With in-person events on hold for a while due to COVID-19, many associations are shifting their focus to online education. Online learning programs expand your market for education since many members (and others in your audience) can’t always afford to attend or take time away from work to travel to conferences and other educational events.
But they can take out their phone/tablet or sit down at their laptop and participate in learning programs when it’s convenient for them. Online learning programs deliver much needed education to members as well as provide a steady source of non-dues revenue and opportunities for sponsorships.
If you’re ready to invest in a learning management system (LMS), start by reviewing these LMS selection criteria. Though by no means a comprehensive list, they will help get you on the right path to finding a LMS platform that meets your needs.
But first, a quick reminder about strategy. Before you start thinking about technology, come to agreement with your team on your learning strategy. Here are a few questions you should ask/answer:
- What do you wish to accomplish with your online learning programs?
- Who are your target audiences?
- How do you currently measure the success of your learning and how will you do so in the future? What benchmarks can you set now?
If you agree on the purpose for the technology you seek, you won’t be swayed by bells and whistles. You can be more confident that the technology you demo and ultimately select will meet your learners and staff’s needs.
LMS selection criteria
Another important step is to outline, prioritize, and weigh the factors that will help you make a selection decision. For example:
- What are the key types of functionality you seek in a system?
- How much of the decision will be dependent upon pricing?
- How does vendor service and reputation factor into the equation?
Do this exercise now before you start looking into particular platforms. It will make you less susceptible to natural and inevitable cognitive biases that creep in during the selection process.
Having weighted selection criteria also provides a touchstone throughout the process and helps keep you on the right path. Documented criteria also prove you’ve done your due diligence, which can be especially important when giving updates to volunteer and/or staff leadership.
The following questions will help your team identify requirements for a new LMS. We always find it helpful to group requirements into three categories:
- Mandatory: must-have items
- Preferred: things that are important, yet not essential
- Optional: truly nice-to-have features
The big picture
How are your professional development programs viewed? What’s their primary purpose?
- Source of non-dues revenue
- Central to your organization’s mission
- Value-add for customers/members—underscoring the member value proposition
- Some combination of the above
- What is your desired budget?
- What’s the timeline—and what’s driving that timeline?
- Are there any blackout periods that may affect selection or implementation, for example, your annual meeting or budget preparation?
Content migration and authoring
- What content do you have? Is it in an existing LMS or something a bit more freeform?
- Do you plan to bring that content into the new system?
- What authoring tools do you use, for example, Articulate, Captivate, Lectora, or others?
- Do you need a system that is authoring tool agnostic or one that has a built-in authoring tool?
Do you offer any of the following?
- How many certificate programs do you offer?
- How many courses must participants complete to earn the certificate?
- Can they print/reprint their certificates?
- Do you offer (or wish to offer) digital badges?
Things get more complicated with certifications. Think about:
- Renewal frequency and requirements
- Portal for self-reporting external CEUs
- Competitive landscape: do you have the luxury of being the only game in town or do you need an edge on the competition?
F2F or blended learning offerings
- Do you want to provide opportunities for learners to mix onsite and virtual experiences?
- How much of your existing content from conferences/meetings, webinars, etc. is archived for later access online?
- Are such offerings free? Do you charge for it? Or both?
- Do you provide member discounts?
- Do certain membership tiers or customer types receive a discount or credits?
- Do you use promo credits, product bundling, and/or bulk discounts?
- Do you allow a person to register other participants (proxy), and/or can this be done in bulk (group)?
- Do you offer any form of corporate licensing?
- One thing to bear in mind is where transactions are processed: will it be done in the LMS (stand-alone) or as part of your AMS (integrated)?
- What integrations do you require? Think about integrations with your AMS/CRM, website/CMS, financial systems, digital badge tool, online community, webinar and web-conferencing platform, etc.
- Data migration is a critical issue—do you need existing program content (see above) to come over into the new system?
- What about learning history and/or historical transaction data? How far back in time do you need to go?
- What are your reporting needs? What questions do you regularly need to ask and what data elements do you need to answer them?
- Will these questions require custom reports, or will a set of standard reports fulfill your needs?
- What would constitute a successful implementation if you were to look back 6-12 months from now?
- What kind of year-round vendor support do you envision as ideal?
While the steps outlined above can help you get started, having a trusted partner during the selection process is invaluable. Not only are they familiar with the current LMS market, they can also help you ask ‘the questions beyond the questions’ that identify your deepest system needs.
Related blog: Virtual Meetings Just Got Real