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Is Content Still King in Corporate Learning?

April 12, 2022 Learning and Development
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

Many HR technology vendors have upped the development of content and engagement tools in recent years, but Cornerstone OnDemand stands out for the time, attention and dollars the company has channeled into making content an integral component of its platform and solutions. 

In March, Cornerstone acquired the learning experience platform provider EdCast. When announcing the deal, Cornerstone said it hoped to create a “next generation technology blueprint for the future-ready workforce.” Buzzwords aside, the companies, which are expected to continue to operate independently for a time, promised to develop new approaches to experiential learning, content and skill-building, all the while creating a unified and scalable talent infrastructure.

By and large, industry analysts applauded the move. “Once this merger is complete, every Cornerstone customer will want to look at EdCast, and every EdCast customer will want to look at Cornerstone,” said analyst Josh Bersin. By itself, he said, this is big news because the corporate learning market is crowded with new tools and solutions. Some employers are left attempting to meld the capabilities of 20 or 30 different solutions into their tech stack, he noted. “And the mess keeps getting more complicated.”  

In the corporate learning market, the saying used to be that content is king. But as new technology platforms emerged to tailor learning to individual needs and the amount of user-generated courses and how-tos exploded, that dynamic shifted to the advantage of the technologies that made that flood of content accessible and manageable. The pendulum may be shifting back.

Learning Content as an Experience

The learning technology market is in a state of transition. Not so long ago, corporate programs relied on learning management systems, which handle the nuts and bolts of learning — storing and delivering content, tracking performance and compiling data. According to Stacey Harris, chief research officer and managing director of Sapient Insights Group in Atlanta, about 80% of employers have some kind of LMS in place.

But a new generation of learning product, the learning experience platform, is gaining ground. Where the LMS is big on governance, the LXP is more about facilitating self-learning and sharing, often through personalized tools and user-generated content. Harris estimated that just 20% of employers use an LXP today; she, however, expects that number will grow as more employers pursue new education strategies. 

That bodes well for Cornerstone. EdCast’s product is built around a well-regarded skills engine and by incorporating that into its own solution, Bersin forecasts Cornerstone will become “one of the most mature and end-to-end skills engine providers in the market,” he said.

Brent Skinner, director and principal analyst at North Billerica, Mass., analyst firm 3Sixty Insights, sees the EdCast acquisition as a continuation of Cornerstone’s emphasis on corporate learning. When Clearlake Capital Group took Cornerstone private in late 2021, it provided the company with the flexibility and agility to compete in the corporate learning space. The acquisition of EdCast provides evidence of this, he said.

Related Article: Learning Experience Platforms Chart an Alternative Path to Skill Development

Combining Content and Technology

Cornerstone’s emphasis on content isn’t all that new. Chief Strategy and Growth Officer Heidi Spirgi said she joined the company in 2019 to help it pivot from its talent management focus to being a "talent experience" company. Part of that, she said, involved shifting the company's perspective to highlight each employee as a primary value center, rather than a function of HR.

Part of that transition involved taking a fresh look at how content and technology work together. Technology without content and data doesn’t deliver impact and value, Spirgi said. She points to the fact that some of the fastest-growing companies in the world — Google, Facebook, LinkedIn — are a fusion of technology and content.

“People don’t think about them as necessarily tech companies. They think about them as the capability, the outcome, the value to the user of that software," she said.  

While it has pursued acquisitions to make that fusion a reality, Cornerstone has also been developing efforts that are closer to the ground. Last fall, it introduced Cornerstone Xplor, which delivers an integrated, personalized approach to learning, skill development and career mobility. It also unveiled A Seat at the Table, a learning series targeting skills-focused workers, and hired unscripted television veteran and three-time Emmy winner Dave Grant to be its new head of production. 

A Seat at the Table was produced by Cornerstone Studios, the company’s content-production arm. The series showcases dialogues to help users develop an understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) as a skill in the workplace. To supplement the series, Cornerstone Studios developed guides that encourage business leaders to take action and promote dialogue within their teams.  

“Reengaging modern, tech-savvy employees will require new content that is fresh, educational, inclusive and entertaining,” said Grant in a press release. “By expanding Cornerstone’s learning experience to meet the expectations of today’s modern workforce, we are acknowledging the high expectations for quality content required by consumers and pivoting our strategy to meet that demand.”

Related Article: Remote Work Fueled the Rise of Learning Experience and Digital Learning

Paving the Way to Partnerships

Cornerstone has also augmented its content efforts through partnerships. For instance, new business content from learning companies Skill Pill and Sponge Compliance will provide access to a multi-language content library and localized courses in French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Arabic and Turkish. (Subtitled courses will be available in Chinese, Korean and Japanese.)

The continued development of content stems from an increased demand for online learning that addresses the needs surrounding changing work environments and developing new and different skillsets. Some 36 million minutes of learning content were consumed during 2021, Cornerstone reported. Half of that was spent on self-directed learning, which Cornerstone said implies a new interest in personal skill-building on the part of both organizations and people.

All of this attention to content seems to be paying off. Last year, CEO Phil Saunders told analysts that the company’s focus on integrating content into its products led to a surge in business. That, he said, further validates Cornerstone's strategy and execution.

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