It wasn’t that long ago when associations’ main revenue was annual membership dues and annual tradeshow revenue. That has all changed over the last five years and now learning and continuing education has become the primary line of revenue.
Every conceivable profession has regional, national or global associations that compete for members. Whether you are a radiologist, electrician, beautician, nurse, lawyer, architect, accountant, teacher, surgeon, arborist, engineer or Christmas tree farmer in PA, there is an association for you. In the US alone, there are 86,054 associations according to the American Society of Association Executives.
In most of these career choices there are continuing education requirements for professionals to earn and maintain their license over time. Associations create and sell the content for professionals to satisfy their continuing education requirements at every stage of their career.
The backbone of the association training business is the Learning Management System (LMS). Not a traditional employee LMS, but an association LMS. Because they share some common features, many people believe they are the same, but they are not.
Employee LMSs are geared towards compliance and HR issues, but association LMSs are about making money. Associations’ training for business focus requires enhanced LMS functionality in the following areas:
Association LMS Differentiators
User attraction – Associations are not the only type of organization that sells continuing education content. They have competition from universities and for-profit training providers targeting the same professionals. The association LMS must provide features that attract users and entice them to buy. This includes functionality such as browsing content before logging in, ecommerce promotions, dynamic audience grouping and marketing automation.
Power Cloud – Every type of LMS is available in the cloud, however, associations need a power cloud. Since they sell and deliver content globally, have large numbers of users, significant concurrency requirements and sophisticated integrations to AMS or ecommerce systems, associations need a top-tier global hosting solution offering much more flexibility than your typical employee LMS.
Domain Segmentation – Associations are not homogenous. Many are comprised of regional or national chapters that may be tightly or loosely affiliated with the mother organization. Each regional organization may need to localize content, have their own content, share content, have different price points, registration requirements, taxation rules, integrations and business process. An association LMS can provide a centralized umbrella to manage the needs of the whole and the diversity of the local.
AMS Integration –Associations have association management systems (AMS) to manage their members and their activities. The typical AMS is member facing and has been in place long before an LMS. The AMS sells members, tradeshow attendance, books and shares some common features with an LMS. An association LMS needs to be able to integrate with an AMS to do things like share a catalog of course, ecommerce engine, CRM and reporting engine. Since every AMS is different and every association has deployed their AMS uniquely, the association LMS needs to have extreme flexibility to support many scenarios.
Business-to-business eCommerce –eCommerce is a lot more than installing an “add to cart” button and having a shopping cart. Most associations sell to both organizations and to individuals. Organizational or B2B LMS ecommerce requires features like bulk purchasing, debit and credit accounts, access codes, tokens, bulk user upload and content assignment, timed access, tailored notifications and easy-to-use delegated administration. Traditional LMSs struggle with all of that.
Taxation – In the US, we don’t have a tax on training or services, but globally that is not the case. Every national jurisdiction has their own rules on what is taxed at what rate. If you are a global association selling content in 70 countries and dozens of currencies, this is a gigantic administrative nightmare. The LMS must keep track of the different rules and integrate with backend accounting systems. Integration with Avalara or similar can provide the taxation management piece of the solution.
Reporting and Analytics – Every LMS has reporting and analytics but associations need more. They need reporting that is specific to the accreditation bodies to which they belong. Every accreditation body has their own processes and standards that an association LMS needs to support. Additionally, many accreditation bodies require psychoanalytical reporting that proves the efficacy of the content such as pre-posttest comparisons and statistical test item analysis.
Complex Continuing Education – Corporate LMSs allow you to assign credit for course completion but stop there. Association LMSs go much further and manage the complexity of state and national accreditation jurisdictions including managing differing credit types and value per course, credit validity duration, certificates and accreditation body reporting. This is an advanced set of functionality that LMS vendors do not build unless they are specifically targeting associations.
There are 600 LMS solutions in the world, but less than 20 specialize as Association LMS's. It is important if you are an association to specifically define your LMS requirements using the above as a guide on the level of functionality you require. Specifically call out what your AMS currently does and exactly how you envision the learning piece integrating into the AMS and broader member ecosystem. Knowing the specifics of your LMS complexities and using that as a tool to qualify potential LMS vendor partners is the best way to find an LMS for your association.
Do You Want to Learn More About the Association LMS?
We have the perfect webinar for you on October 7th, 2015 @11am EST -- “Top 10 Features of an Association LMS Webinar.” Join myself John Leh and Mike Bourassa, Director of Business Development of WBT Systems as we share best-practices learned from decades of association learning technology experience.
This isn’t some old boring webinar. We’ll dig into the key differentiators of an Association LMS, show you examples, discuss case studies and share best practices. Please register even if you can’t attend and we will send you a link to the session recording. Hope to see you there!
About the Author
John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, LLC. John is an independent learning technology analyst, blogger and CEO of Talented Learning. After spending 20 years in the learning industry and selling over $50,000,000 worth of learning management system (LMS) solutions, John now consults with organizations to wisely find and buy the best LMS solution for them. John has personally reviewed 95 LMS solution in the last 18 months for suitability in association and other extended enterprise uses. You can follow John at TalentedLearning.com.