Is it time for your association to invest in an LMS?

Jill W.

When is the right time for an association to invest in a Learning Management System (LMS)? Whenever it's ready to take advantage of the benefits an LMS can offer. An LMS is an essential tool for managing learning in an association. It can also play a key role in maximizing non-dues revenues.

In this article, I'll explain what an LMS is and list three situations when associations should consider the advantages of investing in an LMS.

What is an LMS?

Let's start at the beginning. Before you can understand what an LMS has to offer an association, you'll need to know just what an LMS does. A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software application that supports learning in an organization.

An LMS is used to:

  • Manage curriculum, including webinars, online courses, in-person workshops, downloaded or physical materials
  • Deliver eLearning
  • Deliver and manage evaluations (when necessary)
  • Generate revenue through sales of learning material
  • Track and report on the progress and performance of learners, courses and eCommerce activity

So what does this have to do with associations? Whether it's managing continuing education and certification for professional and trade associations or less formal learning, such as training in the products, services or skills of interest to members of sports, community and industry associations, education is a crucial activity in almost every association.

The right LMS can help you deliver, organize and sell your educational offerings. And as you improve your educational management, your association may be able to add value and attract new members.

Associations in the following situations should seriously consider the advantages of investing in an LMS:

1. You need to increase your non-dues revenue

Make no mistake; an LMS is an investment. The right system can be part of achieving a substantial return for your association. Non-dues revenue is essential for modern associations, and education is one of the top sources of income for associations).

Lack of infrastructure -- the resources necessary to sell and deliver learning programs -- prevents many associations from leveraging their knowledge base for revenue generation. If this is the situation you're facing, an LMS may be what you need to enter a lucrative market.

a. Look for an Association LMS with eCommerce Features

eCommerce is key for associations seeking to boost their learning income. Not all LMSs have eCommerce capabilities.

  • Many are designed for corporate training, where learning is assigned and required, not marketed and sold.
  • Those that do offer eCommerce don't all offer the same features. Some platforms are designed for only the smallest range of product offerings, while others require varying degrees of technical support and maintenance from their users.

There are several eCommerce software and platforms available. Check out Christopher Pappas' The Six Types of Ecommerce Platforms for Your eLearning Course to help you choose the right eCommerce platform for you.

Many associations will find that a hosted, enterprise eCommerce platform best meets their needs. This type of solution offers:

  • Support for accounting, eCommerce, order processing and other business functions
  • The ability to manage a large and complex learning inventory
  • A vendor who hosts and supports your website, leaving you free to concentrate on your products

b. Consider Custom Pricing and Reporting Options

Other features you'll likely want in an association LMS include custom pricing and advanced, flexible reporting options.

Custom pricing, generally known as tiered pricing in the LMS industry, is often necessary for associations. Without it, everyone buying a learning item pays a set price. Tiered pricing lets you set different prices for the same item for:

  • Members and non-members
  • Individuals and organizations
  • Bundled offerings
  • Bulk buy or multiple buy options
  • Sales or marketing initiatives

eCommerce reporting is also important. It not only allows you to evaluate your sales and marketing programs, essential information for maximizing your revenue, but also helps you plan future offerings. What seems to be adding value for your members, and what are they willing to pay for?

2. You Want to Add eLearning to Your Existing Educational Offerings

So an LMS with well-developed eCommerce capabilities is vital to an association entering the learning marketplace. But what if you're already there? And what about organizations whose educational arm is promotional or philanthropic -- free, in other words? When should they consider adopting an LMS?

An LMS is also essential to any association that wants to offer eLearning, whether they're switching from conventional learning to online resources or adding online options alongside current offerings. LMSs are used to deliver the online resources while also managing learners and registrations.

I'll take a moment here to distinguish between a Learning Management System (LMS) and Learning Content Management System (LCMS).

  • LCMSs are used to create, store, version and manage online courses.
  • An LMS, on the other hand, can manage and deliver content created with another authoring tool, like an LCMS, as well as conventional courses, seminars and other types of learning. It also manages people, tracking assessments, performance, registrations, attendance and other items.

eLearning offers associations many advantages.

  • Scalability and cost-effectiveness. If more learners than you were expecting show interest in a program, you just sign them up. You don't need to worry about hiring extra instructors, booking or renting facilities or arranging for travel, nor is it necessary to turn away the learners you can't accommodate. Download our free eLearning ROI calculator to compare the cost ILT and eLearning.
  • Accessibility. eLearning is also on-demand. Learners can access courses or other offerings when they want, where they want. Online and on-demand is the way to engage today's learners, who often expect instant gratification and full accessibility. The right LMS will let you meet those expectations, expanding your reach and satisfying your members.

3. You Need a Better Way to Organize and Manage your Educational Programs

While eLearning is an increasingly important component of associations' educational offerings, it isn't the only thing that matters.

a. Tap Into the Power of Blended Learning

Sometimes face-to-face or hands-on learning is essential, or just a better option, so you'll need an LMS that can handle it all. Blended learning is the term for combining online and in-person learning, and it's a common requirement.

The right LMS should be able to:

  • Deliver downloadable documents or manuals
  • Deliver online courses
  • Provide videos and webinars
  • Manage registrations for seminars and traditional courses
  • Track attendance and completions for both on- and offline programming
  • Evaluate learners

b. Think about Training Certifications and Recertifications

A suitable LMS for your association might also need to take things a step further.

If you oversee certifications or required continuing education, your LMS might need to be able to:

  • assign credits
  • track progress through a program
  • manage prerequisites for registration, and
  • identify when certifications or program requirements are complete.

c. Reward Accomplishment with Badges

Even if your learning programs are less formal, there's still a need for organization. Do you (or should you) offer microcredentials and open badges? A badge that can be displayed on LinkedIn or Facebook gives your members pride in their accomplishment while advertising your industry, learning programs and association.

By now, it should be easy to see why LMS use among associations offering technology-enabled or technology-enhanced learning doubled between 2011 and 2017. Perhaps it's time to consider joining them.


Learning Management Systems have a lot to offer associations. They're a means of increasing ever-important non-dues revenue, a vehicle for delivering eLearning and an effective way of managing both formal and informal educational programs. Is it time for your association to reap the benefits of an LMS?

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Jill W.

Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.