Academic vs Association LMS: 4 Key Differences

Last time, we covered the differences between custom-built enterprise learning management systems (LMS) and association LMS; this time, we’ll be going over how academic systems differ from those made for associations.

1. Academic LMS focus on grades; associations focus on professional development

First, let’s look at the core reason for each LMS. What is the purpose of each?

Academic LMS

Academic LMS are used to accept assignments from students, answer questions, and grade work. They can host syllabi, unit information, due dates, teacher feedback, final marks–anything and everything a child needs to thrive!

Students can start a video course and walk away from the computer–learning is gauged through assignments and exams and conveyed with grades, so an academic LMS has no need to track student progress at a granular level.

Association LMS

Association learning management systems, while still made to educate, focus more on professional development. Associations must track their member’s progress in order to meet the rigorous requirements of offering professional development courses online.

Association LMS includes regular participation checks while completing a course.

To offer continuing education credits online, associations need to ensure that learners are actively engaged in the course content. Checks can come in the form of video hurdles, where members have to correctly answer a question related to the course content to continue watching the video. This is a form of knowledge reinforcement–which also helps with learning retention!

2. Academic LMS are for school communities; association LMS are for members

It stands to reason that one of the main differences between academic and association LMS lies in their target audiences. That being said, let’s delve into this idea for a moment:

Academic LMS

Academic learning management systems are used to help school communities–namely school staff, students, and parents.

Academic LMS allow children to ask for help outside of school hours by posting on forums, while parents can check in to see what their children are learning, thereby taking on a more active role in their development.

Academic systems also allow teachers to collaborate with each other easily and efficiently. They’re great for sharing resources and bridging the divide between technology and reality when it comes to education.

Association LMS

Association learning management systems exist to help their members. While association members can participate in continuing education courses, they are not students in the same way elementary, high school, or university students are.

Association members are professional, and they require a professional environment for their continuing education (CE). Referring to them as students can cast a negative, even infantilizing light because it suggests that these people aren’t capable of handling themselves professionally–something that is obviously NOT true!

Association learning management systems provide resources, forums, and continuing education courses for their members, allowing them to keep their existing skills sharp while also gaining new ones.

3. Academic courses are paid with tuition; association courses are pay-per-course

The next main difference between academic and association learning management systems lies in their finance systems.

Academic LMS

While not all academic LMS require fees, those that do typically come packaged as part of the course. When you pay tuition for your courses (e.g. at university), you are paying upfront to access the relevant material on the school’s LMS. Because the finances are taken care of outside the system, academic LMS doesn’t require eCommerce functionality.

Association LMS

Associations, on the other hand, sell and deliver numerous continuing education courses that members can opt to purchase. These are paid by the course through the association’s LMS; this means that, unlike with school LMS, their system requires eCommerce functionality.

Additionally, associations can offer different pricing options for different member types; for instance, a non-member may have to pay $80, while a member could pay $60. This could be broken down further if the association offers different tiers; perhaps a member pays $60, a retired member pays $55, and a student member pays $30–it’s all up to the association to decide how to market and price their products.

Regardless of the pricing structure, selling continuing education courses is how associations earn non-dues revenue, so when it comes to buying an LMS, eCommerce functionality is crucial!

4. Academic institutions aren’t required to promote their education courses; associations are

Promotion can be an important part of an LMS platform; let’s delve into the needs of each!

Academic LMS

Schools don’t particularly need to market or promote their specific courses; once a student enrolls in a program, they can select their preferred courses and proceed with their education.

While courses do occasionally require a minimum number of students to enroll, this doesn’t affect the school’s revenue. Instead, unpopular courses are simply swapped out for their more desirable counterparts.

Association LMS

On the other hand, associations must promote their continuing education courses in order to generate non-dues revenue. Without constant and effective marketing, opportunities for members to find and purchase relevant courses are missed and the association loses out. Associations make the bulk of their non-dues revenue through education and events. Every course must be valuable, desirable, and known–you can’t take a course that you never knew existed!

Related: 3 Ways to Increase Non-dues Revenue for Your Association’s Online Continuing Education Program

While there are many kinds of learning management systems to choose from, it’s important to pick the one that’s right for your organization. Whether you’re a school or an association, there’s an LMS out there for you–all you have to do is lay out your needs and find the one that fits them all!