First impressions of Cornerstone on Demand. Comparison with Moodle and Open edX

New job, new LMS. I guess this is common for e-learning professionals. I recently changed job and moved from Moodle and Open edX to Cornerstone on Demand.

Let me share then my first impressions of Cornerstone. Stating my previous LMSs was on purpose, since this post is biased and constantly comparing with those other two LMSs.

Before you read any further, take into account that Cornerstone on Demand is not exactly an LMS. It is kind of a global solution for employee management and part of it has something similar to an LMS to manage employee training.

Now that you are aware that this is a corporate realm, let’s continue. Moodle and Open edX can be used for more open, education-related matters as well as corporate training, but Cornerstone focuses on corporate training. For example, the enrolments are based on the hierarchical level of the organization (the divisions) and administrators can set that the user only sees what his or her direct supervisor approves to. Moreover, it has an interesting Exemptions feature, which allows a user to request an exemption from completing some training because of having a serious issue (for example, maternity leave, change of department). This feature is needed because sometimes the training is mandatorily assigned to a whole organizational unit of the corporation, and users have the option to request opting out. While Moodle and Open edX can indeed be used to corporate training, Cornerstone doesn’t really work the other way around: I have a hard time imagining how to use it in a traditional educational e-learning setting.

The learning approach is quite different. On account of what I’ve seen so far, there is no such thing as an online tutor. Training is focused to be consumed alone, and delivered in a self-paced way, though restrictions can be set on the available time of the course. Coming from an organization so enthusiastic about social learning and online tutors like INTEF, I had to let that sink in for a while.

It has, nevertheless, a social area called Connect that functions as a forum-like community with some social features. However, it is not part of a course; it’s a separate module of Cornerstone. Since it doesn’t seem possible to associate a teacher with a course, some people have come up with a workaround: to create an event in which to store the user of the teacher in order to keep track inside the LMS of which teacher is assigned to the course. This looks so awkward and clumsy from Moodle and Open edX perspectives.

I fail to see anything close to group tasks, not to mention P2P activities. This way, I can only imagine that social interactions are reduced to Connect modules (to forums). I see this as a huge downside of the platform and a big regression in terms of LMS evolution. If you want to see it for yourself, this link will open a Cornerstone page in which they showcase their collaborative features. The pictures show the Connect module (forums), which it’s nice, but this is almost all the social learning you’re going to get for the time being. Besides that, through cohorts users can asynchronously comment on a video. This functionaliy reminds me of the live chat of Hangouts on Air from YouTube or ChatWing’s chat boxes.

There aren’t any digital badges. There are gamified performance-based badges, like those you could find on the all-mighty Steam, but there aren’t digital badges understood as alternative credentials, like the ones managed with EducaLAB Insignias, Mozilla Backpack, Cred.ly and so forth. I think the explanation is simple. One of the main problems of (non-gamified) digital badges is that they still lack full acknowledgement from employers and official institutions. Since Cornerstone is focused on corporate training, why would they need digital badges if some employers are not comfortable with this sort of credentialing? Whether employers should pay attention to digital badges is kind of a moot point. I think they should, but this should be covered in a fully dedicated post.

Going back to digital badges, Moodle and Open edX both have built-in badge issuing features. Since they are open source, there’s nothing preventing an institution to develop its own badge-issuing module, as it is the case of INTEF, which developed a custom module to issue badges from its Open edX directly into its own digital badge backpack, EducaLAB Insignias. Both built-in Moodle and Open edX badge modules have the option to connect with Mozilla Backpack. None of these features are present in Cornerstone.

Cornerstone isn’t free nor open source. Moodle has been free and open source for more than a decade now and Open edX released its code a few years ago and it’s also free to download. That is not the case with Cornerstone on Demand. It functions as a SaaS provider. This means that the software is not yours. Is not yours to own it, not to modify it or not to share it. Is only yours for rental and you have to pay for it. I’m not saying this model is bad, I’m just saying that is different compared to Moodle and Open edX. I think it’s important to mention because it might be a deal breaker for certain organizations.

People say about Moodle that it has tons of settings to decide. Well, Moodle feels so light compared to Cornerstone. There’s an awful lot of parameters in Cornerstone. This isn’t a bad feature at all, but simplicity is a thing to consider when deciding an LMS. I feel Cornerstone is clumsy for the LMS manager. Something as basic as viewing as a student how a course looks and reports requires a lot of small processes in Cornerstone. It is definitely easier in both Open edX and Moodle. It also has a clunky UI, a feature that shares with Moodle sometimes. Open edX is the most light in terms of configurations and UI.

Cornerstone p rovides with a built-in way of managing instructor-led training (or onsite training, with a teacher and students seeing each other), known as events and sessions. There is nothing of the sort in Open edX that I know of. I guess a savvy user could find a workaround using the calendar and messaging features in Moodle.

Cornerstone is SCORM compliant. It can read SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004 3rd Edition. Cornerstone recently added some SCORM-related fields to its configurable reports, one of the top features in Cornerstone. It has some features Moodle and Open edX don’t have. Open edX just doesn’t care about SCORM and I’m told that Moodle never was fully compliant with SCORM 2004 3rd Edition, so Cornerstone may have here the upper hand (in terms of compliance). Moodle, however, is the only one among these three that I know it can read (some) interactions. Cornerstone states in the specifications of the API that interactions “are supported by the Cornerstone API but only in session. The values are not persisted back to the LMS.”. The official Open edX development roadmap it’s busy somewhere else but since it’s an open source tool it can be room for SCORM. This is the case for the SCORM XBlock, a commercial XBlock created by appsembler which was introduced to me via Twitter.

Cornerstone provides some gamified built-in features. As mentioned before, administrators can set up gamified badges awarded upon completion of courses and curricula, or leaderboards of top users. Moodle and Open edX still lack some built-in features but that doesn’t mean that no gamification can’t be implemented.

Anyway, I feel there is a lot to learn about the platform. I will edit this post if I change my initial thoughts out of working with the platform. Do you know some important Cornerstone features I missed? Tweet me at @alejandroglezf.

Edits: I found some errores preventing me from reporting correctly. Cornerstone reports fine SCORM 2004 variables; I discovered some collaborative capabilities through the use of Program and Cohorts; I was introduced via Twitter to a custom commercial Open edX XBlock for using SCORM inside Open edX.

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