Last week we kicked-off the 2019 Talented Learning Awards by honoring the best learning systems in our first category – corporate extended enterprise systems. And this week the celebration continues, as we recognize excellence in our second category – continuing education systems.
Specifically, today we focus on top learning and certification solutions used by trade and professional associations, mission-driven non-profits, commercial training providers, trade schools and subject matter experts.
Of course, other kinds of learning software also deserve recognition. For example, many top-notch solutions focus on employee compliance, talent management, academic ed tech, learning experiences, content management and authoring. We may explore these market segments in the future.
However, today we’re excited to shine a light on exceptional continuing education systems because they are our lifeblood. When we founded Talented Learning five years ago, we set out on a mission to chart every corner of the extended enterprise learning landscape. This is where our knowledge and expertise are strongest. So naturally, we want to emphasize these solutions first and foremost.
Why Are Continuing Education Systems Special?
For most continuing education providers, creating and selling content is their primary business, so the underlying infrastructure is absolutely mission critical. Associations and continuing education companies must attract, engage and sell to people who voluntarily choose to consume instructional content. In contrast with employees or students, these audiences can’t be forced to complete training “assignments.” Instead, their learning journeys are much more self-directed.
For these reasons, a complete continuing education solution usually requires multiple elements:
- A high-quality public “branded” website;
- Integrated systems for content management, customer relationship management, event management and membership management;
- Tools for marketing automation, social networking, secure ecommerce, product fulfillment, analytics and more.
That’s a long way from an employee LMS, an academic LMS – or even most corporate extended enterprise learning systems!
Not surprisingly, many continuing education learning systems vendors are specialists. Their solutions are built exclusively for organizations that create, manage and sell multiple types of professional development content in various formats and quantities. Company founders, investors and executives usually have deep experience in the continuing education sphere and are personally familiar with the problems their systems are designed to solve.
Because continuing education providers often look to technology vendors for hands-on guidance, these learning solutions usually come with professional services that are much more extensive than standard implementation and administrative support. For example, customers often seek expertise in strategic marketing, curriculum and instructional design, online and mobile content development, video production and event management, as well as integration, administration and end-user support.
As a result, continuing education system developers tend to build stronger partnerships with clients than corporate extended enterprise learning vendors. These relationships often distinguish successful continuing education systems from many of their corporate systems counterparts. In fact, if you compare our awards for corporate extended enterprise solutions with the continuing education systems below, you’ll see that only five vendors are recognized in both categories.
How We Select Award Candidates
To qualify for a continuing education award, a system must meet these criteria:
- The vendor’s website must clearly position the system as a continuing education solution. (Purely academic or employee-only solutions are not considered.)
- Vendors must have participated in executive briefings and/or buying opportunities we’ve managed.
- Current and/or former customers and employees must endorse the winners.
2019 Awards List:
Best Continuing Education & Association Learning Systems
More than 750 learning systems are currently on our radar. With all these possibilities, selecting winners is no easy process. So if your name is on this list, it’s a big deal.
This year, we honor 25 outstanding continuing education solutions – 15 award winners and 10 finalists – listed alphabetically in each category below. In the following section, we briefly describe our impression of winners and finalists, so you can learn about each solution and its strengths. Feel free to bookmark this page so you can refer to it when you’re looking for systems in the future.
Congratulations to all!
Blue Sky eLearn
Community Brands Crowd Wisdom
Community Brands Freestone
(NOTE: We invite all winners and finalists to display the Talented Learning Awards badge on your website and in promotions. This week our team will send original badge artwork to your primary contact via email or direct message, along with our best wishes!)
Award Contenders: What You Should Know
Below we’ve described what we think are the key strengths and differentiators for each of the continuing education systems we considered. Award winners are listed first, followed by finalists – all in alphabetical order.
Founded in 2009 to deliver efficient on-the-go learning, BenchPrep quickly established itself as an innovation leader in the certification and test preparation industry. This omni-channel learning platform now helps some of the world’s top publishers and credentialing bodies deliver self-paced tutorials and other continuing education content online.
Additionally, BenchPrep is carving out a niche with commercial training companies. This SaaS platform powers a growing collection of apps that drive user engagement and business revenues through highly personalized user experiences. Among other capabilities, BenchPrep solutions include white-label branding, single-source content management, third-party software integration and support for delivery via B2B, B2C and reseller channels.
BLUE SKY ELEARN
Blue Sky eLearn is known as a powerful system and great partner for organizations that produce educational webinars, webcasts and live events at national or regional conferences. It is a particularly attractive choice for finance, healthcare and legal industry associations.
Founded in 2002, Blue Sky supports the entire event lifecycle, including branded event portals and ad networks, registration and attendance, presentation proposals and materials management and complex certification credits. It also records session videos and posts them immediately on the LMS, along with related materials.
Many organizations that conduct large-scale events rely on proven production and event management experts. As a strategic differentiator, Blue Sky has sought out these vendors and partnered with them to build LMS integrations for third-party event mobile apps, registration systems and video applications their clients already use.
CE21 (short for “continuing education for the 21st century”) provides a modern, mobile-optimized solution for companies and associations that sell continuing education content. This robust, specialized LMS was built with user experience in mind, so organizations can easily develop, manage, promote, sell and deliver live webcasts, webinars, virtual summits and on-demand continuing education programs.
The CE21 platform also includes a neat “sharing marketplace” that makes it possible for continuing education providers to buy and sell content with others across its extended ecosystem. This is a smart way to leverage the shared interests and buying power of the global CE21 client network.
With more than 25 years of experience in serving associations and non-profit organizations, CommPartners has grown and evolved along with continuing education needs and technologies. The CommPartners solution is unique because it offers more than just a strong, community-oriented, mobile-responsive, modern LMS.
The platform is also supported by a variety of companion services, including curriculum and instructional design, as well as production and management of webinars, webcasts, live-streamed events and virtual conferences. With personalized, hands-on guidance from in-house experts, CommPartners ensures that clients achieve high-quality results from their investment in continuing education programs.
COMMUNITY BRANDS CROWD WISDOM
Crowd Wisdom (now a division of Community Brands) is a great choice for organizations that want to generate revenue from professional development, certification, test preparation and other continuing education offerings. Building on a common software-as-a-service (SaaS) code infrastructure, this platform makes it possible to create semi-custom solutions that deliver an ultra-modern learning experience.
It also provides ecommerce capabilities that integrate easily into broader technology ecosystems. The Crowd Wisdom platform is mobile responsive and scales affordably as organizations expand their global reach.
COMMUNITY BRANDS FREESTONE
For nearly 19 years, Freestone (now a division of Community Brands) has led the way in serving the association and non-profit community. This learning platform is designed specifically for live-event capture, webinars, webcasts and on-demand streaming. It also integrates seamlessly with third-party AMS platforms for complete continuing education business support.
Freestone is special because it’s not just technology. It’s actually a hybrid solution that bundles essential tools with production personnel who help schedule, promote, broadcast, moderate, record, develop, host and administer engaging interactive content. This turnkey approach makes it easy for clients to rely on Freestone for precisely the level of hosting needed to deliver successful educational events, live and on-demand.
Digitec Interactive offers a strong mix of association domain experience and content development services to support their LMS clients. Digitec’s learning portal platform is a pure SaaS solution with a low entry cost and reasonable ongoing operating costs. This solution supports the creation and management of any type of content, including video, training authored within the Digitec platform, off-the-shelf titles, MOOC-style courses based on time-released modules and more.
Digitec’s solution is attractive for small and mid-sized associations, for commercial continuing education providers and for non-profits that want to get started with high-quality online delivery, but with minimal complexity and cost.
EthosCE rocks the healthcare continuing education world. With more than 90% of its clients in the healthcare industry, this company focuses on medical education more than any other LMS vendor we’ve met. In fact, this company serves many of the world’s leading medical associations, academic medical centers, health systems and medical education programs.
EthosCE is usually the first platform provider to productize new healthcare industry-standard APIs and compliance reports. For example, the platform includes automated reporting and integration with ACCME web services for PARS, ABA, ABIM and ABP MOC 2 programs, as well as CE Broker and CPE Monitor. (Even if you aren’t familiar with these terms, this indicates just how deeply EthosCE cares about continuing medical education.)
This platform is ideal for any organization that sells CME, CNE, CPE and related content to organizations or directly to individual health practitioners.
If you’re looking to deploy a jaw-dropping, one-of-kind, high-end, high-dollar continuing education solution, look no further than ExtensionEngine. This vendor leverages its extensive instructional, business and marketing expertise with its own proprietary code and/or open source code to create full custom solutions for leading organizations that want to deliver premium branded learning experiences.
Associations, universities and commercial continuing education providers that bet the future on content quality aren’t as rare as you might think. And when user experience is synonymous with brand experience, there’s little room for compromise. It calls for highly personalized, engaging solutions that differentiate themselves through carefully coordinated marketing, commerce, interactivity, collaboration, gamification and mobile design. This is ExtensionEngine’s strength.
Higher Logic is not an LMS. Rather, it’s an online community and marketing automation platform that connects association members with one another for continuing education experiences that add depth and dimension to lifelong learning. Whether individuals are simply visiting a web page that clarifies your organization’s mission or exchanging professional advice in a digital forum, Higher Logic tracks and manages interactions and engagement through each stage of a member’s journey.
Many associations deploy this solution as a standalone community and collaboration platform, while others use it more strategically by integrating it with their LMS. By combining detailed analytics data from these sources, associations can create a full panoramic view of the member experience.
With a brand name combining ‘m’ (for mobile) and ‘Elimu’ (an African word for education), mElimu is an LMS with a mobile-first mindset that supports training anytime, anywhere, on any device. Rather than rearchitecting a web-based LMS, mElimu saw the need for an application that delivers continuing education to low-bandwidth clients through a true mobile app integrated with Salesforce.com. As proof of concept, mElimu initially landed key clients in the African market, including the Young African Leaders Initiative Network and the Apex Training Institute.
mElimu provides associations with a suite of complementary learning-related capabilities, including registration management, online/offline conference apps, elearning and virtual classroom tools. It also includes an ecommerce-based education service provider platform, so subject matter experts can create and sell learning content online.
This system is a good choice for small and mid-sized global associations and nonprofits with diverse content and learners that face inconsistent bandwidth.
Thought Industries is an up-and-coming learning platform, available in two variations. One is for organizations that sell learning content to businesses or individuals. The other is for customer education in B2B and B2C environments.
Both are highly configurable and built to attract voluntary learners and drive ecommerce revenue. In fact, these systems almost fully customizable in the admin interface, so your learning environment can look and feel exactly like your organization’s other branded apps and web properties.
Thought Industries also includes incredibly powerful authoring tools such as automated interfaces and editable intra-content language localizations. In addition, sophisticated B2B ecommerce capabilities – including branded portals, shared content licensing, coupon codes, promotions, subscriptions, delegated administration, complex CE management, tight CRM integration and robust reporting – make it easy for training companies to sell and manage content in volume.
Based in Ireland, WBT Systems is an established learning solutions provider with a powerhouse platform built expressly for associations. The WBT solution is very robust – comparable to the best corporate learning management systems – because it is highly configurable and addresses even the most complex continuing education requirements.
This platform is ideal for large-scale domestic and international member organizations with complex learning technology requirements. For example, WBT makes it possible to manage multiple organizations, local chapters and all types of learning content. It also features tight AMS and CRM integration, language localizations, badging, gamification, ecommerce tools and advanced analytics.
In recent years, the leadership team purchased WBT and took it private, so it’s now a tight-knit group of owner/operators that care deeply about client success. WBT is known for retaining clients by keeping them satisfied with the quality of their tools and the level of support they provide.
If you want a sophisticated LMS with user-friendly social and mobile functionality for complex continuing education needs, you’ll want to look at Web Courseworks. This 30-year-old company started as a content provider that produced live events and video for member-based organizations. Over time, that focus expanded to online learning and a system that delivers learning content.
Now Web Courseworks is one of the strongest LMS providers in the association market, especially for healthcare-related organizations. This platform makes it easy to create and deliver content and integrate it with AMS solutions and Salesforce.com.
In addition to providing mobile-responsive content delivery, they’re pushing the envelope with mobile apps that extend beyond classrooms or events to encourage continued engagement. For example, you can deliver daily or weekly questions or case studies that promote ongoing interaction and lead to certification credit.
Yardstick is a Canadian company that specializes in online testing that ensures students and professionals are ready to move forward in their endeavors. The company combines innovative technology with expertise in instructional design and exam administration to design, deliver and interpret tests guided by psychometric science.
Working together with numerous associations, licensing bodies, government institutions and private-sector corporations, Yardstick’s full-service proctoring and exam administration address virtually any test scenario. For example, to support high-stakes proctored exams, Yardstick provides an integrated online solution that monitors attendance, manages credentials and automatically verifies student identity using biometric keystrokes.
There’s a lot to like about BlueVolt. The company is about 15 years old and its approach to learning management is different from any vendor I’ve seen. BlueVolt LMS is purpose-built to serve industrial business segments – organizations focused on things like HVAC, plumbing and electricity, as well as continuing education in those specialties.
All of these industrial professions are supported by trade associations that are unique, complex ecosystems of suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and distributors. The BlueVolt LMS brings together these various constituents in a holistic, community-based learning environment, where all participants benefit from lifelong, measurable education.
Cornerstone is the world’s leading talent LMS brand. The platform’s capabilities are comprehensive and can be configured and integrated to support both internal and extended enterprise requirements.
Although organizations of any size can benefit from this platform, it typically adds the most value in large, heterogeneous environments with complex learning requirements – including associations and commercial continuing education providers. For continuing education scenarios, Cornerstone provides global delivery, certification, credit management, ecommerce and analytics capabilities.
As a competitive advantage, Cornerstone now largely relies on certified implementation partners, rather than staffing a global professional services organization. This means you can expect more personalized, hands-on support –typically from a local organization that specializes in guiding Cornerstone clients through the implementation process.
eLogic Learning offers a very strong, configurable LMS that includes deep support for complex continuing education, organizational/role management, B2B and B2C ecommerce, and systems integration capabilities that continuing education providers need to run a successful content business. Located in Florida and known for happy, referenceable clients, eLogic is a focused, owner-operated organization that attracts many big-name, long-term clients.
The eLogic platform is an affordable workhorse that is a great choice for organizations with more sophisticated continuing education needs. Its rare unlimited-use, fixed-cost licensing tier is especially attractive for member-based organizations with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of annual learners.
Since 1970, Holmes has developed and delivered comprehensive learning solutions for individuals seeking globally recognized professional credentials and certifications. Through partnerships with more than 250 academic institutions and training providers, Holmes specializes in building custom solutions for member-based organizations that sell complex certification programs and test prep solutions.
As a result, Holmes has become a leader in helping professional associations grow their certification business by driving brand awareness, membership and non-dues revenue. In fact, this company is so committed to the quality of its solutions that it shares risks and rewards with customers through a percent-of-revenue payment model.
Built by Scottish virtual learning campus developer, iWise2, Kokm combines best-of-breed products from several vendors into a single community-oriented learning platform. Specifically, Kokm integrates a CMS, an LMS, authoring tools and a social platform into a unified environment for global team-based work, collaboration and knowledge sharing.
This infrastructure is ideal for continuing education providers that need to organize and sell an abundance of content from multiple sources. It includes full white-label site design and Google-quality search, along with easy-to-use tools for content creation, web conferencing, video capture, publishing and ecommerce. To support live learning events, Kokm also adds hotel booking and catering tools, cohort capabilities and an attendee directory.
This platform represents the expertise of Big Step Consulting, a provider of custom solutions that blend ecommerce, content management and learning management technology. LearningCart makes it easy for organizations to promote and sell learning content in multiple forms – training modules, digital files, physical products, in-person events, webinars and more. In fact, LearningCart clients generate more than $500 million in combined content revenue each year.
Core platform functionality can be enhanced with more than a dozen plug-and-play integrations. Plus, integration with Zapier extends integration support to another 1000 applications. LearningCart offers free trials and is priced affordably at much less than $1 per active user for organizations serving 500 users or more.
LearnDash is a solid solution for any organization that wants to transform its WordPress website into a full-featured continuing education platform, complete with ecommerce capabilities. Deployed as a WordPress plugin, LearnDash adds learning content creation, promotion, delivery and administration.
Although LearnDash is a plug-in, it is a feature-rich solution with capabilities such as drip-feed content, lesson timers, discussion forums, quizzing, prerequisites, CE credits, certificates and more. Also, because it leverages the native strengths of the WordPress publishing platform, LearnDash is the most SEO-friendly, mobile-optimized way to market learning content. What’s more, this solution costs only $159/year for an annual license to deliver unlimited courses to unlimited users. That’s crazy cheap, given the value LearnDash provides.
LearnWorlds is a fully customizable platform that helps subject matter experts and organizations create and sell dynamic, interactive courses online. This platform makes it possible to market and deliver content through mobile-responsive, branded white-label websites.
LearnWorlds also leverages a combination of social learning, gamification, daily news feeds, embedded video and notetaking to transform learning content into dynamic learning experiences. Packaging options help you promote content “trials” through free chapters, free courses and private content delivery. Plus, solid marketing tools like built-in SEO, conversion tracking and analytics make it possible to improve business results over time. If you’re not sure whether the advanced features or pricing fit your needs, LearnWorlds offers free trials so you can try before you buy.
Of the many online course platforms available today, Teachable is one of the best for beginners because it’s simple, it’s affordable and it works. This platform primarily targets teachers, subject matter experts and consultants with a no-frills platform that makes it easy to create continuing education and deliver it through a secure, professional online point-of-presence.
You can sell courses directly to the public, or through the popular Teachable Marketplace, or both. The solution also comes with helpful marketing tools such as coupons, promotions and subscriptions, as well as affiliate marketing support and automated payouts.
While there are plenty of useful features, Teachable may not offer all the functionality you’ll need to expand your business over time. Nevertheless, you can get started immediately with a free trial, and with costs as low as $29/month for unlimited users and courses, it’s an attractive choice.
Thinkific is one of many online platforms that enable entrepreneurs and subject matter experts to turn their expertise into a sustainable business. Specifically, Thinkific makes it possible to create, market, sell and deliver courses and membership sites without having to invest time and cost in standalone software.
This solution effectively pulls together all the pieces of a learning business, including site design, course creation tools, sales and marketing automation, secure ecommerce capabilities and third-party tool integrations. Unlike more basic online course platforms, Thinkific also offers an enterprise-level platform for more sophisticated business needs.
If you want to kick the tires before you commit, Thinkific offers free “test drive” access. But what really sets this solution apart is its pricing structure, based on unlimited students, unlimited customer support and no transaction fees.
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