The eight most important features for not-for-profit learning management systems

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In this article, lets consider the eight most important features for not-for-profit learning management systems which you need to consider before making any decision for your NFP organisation.

So, you have realised that your charity needs to overcome common training hurdles and that your organisation could greatly benefit from an online learning portal. Now it’s time to find the right not-for-profit learning management system.

Wait – do you need a learning management system?

First things first, you may not need a learning management system at all.

While this may sound contradictory, what we mean is that you need an online learning portal, but perhaps not one in the form of a learning management system. There are many different types of digital learning platforms. It might be that you need a learning creation platform rather than a learning management system. If you aren’t familiar with the different types of digital learning platforms, read this article first.

With that in mind, lets then consider the eight most important features for not-for-profit learning management systems you need to consider.

Cloud-based platform with no IT deployment

This isn’t 2010. So you don’t want a platform that needs to be deployed into your location. Your online learning platform should be cloud-based, ensuring that your provider can manage security, provide updates, monitor performance, and ensure compatibility.

What this means is that you should be able to set-up your online learning portal and access it through your browser without any required hardware or downloads. It should be a zero-effort implementation – which will make your IT team very happy.

Fully responsive and accessible platform

With a cloud-based platform accessible through any browser, you should have an online learning portal which can be accessed anywhere on any device. This means it should scale automatically to any screen size, have video streaming capabilities which adapt to bandwidth and device and not rely on any third-party downloads like Adobe Flash.

In addition, best practice suggests your online learning portal will support Web Accessibility Content Guidelines so that learning content is available for everyone. Ideally, this should be for WACG 2.1 and to a Level AA standard. Most learning platforms do not support this standard, so be sure to ask the provider for their WACG framework. This can be particularly important for NFPs with social responsibility values.

Ready-made training libraries

You won’t have time to create every little piece of training content you need (more on that below). So you will need access to some ready-made training libraries. This might be for compliance training, where it is better to use ready-made training content which has been lawyer-approved. However, it may also be for high-quality content on management, productivity, teamwork or communication skills.

Ideally, you want a library which is completely integrated with your learning portal. Many learning platforms do not have an integrated library. Instead, they utilise external third-party libraries. This can create huge inconsistencies in content – the interface can be different between each module, the tone and language can vary and so on. Look for a learning platform with its own training libraries.

Ready-made training in your branding

On that note, you ideally want your imported training content to appear in your branding. Employees and volunteers at not-for-profit organisations care passionately about their organisation and its brand. Reinforcing that brand in training can be very useful.

Unfortunately, most learning platforms cannot provide ready-made content in your branding. Imported modules will appear in the branding of the learning platform or the external company which created the training. Seek our learning platforms which incorporate built-in ‘rebranding’ of their training libraries, so that all training appears in your organisation’s branding.

Built-in training creation tools

This is a big one. In fact, of all the important features for not-for-profit learning management systems, this probably #1.

You will likely have significant training content of your own to share – processes, policies, induction, best practices, tips, documentation and more. It is critical your learning platform can do more than host ready-made training content. It simply MUST be able to create training content too.

This means genuine online learning – not just simple passive pages of text with images (basically a PDF document online). You need a platform which incorporates a built-in online training creation tool. If not, then you will be limited to the ready-made training content only. If you need to go to external training consultants to get your content customised, you need a big budget too – so that option typically doesn’t work for NFPs.

Test any potential online learning platform to see how easily it can create its training content, how guided the creation process is and how much help you will get from the platform provider in your training plans. Often, learning management systems provide no help on this issue – they exist purely to host training created elsewhere. Which is one of the reasons why you may not need – or even want – a learning management system.

Consider this feature very carefully. If you can create customised, interactive and engaging online learning within your training portal, you can significantly improve its use (and the RoI of your training budget).

Automated training management features

The chances are that you don’t have a large training team at your not-for-profit organisation. So it’s essential your learning platform is designed for easy administration. You should not need to be a learning and development expert to manage training in your online portal.

Check how many functions can be automated in any potential online learning platform:

  • Can learners be enrolled in training via spreadsheet? By links? By managers?
  • Can learners self-enrol in training? Can self-enrollment be automated by role, team or location?
  • Can learners be enabled to create training for their teams or the organisation?
  • Are due dates, enrolment notifications, reminder notifications and certificate dates automated?
  • Are completion certificates and training histories automated?
  • Can training be bundled into learning pathways (with optional or mandatory content)?

Not-for-profit pricing (no upfronts, discounted on-going)

You should expect discounts. NFPs regularly receive discounted rates, and this should apply for your learning portal too. You should have any upfront costs waived – it should be entirely free to get started. You should also expect a discount on the standard subscription rates.

Your subscription should also be based on users, with unlimited storage, topics and bandwidth. The value for your organisation is to your users, so its best to have your costs aligned with usage.

Active user pricing model

Finally, your subscription should be based on active users. This means that your costs should be determined by how many users are actively using your portal, not merely stored in it. Many learning platforms use a traditional stored user pricing model. This means you pay for each user in your portal once they are created – even if they are not logging in very often.

Stored user pricing does not align your costs with your value. An active user model only charges for users who are ‘active’ within a period (usually a calendar month). Active typically means logging into the portal.

For example, consider a not-for-profit organisation with 200 employees and volunteers. Let’s compare both models, assuming that the per-user cost is $5 per user per month for both. Let’s say that, on average, you have 50 employees log in every month to do training.

  • A stored user model would require a subscription for 200 users per month. So that would be $12,000 per year.
  • An active user model would charge you for your actual active users each month. If the average was 50 users per month (some months less, some months more), it would be $3,000 per year.

So that’s a $9,000 per annum saving to deliver the same amount of training to your 200 employees.

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