There’s nothing better than learning from stories—whether they’re case studies about successful association projects or the more entertaining (and enlightening) Fail Fest stories at the ASAE Technology Conference. We recently heard three organizations discuss their AMS-LMS integration stories in a webinar we hosted with NiUG International, the iMIS users' group.
All three organizations use iMIS as their association management system (AMS) and TopClass as their learning management system (LMS)—and, incidentally, TopClass LMS also powers the NiUG Learning Center.
Each organization talked about the:
• Challenges they needed to solve with a new LMS.
• Lessons they learned from the implementation process.
• Benefits they gained from integrating their TopClass LMS with iMIS.
Benefits of AMS-LMS integration
Before we get to their stories, how about a quick review of why organizations choose to integrate their AMS and LMS.
• Better user (learner) experience: With single sign-on (SSO), users don’t have to create two accounts and remember two logins. They can navigate easily between your website, AMS, and LMS without even knowing they’re in different systems.
• Time saved from the elimination of redundant data entry and manual reporting.
• AMS data is pulled into your LMS: The LMS “knows” whether a user (customer) is a member or not. Data in the user’s AMS record can determine what courses they see in the catalog, and whether they have access to forums/communities or specific LMS functions.
• LMS data is pulled into your AMS: You know which members are earning CEUs and participating in educational programs and which ones are at risk for not renewing because they’re aren’t participating.
• Shared data provides a greater understanding of your members’ and customers’ learning needs and activities. Insights gained from learner history informs decisions about engagement, marketing, recruitment, and retention strategies.
Home Builders Association of Alabama
Candi M. Stroh, web specialist at the Home Builders Association of Alabama (HBAA), was the first to share her association’s story—and it didn’t start well.
HBAA’s previous LMS wasn’t integrated with iMIS. Payments couldn’t be made in the old LMS so checks were delivered up to “a month or so later.” As you would expect, double entry of member data caused problems too. It was difficult to reconcile payments and training records in the LMS with member information in iMIS
HBAA was an early adopter of cloud-hosted iMIS but every time an update was released, it would knock out any customizations HBAA had put in place. (Side note: The newer version of iMIS Cloud 300 is more flexible than the version they were using, iMIS 200.) They decided to move off the cloud version of iMIS and back to a self-hosted version to ensure their customizations were supported.
Understand the risks of being an early adopter. You’ll inevitably encounter problems.
Cloud hosting isn’t the best choice for everyone, especially if you need customizations, since you have less control with the cloud.
Verify your LMS requirements, product versions, and platforms with your LMS provider. Don’t make any assumptions. For example, your LMS provider may think you’re using a self-hosted version of the AMS when you’re still on the cloud-based version—ahem, don’t ask us how we know this! Make sure every requirement detail is clearly documented.
Having your LMS provider handle the integration—instead of a third-party developer—is the best scenario. When an integration issue came up, HBAA’s consultant could talk directly to the WBT tech team instead of a third-party.
A good relationship with a trusted vendor can help you to overcome most integration and implementation issues.
With the TopClass LMS integration to iMIS, every process is streamlined. “Integration has taken off hours of our staff time—that’s probably been the biggest thing,” said Candi.
Integration provides a better experience for members: “They’re not having to call us to get access to a site. They’re not having trouble getting on it, or getting payment information or anything like that.”
HBAA can record and track the entire licensing and certification process through TopClass LMS. Candi said, “It’s been a lot easier to get people in and take the course and get them certified and get a certificate to them.”
Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority (Tri Sigma Sorority)
Elizabeth Green, director of information technology at Tri Sigma Sorority, was up next.
Their previous LMS was integrated with iMIS, but the LMS company went out of business. They didn’t want to maintain an LMS without support or the possibility of upgrades, so Tri Sigma went hunting for a new one.
Tri Sigma wanted an LMS that could talk with iMIS—no more import/export processes. The new LMS had to handle Articulate content and be SCORM compliant. It had to be able to deliver webinars, which Tri Sigma hadn’t offered yet, but they wanted that functionality for future programs.
When checking references, ask about the LMS provider’s implementation instructions. Will the new provider share enough to guide your staff? Elizabeth liked how the WBT Systems team pointed them in the right direction: this is your next step, this is what you need to do next, etc.
How much can you do yourselves? A background in SQL isn’t always necessary, but if you have someone on staff, like Elizabeth, who prefers the option of writing her own scripts, will you have that option? She took WBT scripts and molded them to Tri Sigma’s fields herself.
Think about the different groups you may want to set up in the LMS. Elizabeth used the instructions from TopClass to build out their groups and populate them.
No import/export required. Elizabeth said, “Having all our member records easily accessible in one place is a huge benefit to our organization. The flexibility and real-time automation of the integration between TopClass LMS and iMIS means we can create reports and manage information exactly the way we need to.”
Ability to build and populate groups in the LMS based on AMS data. For example, Tri Sigma wanted each chapter to be a group, and all their chapter presidents to be a group.
New reports. “We have better insight into the progress members are making and when they complete their programs,” said Elizabeth.
Members love the new system because it’s easy to navigate, and they see their progress. Elizabeth said, “We have an internal support system, and we’ve had a lot less support tickets this semester.”
Society of Surgical Oncology
Our last story-teller was Alanna Kaiser, manager of education at the Society of Surgical Oncology.
The Society was using a collection of ad-hoc platforms for hosting different types of content and webinars. They needed an LMS that could support the delivery of many different content types.
Members were frustrated by having to go to three different places to find out what credit they had, what meetings they’d been to, and what their membership type was. “We wanted to have one system that could house all of this in one place that our members would know to go to when they were looking for education,” said Alanna.
“My recommendation would be, especially for an organization who has never done an RFP or implemented software before, is to get all their ducks in a row and understand everything right down to the nitty-gritty details,” said Alanna.
Give your team time to discuss and document every detail of your LMS requirements, for example, report formats and workflows. Communicate those details in advance to the LMS provider’s project team. “There were things we didn’t think about or understand, like how in-depth we needed to get,” said Alanna.
When deciding which system to use for reports, check the level of detail available in each. Alanna said, “For example, in iMIS we have the write-back of the purchase price and that they have registered in a course, but we can’t figure out when they registered, what status they are in, or what credits they have claimed. So we’ve been using TopClass LMS reports to get this information, because it has more detail, and pulls in the information we need from iMIS.”
Check whether standard reports will suffice, or if customizations are required to get the information needed. “That wasn’t something we thought of when we were making the requirements, for example, I need this specific report with all these details. Getting that to the project team when they were developing the reports would have been super helpful,” said Alanna.
Take advantage of your LMS vendor’s experience. Talk through your processes with them and ask them if there are any integration or implementation issues you may have overlooked.
Ability to deliver multiple content and credit types, for example, interactive SCORM content, webinars, and interactive panels. Allowing members to view, access, and claim credits for reading certain journal articles in the Annals of Surgical Oncology. “Having everything in a central repository is beneficial, both for us and for our members,” said Alanna. “Our members have everything available in the one profile.”
Mobile-friendly. “Almost all our members are on a tablet or phone, so having something accessible from mobile devices where they can complete their credit evaluation and gain their credit for the live meetings was very important,” said Alanna.
Single Sign-On with both iMIS and the Society’s separate registration site for live meetings, so registrations can be updated without a separate login.
Ability to link member types in iMIS to member types in TopClass LMS for different pricing tiers.
Training history and credit write-back between TopClass and iMIS. The Society appreciates the ability to link in-person meetings to meetings in the LMS, so learners can claim and track their credits.
Alanna said, “TopClass LMS is so flexible, there’s so many ways you can get the information you need out-of-the-box.”