Learning Platforms, my view

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

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!


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.