aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

More Than One LMS Option

Posted by Ellen on February 15, 2010

Knowing I’d open a can of worms by venturing into discussions about LMSes (Learning Management Systems), I pulled out my opener anyway and yanked off the lid (see LMS = Losing My Smile and LMS Business Model for Associations?).

First, let me say that I don’t endorse any product or service, but that I will pass along suggestions when something sounds like a good fit.

Required Reading

Second, no association learning leader (or other executive) should venture into LMS possibilities without having devoured — with highlighter in hand — the Tagoras reports on this topic  (did I mention if you purchase the package you get a copy of the aLearning book as well?!?).

Having said all that, some things became really clear to me over the last week or so as I thought about LMSes for associations. I posted a question the the ASAE’s LinkedIn Group and got some very helpful responses, and I’ve likewise been holding some long and detailed e-mail discussions with representatives of some LMS providers.

Flower of a Different Color

What started as a rant about average pricing for an LMS has blossomed into a flower of an entirely different color and type than I would have expected.

Here are just a five of the petals:

— We need LMSes for different purposes. LMS providers have designed various systems to meet our various needs. But they’re all called LMSes, so the distinctions get blurred (more on this later).

— Pricing is all over the place because  of these different types of LMSes, each with their own features and ways they can be accessed, among other variables.

— Unless we clearly define what we need, we can’t know what we’re looking for, nor which type of LMS would best suit our needs.

— LMS providers are quickly adapting what they offer to what we need. This is a blessing and a curse — we have more choices, but there’s also more confusion.

— Finally, unless I haven’t come across it yet, the ideal LMS has yet to be invented (more on this in an upcoming post).

Distinguishing Among LMS Types

Yes, an LMS is a learning management system. But some learning we offer online is instructor led, and some isn’t. Some of us offer Webinars, some don’t. A few of us make asynchronous, stand-alone courses available, others don’t.

LMSes have come through a long series of revisions over the years. Iterations have included training systems designed primarily for classroom use to those designed to launch only asynchronous, stand- alone courses. Others, such as Blackboard, started as instructor-led course management systems but have evolved to include more features designed to enhance interactivity and incorporate more social media, such as video sharing.

So the first question to ask yourself is “What do we plan to do with our LMS?” Do we intend to offer instructor-led online courses? Asynchronous courses only? Structures for member-to-member, informal learning? Webinars?

Let’s face it: some systems work for certain types of content delivery better than others.

It’s time we talked about those various types of LMSes, even though many overlap in what they can deliver.

Here’s a loose list of LMSes you might want to investigate, based on the primary way they deliver online learning (remember, these aren’t endorsements, just suggestions for further research — and don’t forget to consult the Tagoras report!):

For instructor-led online courses:
 — Blackboard ProSites : Probably the grand-daddy of all instructor-led course management systems, Blackboard once provided its platform for free use (I had a novel-writing course on it for awhile). Pricing now = $9500/year for 200 users and 50MB course limit.
 — iCohere SaaS : This system provides all the bells and whistles you’d want from an instructor-led course management platform: ways to post announcements, notes, Powerpoint slides and other materials, conduct live and asynchronous chat sessions, etc. Pricing starts at  $5500/year for “5G of user storage.”
 — CCNet  : This LMS has a free option if you don’t mind banner adds and don’t need testing; paid levels start at just $49/year without ads and testing, and with 100 MB of handout space; they go up from there. The LMS is plain but hardworking, and will probably require a bit of upfront customization to change the labels and grade options so they are less academic and more in tune with your organization. [Note that this is primarily an LMS for instructor-led courses, but I was able to enter an active link and launch an asynchronous course from this LMS; no tracking or scoring was attempted.]

For Webinars:
 — Cisco WebEx  : The WebEx Meeting option allows just 25 participants — or so it says. We were able to add more participants at a small per-user fee to leverage this option for Webinars. Starting at just $49/month, this option is provides for online recording and replay.
 — KRM  : All-in-one Webinar provider, from marketing through production and archiving/re-sale, KRM has been in the association sector a long time.
 — CommPartners : Webinar production and archiving/library creation vendor.

For asynchronous courses:
 — DigitecInteractive’s Knowledge Direct WEB : Features include content search (including Flash content), discussions and wikis, pre-testing, regional versioning, built-in eCommerce, and the capacity to export PowerPoint content into MP3 “podblasts,” cell phone, and Flash delivery.

 — CNNet : Asynchronous courses, at least those contained in Flash files, can be launched through this LMS, though record-keeping hasn’t been tested.

 — Element K’s Knowledgehub : Element K has been in the elearning business for nearly thirty years, outlasting most of the other companies that started at the same time. They offer custom content development and an array of ready-made titles as well as a feature-laden LMS complete with Web 2.0 communication and collaboration tools.

For a combination of some of the above:
 — Web Courseworks’ CourseStage LCMS : What Web Courseworks has done is taken Moodle (an open-source LMS), developed a “derivative” system from it so that you won’t have to hire a programmer or company to adapt Moodle to your needs. They’ve created a system that’s ready to go and still affordable. It enables access to stand-alone asynchronous courses, interactive games, and includes an eCommerce feature that integrates with membership database systems, education credit tracking, and built-in course development so you can create your own tutorials or full courses and offer them through the system. The system also accommodates Webinars through a partnership with CommPartners. Podcasts, video files, RSS feeds, blogs and other social learning tools are embedded as well.
  — ePath Learning’s ASAP  : CEO Ralph Pastor describes their system as a “fully functional hybrid LMS/ LCMS service offering … that is a Web 2.0/cloud/ multi-tenant solution,” perhaps the only such system on the market. Pricing starts at about $350/month.
 
If I missed anyone’s recommendation, let me know.

Okay, there is Moodle. That one’s simple: if you have the tech savvy in-house to customize it (and the time), go for it. If not, seek a Moodle “derivative” like CourseStage.

Oh, and the perfect LMS for associations? More on that next time.

13 Responses to “More Than One LMS Option”

  1. EDU 2.0 for School is a free, web-hosted alternative to Moodle and Blackboard.
    It’s also probably the easiest to use.
    It currently has 130,000 members and is doubling in size every 6 months.

    http://www.edu20.org.

    Cheers,
    Graham

  2. Jon K. said

    Another two LMS’s that are seeing mainstream higher education adoption are Desire2Learn and Sakai. D2L is fairly flexible (moreso than Blackboard, IMO). Sakai I’ve only used as a student, and I’ll reserve making a statement on it until I’ve seen it used well.

  3. Emma said

    Jon K said: until I’ve seen it used well.
    To me, that’s far more important than anything else.
    Used effectively, Blackboard/WebCT Vista (especially with the Wimba add on), can be used for highly interactive courses.
    Often, a University/School may have one system in place & have a number of restrictions that prevent lecturers using other tools (even if open source/ hosted externally).
    Sharing of good practice is as vital as the tools you have – especially when you don’t have much control.

  4. Ellen,

    I work for a company that used to be a solely LMS provider. We had solutions ranging from a fully customized LMS, to an out of the box solution. We still have those options, however we saw a demand for a more complete package. Through merger and developmend we now have our OmniSocial product. This product combines all the the features of the LMS, but now with the added benefits of social media. Administrators have total control over what features to expose to groups of users. You can use blogs, discussion boards, eLearning, intructor led training, idea share and more. The instructor led training can also be in the form of webinars where vendors such as WebEx and iLinc are incorporated right into our product.

    I will also add that I am not in sales, so I don’t really know much about pricing. I do know that pricing is available for just about every need. If you get some time, check it out. You can also find us on twitter via @mzinga and @mzingasupport.

  5. Jeff Cobb said

    Ellen – Not sure why, but the original comment I submitted on this post does not seem to have come through. In any case, thanks for mention of the Tagoras report. I am interested to see who chimes in here. – Jeff

  6. Ellen said

    Graham, Jon, Emma, Brian, and Jeff — Thanks for your comments and suggestions. Hopefully readers will check them out. Clearly there are a lot of options, several similar to each other. And unless I’m missing something, these recommendations are still targeted to academic or corporate learning, rather than the unique requirements of association learning.

    I have yet to find the ideal LMS for associations out there (see my post “The Ideal LMS for Associations (and Probably All Training Depts Everywhere”.

  7. Hi Ellen,

    “EDU 2.0 for Business” (http://www.edu20.com) is a version of EDU 2.0 that targets businesses. It already has most of the features that you list in your blog post, although we don’t plan on adding gaming features since they would normally be best provided via a third party. For example, my guess is that there are many SCORM modules that focus on various kinds of training/simulation. We integrate with widgets like Skype for video conferencing since those kinds of features are usually best provided by third parties.

    Cheers,
    Graham

  8. Ellen said

    Graham — Thanks for the clarification. Haven’t had much time to explore EDU 2.0 yet, but will do so when I can.

    Call me sniveling or whiney, but even when I see labels such as “business” or “school” I cringe.

    Would it be so hard to create a mirror LMS with labels such as “association” and “non-profit organization”? “Member learners” instead of “students”? “Volunteer facilitators” instead of “teachers” or “trainers”?

    The pen is mightier than the sword, and semantics are half the battle.

    Corrections
    Thank you to those who sent notes to correct items in this post. Rather than alter the original, where they might be missed, I’m passing them along here:

    Ralph Pastor is “Executive Account Manager” at ePAth; the CEO is Dudley Molina.

    And Jason Weinstein has pointed out that I inadvertently referred to CCNet in its second reference. I must have had one eye on the news when I was writing this post!

    My apologies to all.

    • Hi Ellen,

      Thanks for the feedback. We’d have to have a different URL for each of the different variations, and I bet there are a ton of other variants that others would prefer, so it’s probably not practical.

      Cheers,
      Graham

      • Ellen said

        Graham — I appreciate hearing the development challenges of creating such a system, and don’t doubt there would be some in implementing the alternatives I’ve suggested.

        At the risk of sounding too argumentative, I have to ask this: Why do associations always have to adapt their terminology to other market segments?

        It’s not a small segment. Nearly 7500 trade associations operate in the US, a subsection of 360,000 nonprofits overall. And though trade associations are of particular interest when it comes to elearning (their missions usually include professional development), professional associations, societies, guilds, and other organizations represent millions of individuals around the world.

        Why it continues to be an invisible customer/client base mystifies me.

  9. Hi Ellen,

    How about “organization” instead of “business”, but keeping “instructor” and “student”? That seems like it would match pretty well. Our site is available in 10 different languages, and words like “instructor” and “student” appear in many of the translated lines, so the overhead of changing just one word can have quite a large ripple affect.

    Cheers,
    Graham

  10. Another thing Ellen; when someone uses our site to set up an e-learning destination, they can rebrand it however they like; banner, titles, home page, URL, etc. So you can create an e-learning destination that’s 100% tailored to whatever audience you like.

    Cheers,
    Graham

    • Ellen said

      Graham — Thanks for your continuing comments, which help me to continue to examine the idea of an association LMS. I’ll stick by my assertion that we’re deserving of something that doesn’t require the customization other market segments don’t have to go through, but admit that an easier customization is better than none.

      Thanks again!

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