Generic Won't Cut It: Why Your Association Needs a Specialized LMS

November 6, 2023
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Online learning has grown exponentially, accelerated by the pandemic as organizations embrace remote options. In turn, learners are discovering more diverse educational offerings available online. For professional associations, implementing an online learning platform is a no-brainer.  

A learning management system (LMS) provides flexibility for members to gain skills and knowledge throughout their careers, while making it easy for associations to provide these valuable experiences. However, not all online learning platforms are created equal.  

This blog explores what makes an LMS well-suited for associations. Choosing the right LMS technology is crucial for serving membership needs and supporting lifelong learning.  

We’ll examine the key features of an association LMS, including robust continuing education tools, customized branding and content, data analytics, member engagement capabilities, and integration with association management systems. We hope you’ll discover a better approach to evaluating your association’s options and implement an LMS that maximizes value for your organization and members.

What is an Association LMS?

An association LMS is a learning management system that caters to the educational and training requirements of membership-based organizations such as trade associations, professional associations, societies and non-profit entities. They are distinct from corporate LMS solutions, as they are purpose-built to address the specific challenges and objectives that associations face.

What Makes an Association LMS Different from Other LMS Platforms?

Learner Management & Engagement

Associations typically have a diverse membership base, including professionals, volunteers, and various member types. They may also make their online learning available to non-members as well. An association LMS is designed to effectively manage and engage these members (and non-members!) by allowing them to make different content available to their learners depending on who they are, and at different price points.

Certification & Credentialing

In many industries, learners must earn a certain number of credits in a specified amount of time to meet requirements or advance their careers. Associations typically provide certification programs and continuing education offerings, which is a valuable commodity for these professionals.

An association LMS allows for the creation and management of certification courses, making it easier for members to earn credentials. It will track learners’ progress and issue certificates upon completion. A top association LMS will also go the extra mile and integrate with other platforms for things like remote proctoring, badging, and external credentialing systems.

eCommerce Options

Many learning platforms will include eCommerce options, but associations often have more complex needs that not every LMS can meet. This includes selling content at different price points (or even offering content for free) based on who the learner is (think member, non-member, student member, retiree) or the ability to bundle products together to be sold as package – often at a discounted rate. Certain associations, especially trade organizations, may need to sell content in bulk so that an entire organization has access rather than just one individual learner. And the association may want all these purchases to take place on their association management system (AMS) as opposed to their LMS, so the ability to have an eCommerce integration is important as well.

Virtual Events

Associations often organize virtual events, especially in the post-pandemic world. These events can be important for associations to keep their members engaged throughout the year, reach members with live events when they may not be able to attend in person, and in some cases, to generate additional non-dues revenue. An association LMS should seamlessly integrate with virtual event tools and provide virtual event support, allowing learners to register, attend, and, if applicable, earn credits or a certificate for attending.  

Customized Reporting & Analytics

It’s important for associations to be able to monitor the effectiveness of their educational programs. An association LMS provides the necessary analytics and reporting features that allow associations to track things such as course completion rates and overall program success. Being able to see and analyze your metrics will allow you to make data-driven decisions about future online learning programs.


Platform integrations have been mentioned above a few times, so it should come as no surprise that it deserves its own shout-out! While a corporate LMS may integrate with your CRM or marketing platform, associations typically have different requirements.  

Many associations use an association management system which is similar to a CRM. The AMS is their database of record and usually the center of the association’s universe. You’ll find that association LMS platforms have single sign-on (SSO) integrations with most AMSs, allowing for ease of use between the two platforms for their learners. In addition to SSO, many association LMSs have eCommerce integrations as well as activity writeback, allowing learner activities to be written back to the AMS.

In addition to an AMS, as mentioned above, an association LMS will typically have virtual event platform integrations as well as integrate with platforms that allow for remote proctoring, badging, and reporting out to credentialing bodies.

How Do You Find an Association LMS?

Finding the perfect LMS for your association may seem like a daunting task. Your association will likely have some very specific requirements that need to be met by the platform and vendor. Taking the time to carefully evaluate your needs will help you find the right association LMS for your organization's goals, capabilities, budget, and culture.

Here are a few more tips to consider:
  • Define your needs and goals. What capabilities do you need for managing courses, members, instructors, etc.? What problems are you trying to solve with an LMS? Outline your must-haves.
  • Search online directories and read reviews. There are directories specialized for association LMS platforms, like ReviewMyLMS, that can help you find options. Read user reviews to get insights from other associations.
  • Ask for recommendations. Talk to colleagues at other associations to get advice based on first-hand experience. Professional groups and networks can also be a good source.
  • Research top providers. Do some research into their features and services.
  • Consider integrations. Look for an LMS with integrations to sync with your AMS or other platforms you use.  
  • Sign up for demos. Get a hands-on feel by getting a demo of the LMS. Narrow down your options and sign up for demos of the LMS platforms on your shortlist.  
  • Prioritize must-haves. Consider what features are absolute necessities for your association. Rank by importance. Don't rule an LMS out if it doesn’t meet every “nice-to-have.”

Examples of an Associations Using an LMS

What are some use cases of associations using an LMS? Here are a few examples of how member-based organizations have leveraged Blue Sky eLearn’s Path LMS™ to meet their goals:

Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association

While education had always been a cornerstone of DPHA, they were lacking ways to track usage and engagement, and their member company managers lacked a way to monitor employees’ progress and performance with the educational programs.

DPHA chose Path LMS as the new home for their learning programs, integrated it with AMS, and enlisted Blue Sky eLearn’s Learning & Development team to help them strategize their educational offerings. They were able to automate all the manual tasks they had been performing, gave access to managers to better track team progress, expanded their library of educational offerings, and increased revenue from their learning programs by 63% year over year.

You can read the full success story here.
American Industrial Hygiene Association

AIHA members rely on their comprehensive education programming to ensure the highest level of competency and safety in both scientific and professional fields. They wanted to find a seamless way to extend their reach by selling to external organizations who were seeking to enroll multiple learners.

AIHA chose Path LMS as their new LMS, specifically interested in the Path LMS Teams feature that offers powerful, automated options for delivering content to selected external groups.  

In the first year alone, the ability for these external organizations to make bulk purchases accelerated AIHA’s processing time and efficiency, allowed for 5,300 additional learners to gain access to AIHA’s content, which resulted in a 35% year-over-year increase in revenue.

You can read the full success story here.

These success stories (and others like them here!) speak volumes about the power of association LMS solutions. If you’re an association executive, consider what an association LMS can do for your organization and its members. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the right LMS can be a driving force for growth, engagement, and educational excellence.

In today’s fast-paced world, online learning has become a ubiquitous part of our educational journey. Whether it’s pursuing a degree, gaining progressional certifications, or simply seeking personal development, the value of a quality LMS cannot be overstated. As we’ve explored in this article, the LMS landscape is diverse, with specialized solutions designed to meet the unique needs of different customers.  

Ready to take a closer look at our award-winning platform, Path LMS? Schedule a demo with us today!

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