does what you need. It could just be a bit better.


A couple of other awesome things (can you tell I'm a fan?) about EdCast is the MyGuide (It's like a native 'Walk Me' function) and the mobile app.


When you bring all of these together it really is a powerful learner experience and given this is something I've spent thousands of hours on with clients you'd expect me to care about a lot.


With EdCast I've been blown away by how well it does everything it tries to do for learner experience.


Pet-hate with EdCast is something that's everywhere in the system. All learning resources have a 'Details' page that tell you a little about the resource but to launch it you have to click 'More info'. This seems bizarre to me, especially if it's only used to launch the resource. It would be much better to change it to 'Launch' but you can't. I've heard they're taking a look at this as part of the dev-plan.


Admin Reporting Capabilities


The standard reporting capabilities within EdCast are really good. You can report on pretty much anything. If you incorporate their Domo analytics tool too, you won't need anything else. It's probably to the best reporting potential in anything I've seen aside from Cornerstone.


Uploading and Managing Content


I've touched on this already. It's quick, it's easy and it's effortless. You can upload all of the usual content types too!


Integrations


This is another strong point for EdCast. It integrates incredibly well with most HR systems and if you've got other content repository (like GetAbstract, Linked In Learning) they are pulled through really well. This isn't anything unique as pretty much all platforms do this well. It just feels easier with EdCast


There are a couple of other integrations/features within EdCast I adore. These are:

  • In the Flow of Work: This is an add-on to things like MS Office where you can highlight a word/phrase in a document and it will automatically search EdCast for learning resources that match it.

  • Perfect your pitch: For sales-people and business partners alike, this can be a game-changer. Especially if you enable it on mobile. Effectively, you can record a video of yourself giving your 'elevator-pitch' and it analyses it to give you suggestions on how to improve.

Manager View & Reporting


The reporting features here are the standard. Nothing special but as with things like the learner record and the admin view I mentioned earlier, it's not the prettiest.


My Verdict


Easily the best LXP I've had the pleasure to work with and with the LMS in the background to support it, it can do everything you need regardless of your scale & scope. It can also be partnered with any other LMS too, as a front-end.


If learning experience is high on your agenda you should be looking for more from a Learning Platform than just an LMS/LRS/CMS and I'm yet to see anything better at 'experience' than EdCast.


Others to Mention: Moodle/Totara/SuccessFactors/Docebo/Unicorn


User Interface (UI) & User Experience (UX) as an Admin


For the simple reason that I've used all of these platforms, but in project specific guises I wanted to touch on them but as a 'catch-all'.


Aside from Unicorn (more on that in a minute) they're all pretty good. Do the usual things well and are easy to administer.


Unicorn is in a world of it's own. And not in a good way. That admin of Unicorn LMS is horrid. It looks like a system from the early 00s and it's a pain in ass to do anything in it. I'm really not fan.


As above with the learner experience for the most part. Little to stand any of these out from any others aside from:


The good: Moodle. It's open-source nature gives you lots to play with to make the best possible learner experience.


The bad: Unicorn. I wouldn't wish this on anyone!


My Verdict


I'm going to blow my own trumped on this one. I'm tech savvy. I know how to use technology intuitively and given that the vast majority of Learning Platforms do very similar things, I'm yet to find one that I can't master in less than a week or two.


For this reason I found it very comfortable using all of these when I've used them. But I've not used these anywhere near as much as things like Cornerstone/Workday/Edcast etc.


They all do a goo job, with the exception of Unicorn. I honestly can't find anything good to say about it other than the cost. But as is usually the case, you get what you pay for.


What do I recommend for you?


A recommendation for a Learning Platform should depend on:

  • Your Learning & Content Strategies

  • Your internal Learning resource (not IT Resource)

  • Your learning culture (current or desired)

So if you've got a clear strategy and lots of content that you want to spread around the world, supported by a learning centre of excellence then things like Cornerstone/Workday/EdCast would be the best for you - and I'd advocate EdCast because it is a game-changer in the experience.


If you have little to no strategy/resources/learners then you'd probably be better off not having a complex tool. You can probably do what you need with some smart work using things like Sharepoint. It won't give you robust tracking of digital resources but if you don't have many then you don't need an LMS. And if you still want to offer a good experience get your IT team to do something clever with your intranet pages. Again, tracking won't be robust but you'll get what you need.


A well managed SmartSheet or Excel Spreadsheet will easily track learning attendance for Face-to-Face learning.


Have I got something wrong?


As someone who is candid about what I'm good at and I'm good at learning. I'm bold enough to tell you I'm a learning expert and learning technologies expert. And I'm just as candid with the things I don't know.


So I accept that my opinions are skewed by the projects and clients I've worked with. I also expect that many of you know much more than me about all of these tools. If I've got something wrong, let me know and I'll correct it. Every day's a day for learning right?


Oh, and if you want to speak to me about your current learning technologies and what opportunities you have to perfect your learning culture, give me a call!

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