aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Posts Tagged ‘product comparison reports’

LMS = Losing My Smile

Posted by Ellen on February 5, 2010

[Association LMS Vendors, Take Note!]

Every time I see a report that shows what an organization can expect to spend on an LMS (learning management system), I lose my smile. Worse, I want to hang my head and weep.

In her “Building the Business Case for e-Learning,” published by the eLearning Guild, Temple Smolen writes, “Most off-the-shelf LMS products require some customization. The costs can vary widely for a LMS with customization, but under $100,000 is a reasonable starting assumption for most organizations with less than 2,000 employees.”

Ikes! Those prices!

But wait — there’s more!!

Notice the word “employees”?

It’s fair to say that most LMS providers are still oriented to delivering learning modules via an LMS to employees — individuals within the same corporation. The corporate business rules often allow LMS costs to be leveraged across various departments in ways that associations cannot model.

For now, let’s ask the companies providing instructor-led options to stand aside (companies such as Blackboard, CommPartners, etc.) and focus on LMS systems that facilitate asynchronous, online access to uploaded courses and tutorials.

As colleagues of mine know, I’ve been advocating for an association-specific alternative for a long time. We need something that reaches past our staff offices so our statewide, national, and international members can easily and affordably access.

Doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to work.

Did I mention the need for affordability, too?

It’s funny how what seems like a few dollars to many LMS providers adds up a lot faster on our side of the table.

Let’s take the data Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele at Tagoras uncovered in their Association Learning Management Systems report (October 2009), which showed that for small associations, the average start-up cost for an LMS was:

 $50/user/year (at the low end)

Sounds reasonable.

Until you do the math:

$50 x 1000 members (we assume 1/2 our members might access?) = $50,000/year!!

Double Ikes!!

And don’t tell me to add that $50 onto the registration fee.

Because that $50 will be on top of marketing costs… and any revision costs we’ve set aside in case there’s a boo-boo we need to fix or an update we need to add… or any other items we need to include in our overhead (pay extra for e-mail service? how about registration processing fees through an outsource agency?)…

It’s not like we can charge that much money for an online course in the first place (though some organizations do — you know who you are; that’s why I haven’t signed up for your online courses).

Ready? Let’s walk through a one-year budget for one online course (after development).

Cost of doing online business (marketing, updates, etc.) = $1200/year
Hosting fee/LMS fee = $50,000

Total = $51,200

Now let’s say I think my members would pay — AT MOST — $200 for a course. That means I need 256 learners EACH YEAR just to BREAK EVEN.

But that’s not all!!

According to the Tagoras report, the average cost per learner goes down only slightly over a three-year average, so you can’t expect much savings over time.

This is too bad, as associations are generally known as loyal clients and willing references to other associations seeking services and products.

Something that will bring my smile back is a business model for LMSs that suits small associations and non-profits, not just large organizations.

One company is listening — and is willing to work with associations to forge a partnership that will help alleviate costs while providing quality LMS service.

More about this company and its program for associations and non-profits in the next entry.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, eLearning Resources, Financing eLearning | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Social Networking Providers

Posted by Ellen on October 14, 2009

If your assocation has decided to incorporate an internal social network (“white label network”) — a network that resides in your Web space, attached to your Web site and usually connected to your AMS, as opposed to FaceBook, LinkedIn, and other publicly-available systems — then you’ll want to get your hands on this new white paper from Socialfish.

Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer have pulled together a great starting point for anyone considering implementing a system. Drawing from interviews with key vendors, the 50 or so page document summarizes the companies and their systems, with details about the features, backend structures (important to make sure members will be able to access the system and you’ll be able to provide it), pricing models, and contact information.

They intentionally didn’t provide one of those checkmark charts, but you might decide to create your own in order to sort through the narrative comments.

And keep in mind that these are vendors Socialfish knew to contact — rather than a comprehensive representation of all available vendors and systems. Keep your eyes and ears open to any other companies you hear about, because this is not a complete list. The white paper provides a good model for the sorts of questions you can ask to begin exploring those companies.

More than that — make sure you have done your homework! You won’t know what you’re looking for if you don’t know what you need.

It’s like ordering at your favorite restaurant — you could order everything on the menu (it all sounds so good, right?!), but that gets expensive and you’ll be full before you get through everything.  Going in with an idea of “what you’re hungry for” will help you narrow your choices and make the best decisions.

Get your copy of the white paper here:

Posted in aLearning Strategies, eLearning Resources, Social Learning | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

LMS Selection Processes on Display

Posted by Ellen on October 12, 2009

How have various universities selected the course management systems (CMS) or learning management systems (LMS) they are now using?

What processes did they follow? What criteria did they use?

How did they involve the eventual users in the evaluation process?

If your organization follows — or is considering — the university model for providing synchronous, instructor-led online educational events, you should take a look at Mark Smithers’ Learning and Educational Technology in Higher Education blog. He recently posted brief summaries and links to the original documentation. Sakai, Moodle, Blackboard Vista, Angel, and Desire2Learn are among the systems included.

You might also find it interesting to see that the minimum amount of time a university team spent on such a process was about nine months, with several taking a year or more.

Since his original post, several readers have submitted comments with links to additional online documentation. Read away!

Just keep in mind that these processes and outcomes might not be a match for your organization, as these are large universities, well-funded (they might disagree, but compared to a small non-profit budget, they are swimming in money), and have internal staffing to support the sorts of systems that small organizations probably couldn’t maintain.

Even so, it’s worth a look to see what they decided to evaluate and how they organized their review process.

So far, I haven’t found similar resources for associations, so if you’re willing to share your association’s process for selecting a CMS/LMS and your outcome, or if you know of a summary of such information — send the info along!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Helpful — Free — Resources for Finding LMS and LCMS Vendors

Posted by Ellen on October 11, 2009

If you’re starting with decisions about your learning management system before working through a full strategic planning process, don’t expect to end up with a system that does what you need. Do expect that you could be wasting valuable time and much — probably all — of the money you spend on a system by moving forward too soon.

If you haven’t developed a strategy for your learning programs (including your elearning offerings), no resource — even if it’s free — will help you make the right decision.

So I offer this recommendation to those of you who:

  • have already planned your elearning strategy
  • know how it fits into  your overall education plan
  • have a clear idea of the trail ahead of you regarding certification or licensure programs (no matter how far in the future they might be)
  • understand the differences between an LMS and an LCMS and know which system is your best choice
  • have decided whether you will be developing any elearning programs in-house (this includes tapping the talents of your volunteers) rather than hiring a vendor company for development
  • know your technological environment for hosting (or not) these sorts of systems
  • have identified most if not all of the features you’re seeking in an LMS or LCMS

Not you? Maybe you’ll benefit from working through the *alearning: A Trail Guide to Association eLearning* book first (click the Buy Now button or here for more information), so bookmark this post for later.

One of the most common questions I hear is, “Where do we send our RFP? Now that we know what we’re looking for, how do we find the companies that can provide it?”

Brandon Hall Research ( is making three valuable reports available free — I’d post them here, but they have asked that the reports not be duplicated, so you’ll need to download them from BH directly.

Before you do that, here’s what’s available (to save you some time):

Learning Technology Products 2009: Learning Management Systems includes descriptions of more than 100 LMSs. They’re ordered alphabetically by company name and include products from all over the world, so be prepared to filter the options in some way to make the listing more accessible (for example, perhaps you’d prefer to work only with a company based in the US). Descriptions include basic information about the company and the product so you can determine whether it might fit your key requirements.

Learning Technology Products 2009: Learning Content Management Systems provides basic data on each company and descriptions of the features of more than 40 LCMSs. Note that these are not rapid prototyping or rapid development products, but systems that enable complex development and deployment of large elearning curricula. Unless you’re in a large association or non-profit and plan an extensive online learning library which you will develop in-house, this is not likely a resource you’ll need.

Learning Technology Products 2009: Authoring Tools is the go-to resource if you’ve wondered if you have more choices than simply deciding between Articulate and Captivate (you do, many more, and often for lower cost).

A few caveats:

  • No pricing is included; you’ll need to find that information out on your own.
  • Some descriptions aren’t very complete; take a look at the Web sites provided for more information on products that strike your fancy.
  • And some companies weighted their descriptions with not-so-subtle sales-speak: “develop highly engaging experiences” … “quickly develop”… “anyone can easily develop…” We learned a long time ago to be cautious of such claims, so read analytically, not subjectively — one person’s easy hike is another person’s Everest!

Click  here to access and download these helpful resources from Brandon Hall Research. 

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Asynchronous Learning Types, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »