Live events for learning and networking have always been fundamental to association services and revenues streams. However, in the past few months associations have needed to take a huge leap into their digital transformation future and bring to life all those “we have to offer more digital events” plans and strategies that were previously stuck on paper. Today and for the foreseeable future, the importance of virtual events and digital learning increases dramatically.
While most associations seem to have mastered their virtual events and webinars through Zoom and other webinar software, providing robust online learning and maintaining the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programs remains top of the agenda for many. Recently we’ve assisted our clients in delivering their online learning and setting up Learning Management Systems (LMS). With that in mind, we would like to share some insights.
What is LMS and how can they help associations deliver their online learning?
A Learning Management System (LMS) is an application for creating, delivering and managing digital learning content such as online courses, tutorials and assessments. With the help of LMS you can not only deliver the courses, but also assess your students, track their progress and communicate via email or personal messages within the system.
Apart from the core functionality of online course delivery, learning management systems also assist with the automation of various administrative tasks, such as registering users, charting student progress, and producing reports for managers and certificates for students.
When answering the question ‘What type of LMS is best for my association?’ you need to consider a number of factors. In this article we won’t compare specific LMS providers and price for the software, as you can find detailed feature and price comparisons on sites like Capterra that compare 700+ providers. Yes, you read it right – more than 700 providers!
So let’s focus on the main criteria you need to consider to help you filter hundreds of options down to a few providers so you can request demos and find out what features you need to test during the free trial.
To make your life easier, we’ve prepared a fillable LMS selection checklist with handy list of features so you can compare software providers, rate the pros and cons, and choose the best tool for successfully delivering your association’s online learning services. Download the list now!
Self-hosted, SaaS or Marketplace?
One of the first criteria you need to consider is where you want to host your course. You may choose to use a SaaS (software-as-a-service) solution, build LMS on your own website or use a third-party platform to host your ad-hoc courses. All three approaches have their pros and cons, so let’s look into them separately.
- Software-as-a-service LMS platforms are being sold as a “service” and being hosted on the vendor services (for example, TalentLMS, Adobe Captivate Prime, Opentute, Thinkific, Litmos and many others). These platforms are generally easy to use and customise, and the provider is responsible for hosting, making systems upgrades and providing IT support. The downside of these platforms are usually their relatively high price (most often a monthly subscription) and the fact you don’t have complete control over your content. The second you stop paying your subscription or the vendor changes its business model (e.g. being purchased or no longer operating), you may lose the content you placed on their platform.
- On the other hand, LMS platforms built on your own web hosting (for example, WordPress plugins like LifterLMS, LearnDash, Thrive Apprentice) may be a bit tricky to install initially, but they’ll provide a powerful, cost effective, and highly customisable and scalable solution. On top of that, you’ll always be in control of your content as it’s hosted on your own server.
- If you are not planning on developing a robust online learning platform, but would like to host and distribute a few separate courses, consider one of the third-party marketplaces like Lynda, Udemy or Skillshare. They work in a similar way to Eventbrite works for events, but focus on online learning. One of the main advantages of using the marketplace is that these sites promote your courses to their followers and open up access to new audiences. However, you’ll have to share a significant part of your course profit with the provider.
Customer Service and Support
Customer service and support are almost as important as the functionality of your LMS software. When you do your research, check where support is located (weigh up how important it is for you to have the support onshore), whether you can easily reach a support representative, and how detailed and easy to understand their help documentation appears.
In addition, ask about how they deal with their customers, what the procedure is for lodging a case, and resolution times. Ideally you could also reach out to existing customers and ask them about their experience with the provider, how responsive they are to requests and how quickly they resolve issues.
Interface, usability and security
When testing the LMS interface, you need to look at it from the perspective of learners, tutors and system administrators.
The system needs have an intuitive and easy-to-use interface, be responsive and preferably have a separate mobile learning application. Make sure the system is able to manage different type and formats of the learning content, e.g. text, slides, videos. Check how easy it is to upload and manage the content, e.g. to protect it or make it available for download.
Another important feature to look at is customisation and branding. Check how easy it is to make the new LMS platform consistent with your brand, whether white labelling is available and whether you can use your domain.
Security and content protection is another important item to consider. Check whether the vendor offers SSL certificates, or you’ll need to organise your own. Also check how you can import courses from one site to another in case you want to stop using their services.
There are so many LMS features and functionalities to choose from, with options ranging from simple to (at times unnecessary) advanced. Some of the features will be the core of your LMS, while others might fall into the ‘nice to have’ category, but they’ll make your student experience more engaging, interactive, and will help build more meaningful connections with your members.
You need to decide what functionality you require from your LMS and thoroughly test the features that are most important for you.
Among the key LMS features are:
- Supported formats of learning. What formats of learning are you going to offer? Do you require blended learning functionality, where eLearning is mixed with instructor-led training? Are online classrooms for live sessions or private virtual rooms for one-to-one mentoring important for you?
- Reporting. What kind of reports do you need? How easy is it to generate reports in the system? In what format?
- Assessments and quizzes. Check how assignments and quizzes work, what type of questions and tasks are supported, whether timed quizzes are supported, how interactive and well-designed they are, how easy it is to check assessments and create student reports.
- Learning Paths. Check how the content may be restricted and dripped according to the rules you set, e.g. if you can open lessons on certain dates, after completion of previous lessons, successful assignment or a certain number of days after course enrolment.
- Ecommerce. Are you going to sell your online courses? Are you going to sell courses through the LMS or your existing event management platform to keep the process consistent?
- Automation. What automation rules can you set to put repetitive administrative tasks on autopilot, for example onboarding, issuing certificates and follow-ups?
- Integration. When choosing the LMS, check how easily the system integrates with your existing tech infrastructure, for example, your membership administration system (MAS), email software, social media, WordPress or Zapier.
And the ‘nice-to-have’ features are:
- Social learning. Do you want your students to interact, share ideas and learn from each other? Then consider LMS with a social learning feature, which may include chat rooms, forums, online communities, in-course blogging or timelines.
- Gamification. Badges, leaderboards, challenges and trivia are some of the tools an LMS uses to gamify their online learning experience.
- Access to ‘off the shelf’ products. For example, Talent LMS has its own library and an Australian-based Learnbook integrates with GO1.
- Support. Includes multilingual and multicurrency support.
- Tracking plagiarism. Some LMS providers offer tools for detecting, preventing and handling plagiarism.
In summary, the importance of virtual events and digital learning has exploded in recent times and will only continue on this upward trajectory. Remember, the right learning management system (LMS) can certainly help your association deliver its online learning more efficiently and effectively.
LMS Selection Checklist
Download this fillable LMS selection checklist with a handy list of features you need to consider, so you can compare software providers, rate the pros and cons, and choose the best tool for successfully delivering your association’s online learning services.
You can now download the checklist!