A common perception in the learning, talent and extended enterprise industries is that 80% of LMS functionality is common to all 600+ vendors. Based on my in-depth review of more than 80 LMS solutions over the past 18 months, I would say 50% is a more accurate estimate.
I’m amazed by the diversity of targeted functional and industry use, technological approach, pricing strategies, implementation support, user experience, mobile readiness, social prowess, ecommerce, reporting, gamification and support of informal learning to name a few areas of differentiation.
Just like in nature, every living LMS has found a specialty in which it competes better than most. Similar to Carl Linnaeus, I’m addicted to identifying, grouping, defining and writing about the living LMS and its characteristics. And I never tire of talking with others in webinars and podcasts about how learning systems are advancing their business mission.
Today’s topic is one of the biggest areas of LMS differentiation I have found and the cause of much LMS buyer confusion and eventual dissatisfaction –the support of employee compliance management and how it is different from employee continuing education (CE) and extended enterprise CE.
It’s easy for both vendors and buyers to be confused because there is a crossover of LMS functionality and terminology that is used in all three scenarios but the business intent, total functionality required and best LMS vendors are different for each.
Hopefully the following taxonomy will help you define your LMS requirement and communicate them more clearly when qualifying LMS vendors.
What is Employee Compliance Management?
Compliance management is about mandating employees to consume training to ensure they follow a set of rules. The types of rules or compliance standards are commonly focused on ethics, harassment or safety processes and are enforced by local or national governmental agencies. If regulated, non-compliance is identified though inspections and rewarded with fiscal penalties.
For example, in the US we have the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that regulates a set of safety standards to guarantee workers have a safe environment to perform their duties can issue penalties up to $70,000 for willful repeat violations.
A few violations grossly outweighs the cost of an LMS to manage it all and the reason why the first LMSs were originally created 30 years ago. Once an organization had their compliance training squared away with an LMS, they had the platform and infrastructure to identify other types of mandatory training for their employees to consume. New employee orientation, sales process, customer service, product rollouts and leadership development are common examples and now employee LMSs support all formal learning and compliance in an organization.
Learning platforms that come from a compliance perspective focus on administration and are typically less concerned with the learning experience, mobile, social or gamification capabilities.
LMS Features Needed for Employee Compliance Management
To manage internal employee training compliance an LMS should:
- Support the type of content you have such as instructor led (virtual or live) or self-paced
- Administrative ability to define a training assignment as mandatory to a learner or group of learners
- Configurable due date completion rules to support fixed date and dynamic date (30 days from joining a group for example) assignments
- Email or text notifications letting employees know they have been assigned training (live or self-paced) and that due dates are approaching
- Configurable time duration of compliance validity for successful completion of content
- Assignment of credits or points for successful content completion
- Current and historical compliance exception and completion reporting for administrators, managers, auditors and learners
- Configurable skills and competencies to define extremely granular training assignments
- Integration into organization HRIS system to create user accounts, share profile data and compliance status
What is Professional Continuing Education?
Professional continuing education can be defined as training (formal or informal) consumed by adults after they have left the formal education process. Professional continuing education can be tied directly to the degree earned formally or as independent learning events throughout your career.
Almost all professions have some sort of initial certification or licensure based on training, schooling and assessment to be able to practice and then ongoing training requirements to keep license or certification current. Doctors, lawyers, architects, plumbers, barbers, ministers, pilots and accountants all have the initial acquisition of license or certification and ongoing training requirements. The ongoing requirements are different for every profession and jurisdiction but are most commonly measured by credits hours (CEU, CME, CPD, CLE, CPE, etc.) which are tied to time spent in accredited learning activities. The continuing education requirement is usually expressed in credit type/time period like 24 CEUs/year.
Individuals are ultimately responsible to know their own ongoing continuing education requirements, take the required training, maintain ongoing proof of completion and submit to appropriate accreditation body to maintain their license or certification.
However, many organizations due to their own legal exposure, competitive advantage or as an employee benefit invest in the tools, business processes and even funding to support and manage the professional continuing education of their employees. This includes the continuing education the company provides (with internal or external resources) and ALSO the content employees earn independently outside of their corporate learning ecosystem.
LMS Features Needed for Professional Continuing Education
To manage your employees continuing education requirements, your LMS needs to have all the capabilities to manage your employees compliance training outlined above and the following complimentary feature set:
- Define your own credit types (CLE, CME, CE, CEU, other)
- Assign one or multiple credit types and values to learning activities
- Allow learners to select what credit types they want to claim or automatically assign credit based on user profile fields
- Support content types and categories to align with accreditation body terminology
- Learner self-service access to completion certificates (think paper diploma of each course and credit earned)
- Dynamic completion certificates that display appropriate credit and course information based on accreditation body rules
- Ability for a learner to upload externally earned credits, proof and manage all CE centrally in the employee LMS
- Detailed reports and dashboards for training progress as well as credit progress towards recertification
- eSignatures, audit trails for highly regulated industries to manage or consume credits
ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION
- Assessment tool to build, deploy and report knowledge assessments and course evaluations mandated by many accreditation bodies on all accredited content
- Strict version control of assessments and learning content
- Psychometric analysis for pre-post assessments and learner evaluations to prove efficacy and test question validity
- Peer rankings on assessments and test items
- Badge swipe, mobile swipe, attendance codes to support informal learning events such as healthcare ground rounds or open seminars
- Integration with accreditation bodies for automatic credit reporting eliminating the need for employees or administrators to do it manually
- Content integrations with 3rd party content provided by training providers, universities and other CE providers
- eCommerce gateways, ERP or Association Management system to facilitate the process of selling instructional content to individuals or organizations
What About Selling CEUs?
Associations, trade organizations, unions, non-profit groups, universities, training companies, governments and corporations all create and sell accredited continuing education as a business. They build communities of professionals who share similar goals and interests, they build business models around community members’ ongoing need for content that will expand and update their knowledge, skills and competencies. These continuing education providers sell directly to individuals through an ecommerce LMS or they sell through employers or other organizations who also serve these audiences.
To give you a sense of the business opportunity in continuing education, in 2014 in the healthcare market alone, 1950 accredited continuing education providers delivered more than 1,000,000 hours of instructions to more than 24,000 medical professionals.
In the elearning industry, when continuing education content is sold to non-employee audiences, we call this “extended enterprise learning”– and this kind of scenario requires a special kind of LMS. These continuing education LMSs come in two flavors:
1) Those that support employee training as well as learning programs designed for external audiences;
2) Those designed exclusively for selling and delivering content to individuals or organizations, with no connection at all to employee training or compliance.
Pricing and vendor options vary, depending on the scenarios you need to support. In other words, if you are only going to provide content to external audiences, it’s wise to find a vendor that invests 100% of its research and development to building-out that capability, rather than considering vendors who also serve employee needs.
If you want to sell continuing education content to individuals or organizations, below are some of the features you should consider. For more details on essential LMS features, check out these posts: “Continuing Education Providers: What’s Your Recipe for LMS Success?” and “Continuing Education: Will You Sell More CEUs with an LMS?“
LMS Features For Selling CEUs
All of the above features needed to manage employee continuing education including credit management and accreditation reporting is also needed when selling content to external audiences. The features to sell content are incremental. The biggest delineation in ecommerce LMS features has to do with if you are selling to individuals, organizations or both.
B2C = Business to Consumer = Selling your training content to individuals.
Selling your content to individuals is more akin to selling products on Amazon, eBay or Best Buy than a traditional compliance LMS. You need to allow potential customer learners the ability to:
- Browse the content, see comments and ratings before logging in
- Place content in shopping cart and have a secure checkout
- Entice potential learners to buy with discounts, package pricing, timed access to content, content recommendations, top content lists and other promotional tools
B2B = Business to Business = Selling your training content to organizations for their employees to consume.
Selling your content to organizations may happen inside or outside the LMS though learners consume content inside the LMS. For example, if you sell continuing accountancy education to accountants, your business model could be to sell to accounting firms with lots of accountants vs. to the accountants themselves. Therefore the LMS would need features like:
- Support client specific domains populated with specific content purchased
- Client administrative access to manage content and reports
- Ability to upload a spreadsheet of users or integration with the client HRIS system to create learner accounts
- The ability to assign content to learners, identify due dates, trigger learner automatic notification of their assignment and report on learner completion progress
- Support bulk content purchases, vouchers, debit accounts, credit accounts, purchase orders and electronic checks to facilitate new and renewal purchases at the organization level
- Integration with 3rd party global taxation software for sale of content internationally
- Integration with ERP and other ecommerce storefronts to support purchase outside of LMS
As you can see the LMS functionality need to support the continuing education and extended enterprise CE workflows can be substantially more complex and involved than just employee compliance training. This is due to the accreditation body’s influence, the need to manage credits hours as well as diverse recertification criteria defined by innumerable jurisdictions.
Internal employee compliance doesn’t have to be reported to any agency but rather an organization waits for an audit, inspection or accident and then proves compliance and historical training completion with reporting. Compliance is still complex just not as complex as managing continuing education nor selling it.
An organization buying an LMS needs to clearly define compliance, continuing education and associated ecommerce requirements to ensure they find appropriate LMS partners and solutions. If you need help, call me for a preliminary consultation. I’ve got this down cold.
Thanks for reading!
Want more insights? Replay our on-demand webinar!
According to recent research, 60% of members say associations are their “go-to” source for continuing education. But a closer look at membership trends reveals a sobering fact – associations can no longer afford to rest on their laurels. Digital innovation has given rise to highly affordable, accessible content and community resources from independent sources.
In this disruptive environment, how can your organization leverage learning to retain existing members, win new members and support them throughout their careers?
Join me, and Tamer Ali, SVP and General Manager of Education Solutions at Community Brands, as we explore this topic in depth. You’ll discover how modern learning technology can help you:
- Strengthen your position as a relevant, trusted source of continuing education
- Add value by helping members stay ahead of accreditation requirements
- Develop and deliver useful content at member’s convenience
- Offer pricing that appeals to diverse audiences, while optimizing your revenue streams
- Apply marketing techniques that differentiate you and increase response from members and non-members, alike
We’ll also illustrate how innovative associations are leading the way in professional development best practices.
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