Editor’s note: This post was originally published by Julie Dietz in April 2017 and has since been refreshed to make sure we’re bringing you the latest and greatest.
Advanced education (certifications, specialized job training, professional development programs, and competency-based learning) is an area where associations thrive. Not only does this content establish you as a thought leader and invaluable resource in your industry, but it also can be a huge revenue-generator.
You can deliver advanced education for both new and experienced professionals through an easy-to-access, effective Learning Management System, or LMS. But when you’re comparing different LMS software, how do you know which features are essential?
Not every LMS has the tools associations need to provide the professional development that members want. Like traditional education, some LMS software hasn’t kept up with the times.
Choosing the Best LMS Software
The best LMS software has adapted to students’ desire for intuitive education paths, offering a variety of material that lets them choose how (and when) to consume information.
To make sure your association chooses the best option to educate members and provide valuable skills development, look for a system that incorporates these six essential LMS features so members can access the material they need, on any device they prefer.
1. Diverse Content Options for Diverse Learning Styles
Not everyone learns the same way. There are three to four generally recognized learning styles, including:
- Visual learners: learning by seeing graphics or images
- Auditory learners: learning by listening and speaking
- Written learners: learning by reading and writing
- Kinesthetic learners: learning by performing an action or task
With the right LMS software, you can create courses for each of these learning types. Videos, MP3 files, written documents, and recorded webinars are just a few of the options flexible LMS systems offer. The best learning management software also includes live webinar tools, podcasts, and newsfeeds, as well as micro-learning and blended-learning options.
Your members can tailor their educational experience by choosing courses with the material that works best for their learning style. That makes your courses more effective, helping members retain information they can use to improve their personal or professional lives. And the more effective your courses, the more likely your members are to keep coming back to you for resources.
2. Recording Tool to Expand Life of Webinars
Does your association run webinars as part of your marketing strategy or educational programs? If so, you know they’re great learning tools, but they’re often short-lived.
What if you could take those webinars and turn them into a course, or incorporate them into an existing course? This is a great way to repurpose content you’ve already spent time on and make it last longer (and earn additional revenue from it.)
Look for a learning management system that offers broadcasting and recording tools so you can start thinking long-term about your webinars.
3. Ability to Integrate with Your Online Community
Learning is more than just taking courses. The social aspect of classroom learning can be missing in self-paced and distance learning, but with an online community, your association can bring peer-to-peer support and access to subject matter experts together.
Now, I’m not telling you to find an LMS that does it all – it’s tough to find a system that can excel at both being an online community and being an LMS. What you should look for is an LMS with the ability to integrate with an online community platform.
With a community and an LMS, you’re giving students a way to solve their problems, whether it’s through a discussion or a quick search in your community’s knowledge base. An online community provides more ways for students to interact and share their knowledge than almost any other type of platform on the market. Some online communities even offer full LMS systems as add-on modules to ensure the smoothest experience.
The American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA), connected its LMS and online community because it wanted to open up new learning opportunities to its members. Now, members taking classes can connect in the community after the class to keep learning, discuss the subject matter, network in the industry, or even meet up for dinner if they’re local.
4. Personalized Learning Paths
Your LMS should provide a logical journey for learners in the form of learning paths. Learning paths specify the order in which members can access different materials and take different courses to ensure they’re properly prepared for new material.
Develop your association’s learning and professional development paths to give members clear instructions on which material to consume first. For example, an Excel learning path may end in an Excel certification that takes five courses to complete.
When they finish one course, set up an automated campaign to suggest a related course. This personalizes the learner’s journey and can increase participation – and depending on your revenue model, this can increase the amount of revenue you bring in. For example, the Texas Medical Association (TMA) used personalized and automated email campaigns to improve their course sales by 313 percent.
5. Assignments for Knowledge Retention
Well-designed assignments are one of the best ways to gauge participation and memory retention. Look for an LMS that offers some, if not all, of these features:
- Tests/Exams: Top LMS systems allow you to incorporate tests throughout courses to see what content members retain. If they get questions wrong, you can give members the option to go back and review the material before retaking the test.
- Assessments: Learners could submit a writing sample or upload results to a question. It can be a heavier workload for the instructor, but if they’re up for it, these types of assignments can be a great way to increase memory retention.
- Surveys/Polls: If you want to go light on assessments, but still keep members involved in the material, use surveys and polls. Surveys and polls put less pressure on your members, but still give you valuable insight into how you present the material. If everyone is stumped, maybe you need to rethink some of your material to make it effective.
All these methods add an interactive layer to your association’s professional development tools (this works especially well for kinesthetic learners). They’ll also help ensure members are paying attention and committed to learning, not just getting through the course to download a certificate.
6. Reporting Tools to Improve on Your Results
LMS reporting comes in two flavors: learner-oriented dashboards and reports built for association staff. Member-facing dashboards show learners what activities they’ve performed and how far along they are in their courses. They’re a bird’s eye view of educational progress, often with completion bars that members can glance at to see how much material they still need to get through.
Staff reporting tools are more robust. Learning management software contains reports on everything from how active members are in the system to the most popular courses you have available. If you’ve chosen to monetize any of your learning options, you should look for an LMS with a reporting feature on sales and non-dues revenue results.
Use your LMS reports to give your executive team and board members status updates, as well as evaluate how effective your learning options are. You can then make improvements to increase participation and member engagement in the future.
Bonus Feature: Branding Capabilities
If you can find an LMS with brand and design features, that’s a huge bonus. It’s not an essential, which is why I included it as a bonus, but coherent branding can help establish name-recognition for your association. Your members can recognize your learning programs instantly as a unique benefit of their association membership.
Position Your Association’s Learning Opportunities as a Key Member Benefit
Professional development and competency-based learning is poised to become one of the most valuable member benefits that associations offer, but only if you have the tools you need to meet learners’ demands.
That means associations need to offer flexible, customizable learning options in an online environment that members can access whenever their schedule allows. Choosing a learning management system with these features will help you do that. It will put your organization in the best position to meet the growing demand for skills-based education and stay competitive.
Director of Partnerships
Bobby has more than 20 years of association industry experience, focusing on information technology and marketing. Currently, Bobby is Director of Partnerships at Higher Logic, an industry leader in cloud-based community platforms. Having worked in IT at associations and handled partnerships between technology vendors, Bobby is in a unique position to discuss how associations use technology. Previously, he worked for Personify, an AMS vendor, as the partnership manager and host for the weekly video show. He also worked at two different associations: the Council on Foundations, a trade association, and the American Society for Training and Development, a professional society.
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