By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the U.S. will require some type of post-secondary education or training. Unfortunately, colleges and universities aren’t even meeting today’s needs. According to employers, new college graduates don’t have the skills to fill entry-level jobs.
These findings, which indicate a major problem in the education industry, were laid out in a whitepaper from Shelly Alcorn and Elizabeth Weaver Engel. And while the problem for universities is clear, so is the opportunity for associations.
Associations have been going above and beyond traditional education for decades. Their professional development and competency-based learning offers are second to none. And with modern technology, including learning management systems (LMS), associations have the power to pick up where colleges leave off. They can deliver valuable training for both new and experienced professionals through easy-to-access and effective online tools.
Choosing the Best LMS Software
Unfortunately, not every LMS has the tools associations need to provide the professional development that many industries are missing. Like traditional education, some LMS software hasn’t kept up with the times. The harshest critics have even called older LMS software dead on arrival (DOA).
These DOA systems are the ones that haven’t met the demands of technology and learners. They haven’t adapted to students’ desire for intuitive education paths and a variety of material that lets them choose how to consume information.
To make sure that your association has the best learning management system to educate members and provide valuable skills development, you need to avoid purchasing an LMS that’s DOA. To make sure you’re on the right path, look for a system with these five essential features.
1. Diverse Content Options
Not everyone learns the same way. You probably remember one of your friends falling asleep in high school lectures, or another who couldn’t muster the attention to read the textbook every night. Chances are these friends had different learning styles. One may have preferred visual learning, while another soaked up audio information.
There are three to four generally recognized learning styles, including visual learners, auditory learners, written learners, and kinesthetic learners (those who learn 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 eCourses 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.
2. Course Creation Tools
Modern learning management software is an end-to-end eLearning solution. That means you should be able to create, distribute, edit and manage entire courses from start to finish, regardless of what type of content you want.
Course creation tools should be easy to use, with intuitive interfaces that even less tech-savvy employees can quickly get the hang of. Start by creating individual learning materials and then stringing related content together into a complete course. Each course should teach one or more full skillsets, which could be anything from Excel to essential “soft skills” like people management and persuasion.
Just remember that while your LMS software should have course creation tools, you don’t always have to use them. If you already have educational material or a third-party content creation system, your LMS should support that by allowing you to upload fully-developed eCourse material.
Once your eCourses are complete, you can monetize them. The best learning management systems provide tools that let you choose which courses are free and which members pay extra for. Advanced and in-depth courses may require an extra payment from members, which generates non-dues revenue for your association.
3. Learning Paths
Prerequisites are important. You can’t take calculus if you haven’t taken pre-calculus. Furthermore, your professor follows a syllabus that ensures you learn basic skills before moving on to more advanced calculations.
Your LMS should provide similar options 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 eLearning and professional development paths to give members clear instructions on which material to consume first as well as which courses to take, in which order, to gain skills that employers want. For example, an Excel learning path may end in an Excel certification that takes five courses to complete.
As much as we all hated tests in high school and college, properly-designed exams are one of the best ways to gauge how much information people remember. 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.
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 well people are responded to your eLearning options. They also give your course builder insight into how they’re presenting the material. If everyone is stumped, maybe you need to rethink some of your material to make it effective.
Both assessments and surveys add an interactive layer to your association’s professional development tools, which work 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.
5. Interactive Discussions and Peer Support
Learning is more than just taking courses. Community and learning go together seamlessly, bringing peer-to-peer support and subject matter experts together. You can create a dynamic environment with an individualized experience by choosing an LMS with collaborative forums and support tools. Students can use these tools to solve problems, work through challenging concepts, and support one another throughout their learning experiences.
If an LMS doesn’t have discussions and peer-to-peer support, it typically integrates with a platform that does. Online community software is one popular option because it 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.
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 eCourses. 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 eLearning options, you’ll also find information on sales and non-dues revenue in these tools.
Use your LMS reports to give your executive team and board members status updates, as well as evaluate how effective your eLearning options are. You can then make improvements to increase participation and member engagement in the future.
Position Your Association’s eLearning 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 organizations have the tools they 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 in today’s professional environment.