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How to make learning work for everyone: Cornerstone wins at the Telly Awards

Cornerstone Editors

Everyone learns differently. No matter the size of your organization — from 10 people to 100,000 — you’re faced with the same dilemma, how do you ensure your learning solutions can work for everyone? That’s why Cornerstone Studios creates a variety of series types. The more options you have, the more people you can serve. And their great work of providing outstanding learning options to our customers was just recognized with three Telly Awards!

The Cornerstone Studios' original series “The H Files” and “DNA" took home three Telly Awards this year.

The Telly Awards honor exceptional video work from advertisements, TV stations, production companies, publishers and more. “The H Files” offers workplace insights through the lens of history while “DNA” — Digital Native Advancement — teaches necessary skills to Gen Z as they enter the workforce.

We spoke with Doug Segers, senior director of original content for Cornerstone Studios, about how these two learning content projects improved our customer’s workplaces and why nano learning and episodic storytelling connect with learners at any organization.

Cornerstone Editors: What were your goals when your team created these two now award-winning content series? How were you hoping learners could benefit in the workplace from this content?

Doug Segers: “DNA: DEI” represents the third and fourth release of our Digital Native Advancement, or DNA, content. DNA was our first original series built around teaching interpersonal skills to Gen Z, often referred to as a generation of digital natives. This most recent release is 14 lessons on various diversity, equity and inclusion topics. Lessons answer questions learners might have about how to handle specific scenarios at work, but each has broader implications and is also applicable to managers and leaders who work with Gen Z employees.

“The H Files: Leading With Uncertainty” is the second season of “The H Files,” which teaches modern workplace learning by examining historical events and people. We were creating this season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. It seemed like a natural opportunity for us to look at the flu pandemic of 1918 to see if we could use stories from that outbreak to learn about the one that we’re in. We looked for inspirational success stories to create a program about leading and practicing crisis management through uncertainty.

Cornerstone: What lessons from the 1918 flu pandemic can people apply when leading during periods of uncertainty?

Doug: There was a lot to take away from these individuals’ stories about how people survived a similar situation a hundred years ago. When we were researching, we found so much similarity between the ways people were behaving and what’s happening now. The rollout of misinformation, having to continue on with your daily life while in the midst of a life-and-death global pandemic, so much echoed our own environment.

In most of the stories we tell in the course, compassion and empathy are a huge part of why these people were able to be successful during this incredibly challenging and scary time. There really was a throughline of empathy and resilience being a major driver as to why people succeeded.

Cornerstone: The DNA series is a collection of nano learning courses. Why are short episodes an important format for learning content?

Doug: Certainly, in the last five years, people's viewing habits have changed. They will move on quickly if they don't feel like the time that's being spent with any piece of content, learning or otherwise, is going to be valuable for them. Spend some time on Netflix or YouTube or TikTok — if you're not engaged, you're just going to click “next.”

Shorter, episodic learning does become an easier ask than longer-form content when people’s lives are busy. The longest “The H Files” lesson is under 5 minutes; the shortest “DNA” lesson is under two. It’s about meeting people where they’re at when competing for their time. It’s important for us to make a variety of types of learning available, taking into consideration which formats and genres are popular and how people are consuming content across devices.

Cornerstone: What adjustments did you have to make to produce original learning content remotely during a pandemic?

Doug: I think lockdown actually, in some ways, fueled our productivity and allowed us to be agile and move quickly as it related to content development. For “The H Files,” we had to rely more on pre-existing materials — so historical content, B-roll, reenactments, photographs, illustrations, that sort of thing — instead of doing live shoots. We decided to use voiceover instead of a host, which was easier to produce remotely because it didn't require in-studio recording or on-location recording.

When you're in production, it tends to be hectic, whether it's physical or remote. It requires us to tap into some different tools and skillsets in order to move the creative process forward and deliver a completed piece of content or a series that satisfies all of the variables that we have to hit in order to produce successful original content.

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