LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS FOR ASSOCIATIONS: THE ESSENTIALS

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BY MICHELLE BRIEN 

What are the essential functions of a Learning Management System for Associations? With so many options out there, and every vendor keen to advertise their platform with the latest bells and whistles or the ”prettiest” interface, how do you make sure that your LMS performs the way your organization needs it to? What are the basic elements an LMS for Associations must have to deliver effective, engaging member education and certification programs, while also simplifying the delivery of learning for administrators?

SUPPORT BEST PRACTICE WITH ELEARNING CONTENT STANDARDS


Many organizations are using eLearning content authoring tools such as Lectora, Articulate, Captivate, Camtasia, iSpring, and others.  These tools have the capabilities to create very engaging and interactive course content, but in order to deliver this content to your members, your association LMS will need to support eLearning content standards. Always make sure that the LMS supports both SCORM and AICC standards for eLearning content, at a minimum.  In addition to these two there is a newer eLearning content standard known as Experience API, xAPI, or Tin Can. It is believed that Experience API will become the new gold standard for eLearning content delivery in the near future, as it allows learners to record external, informal, and experiential learning experiences and include these in their individual training history within the LMS.

Another thing to consider is that if you are using any of these tools now to create content and you wish to change your LMS in future, your new LMS must be able to support the common eLearning content standards or you will not be able to migrate your educational content into your new system. Confirming that your LMS supports these standards ensures that your time and resources have been invested wisely in creating engaging content and selecting the best learning management system to deliver it to your learners. Check out some best practices for creating eLearning content for your members.

CONNECT LEARNERS FOR COLLABORATION


The key purpose of an association is to bring together people with similar interests, skills, or careers, allowing them to connect and engage with a supportive community of peers and share information to enhance the learning experience.  In this way, associations have been providing social learning opportunities for their members since long before social learning became associated with social media that enables people to connect and communicate online. Being able to connect with peers, discuss challenges, and have a forum for conversation improves learner engagement among association members, whether the learning is on or offline. There is much informal social learning that takes place by networking with peers at conferences, communicating shared experiences and best practice with each other, that does not require the use of social media.

Various technologies, including learning management systems for associations, can help to bridge the time between events, by enabling members to connect online. Opportunities to connect with content and peers for more formal social learning can easily be increased by using a learning management system for the management of online, blended, and offline education programs. Associations can also provide opportunities for learners to engage more deeply with the content and each other by encouraging group collaboration in the course design. This may be as simple as providing discussion forums linked to LMS course content to enable focused communication on learning objectives by a smaller group of registered attendees of online courses, which is then shared in a subsequent session. Collaboration can also be made an integral part of the learning experience in online or offline courses by introducing a group project as part of the assessment process. Disregard the buzz, and learn more about the 3 C’s of Social Learning for Associations.

 

ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING


Assessments can take many forms in an LMS for associations, such as pre-and post-learning surveys, short quizzes, or detailed examinations. Question types can include multiple choice, true and false, list selection and others. Feedback can be provided to learners either after manual correction by an instructor, or in real-time on completion of an assessment by displaying the results of an auto-correction on screen. It is just as important to consider the most appropriate forms of assessment and feedback for your learners, as it is to select the right media when creating eLearning content. The first step in creating eLearning content is to define what learning objectives and outcomes you wish the learner to have achieved on completion, and this is also important for selecting how you will assess whether learners have achieved the specified objectives. Read this post on designing assessment and feedback with your association LMS for some helpful tips.

 

GENERATE NON-DUES REVENUE WITH YOUR LMS


A good LMS for associations should have eCommerce capability, enabling you to create a revenue stream for your organization with full shopping cart support for multiple currencies, languages, tax, and payment options for selling content, webinars, conference registrations, and more. Whether you choose to use the inbuilt eCommerce features, as in TopClass LMS, or choose to integrate with the eCommerce features in your AMS or CRM, you should be able to easily facilitate the sale of both online and offline content, and enable the association to provide attractive special pricing for discounts and bundled content offers, or facilitate tiered pricing for members and non-members. Built-in shopping carts and integrated payment gateways seamlessly enable members and non-members to peruse the education and professional development offerings of the association within the LMS and easily complete purchases in a simple step-by-step process. The ease of this process, combined with engaging content, will keep learners engaged and entice them to make future purchases, allowing the association to generate incremental revenue. The 5 E’s of Generating Non-Dues Revenue from eLearning should help to get you started.

MANAGE COMPLEX CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDITS AND CERTIFICATION


A key responsibility of many associations is to provide certification for its members. In order to achieve certification, members may have to complete a variety of online and offline educational requirements, which carry a certain amount of continuing education (CE) credits. There are many different types of credit that can be combined in different ways to achieve certification requirements.

Many LMS allow you to track CE credits, or record certificates achieved, but very few enable you to comprehensively manage complex continuing education requirements and credential maintenance. With the right LMS for associations, you should be able to easily design programs to assess the relevant knowledge, skills and competencies of your learners more efficiently, and to simplify the management of every aspect of certification from the registration period, through assessment, to the printing of certificates and notification of credential renewal requirements. Here are two quick guides to managing credits for learners and using your LMS for certification programs.

 

INTEGRATION WITH OTHER SOFTWARE SYSTEMS


Integration with the LMS offers a better user experience for members and non-members, as eLearning offerings and catalog prices can be tailored to individuals, depending on their membership status. Integration between the AMS and LMS can also provide a better user experience with single-sign-on, meaning the learner only has to log in once to the association website, and doesn’t need to remember multiple usernames and passwords. Customized branding also adds to the seamless user experience, as the LMS can be configured to use the colors, logos, and navigation of the association website, ensuring a familiar and inclusive learning experience for members. Integration with the AMS, CRM or other systems, will also simplify administration making it easier to access necessary information and to create custom reports to inform planning and delivery of membership benefits and services. Many association customers have seen significant productivity gains, resulting from a successful integration between their AMS and LMS, as can be seen in this success story.

 

REPORTING USEFUL DATA FROM YOUR ASSOCIATION LMS


An LMS tracks and maintains a great deal of learner data that can be very useful to associations.  For instance, TopClass LMS tracks purchases, time of purchases, learner progress through courses and certification programs, credit hours, test results, training history, and so much more. As you can see this is a lot of information to track in a database.  However, information without meaning is not useful, so how do you add meaning to all this information to make it valuable to your organization? And now that you have all of this data, how do you get it out of the database and use it to better server your learners and members?

The best database in the world is only as good as the information you can produce from it, so when looking at LMS solutions don’t forget check out the out-of-the-box reports, to see if they provide the information you need, in a format that is useful to you. Your LMS should provide configurable reports that allow you to structure the data in a way that provides meaningful insight to your organization. It could save you a lot of time, headaches and money. Learn how to get useful data from your LMS with configurable reporting.



So there you have it – from start to finish, content delivery to assessment to reporting, these are the essential features that a Learning Management System for Associations should provide. There are of course many other features that may be added to make the LMS more attractive or meet other optional requirements, but when it boils down to delivering an effective education or certification program for your members, these are the must-have, basic features that help associations to succeed.

For more tips and helpful advice on association learning management, make sure to follow our weekly blog

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