Selling online learning content is a huge and rapidly growing business. Corporations, associations, universities, training companies, public institutions and individual subject matter experts are all creating and selling educational content on every conceivable topic.
Online content providers are in fierce competition for learners, which in turn has led to significant industry innovation in marketing tactics, content design, user engagement and learning technology. Plenty of reasons are driving the demand for the content, but I believe the two biggest factors are 1) Closing the gap between the world’s educational system and the skills actually needed by employers and 2) Ongoing professional continuing education. The business of selling content, not to your own employees, but to others is called extended enterprise learning.
There are two main business models for selling learning content:
- Business to Consumer (B2C) — Sell content to individual learners directly
- Business to Business (B2B) — Sell content in bulk to organizations for their learners
To sell online content in either model, you need an extended enterprise LMS with ecommerce capability. Over the last 20 months I have conducted in-depth reviews of 102 LMS solutions and have found 85 that promote some level of ecommerce but there is a wide diversity of capabilities. The biggest difference is primarily due to whether the LMS is designed to sell to individuals, organizations, both or neither.
For this post, I’ve consolidated and organized all the ecommerce features I have found in the industry to illustrate what is out there for either business model. If you are shopping for an ecommerce LMS, it is really important to find one that specializes in your ecommerce business model.
B2C LMS eCommerce Features
Selling to individual consumer learners is typically the first level of ecommerce support that LMS vendors develop because the features are very similar to the ecommerce features that exist to sell anything from books, laptops to tractor parts with existing ecommerce platforms. Typical features in B2C LMS ecommerce include:
- Deep-linking directly to content from anywhere outside the LMS
- Browse the catalog of content before logging in or creating an account
- Sell any type of learning of any media uniquely or in a bundle
- Product reviews and ratings
- Coupons, promotions discounts
- Credit card, PayPal or Stripe payment types
- Add to cart, checkout and integration with payment gateways for credit card authorization
- Immediate access to purchased content
- Emailed receipts, notifications
- Fiscal reporting, sales analysis, reconciliation reporting
- User-specific content recommendations
- Dynamic grouping of users based on actions recorded in LMS
- Sell physical products, manage shipping rules, fulfillment and inventory management
- Recurring and automated billing
- Language localizations and multi-currency support
- Manage unlimited tax rules including global VAT
- LMS PCI compliant (vs. only payment gateway)
Most LMSs develop the above features natively but several integrate with pure ecommerce engines like Shopify or Magento to provide the above. The integration approach provides for rich pure commerce functionality but mandates the administration and maintenance of two applications resulting in higher costs.
B2B LMS eCommerce Features
Selling content in bulk to organizations for their employees is tougher than it looks. For example, if a hospital buys 100 seats of a continuing medical education course, how do they get their doctors to find the LMS, the course and consume it? Just that learner provisioning piece alone causes administrative nightmares if an LMS hasn’t developed workflow to support.
To further complicate matters, the actual “commerce” transaction can happen in an external system and passed to the LMS via API integration or the organizational purchase can happen directly in the LMS. B2B ecommerce features include:
- Client domains and branding
- Bulk purchase of content
- Credit account – organizations are invoiced after content is consumed
- Prepaid debit account – organizations prepay for content and account depletes as content is consumed
- Tokens (Registration codes, enrollment keys, vouchers)—Purchased in bulk and distributed to the user for one-time use, timed use, per course or per organization access to LMS and content.
- Bulk purchase discounts
- Purchase order support
- Subscriptions – timed access to content
- CRM, ERP or AMS Integration to create accounts, users and content assignment when organizations purchase in third-party system
- Tight integration into existing corporate order fulfillment, ecommerce, taxation and data warehouse ecosystem
- Delegated client level administration and reporting
- Third-party content sponsorship, ads and promotions
- Bill me later ala Amazon, electronic invoice or paper invoice
Like never before, educational content providers of all types have the tools and technology to run a first-class ecommerce business. Innovation and competition are rampant. When reviewing LMS vendor websites, at first blush it appears that they all have the same ecommerce features — and to an extent they do. The big ecommerce differentiator is if the LMS is geared towards selling to individuals, organizations or both. However, there are many other factors to consider if you want to sell content. My best recommendation is to fully develop your business model, LMS use case scenarios and resulting requirements before engaging LMS vendors so you can find the best-qualified options to drive your online learning business.
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