Non-credit programs are a growing trend in higher education. Such programs usually target working professionals, and offer individual courses or programs as "continuing", "professional" or "executive" education. The participants are usually awarded micro-credentials, such as badges or micro-certificates, rather than "certificates" or "diplomas", which are reserved for credit bearing curricula.
Because the intended audience is unlikely to have institutional accounts, existing LMS systems are often not a good fit for these programs. In a nutshell, a non-credit program might need:
- A learning management system to develop, organize and present content
- An e-commerce solution to sell content
- A payment gateway
- A platform for managing digital badges or certificates
- A wide range of reports on sales, participation, completion, etc.
When considering a platform, there are a few questions to consider and what the priorities are:
- Is there an existing public facing website? Are there any specific institutional or other requirements regarding hosting?
- What will the courses look like? Are they self-paced or is there interaction between the instructor and the course participants? Are participants expected to submit their work for grading?
- What type of reporting is required?
- What payment gateways are available?
- What is the total start-up budget?
At a high level, systems can be thought of as student-centered, corporate and entrepreneurial.
Entrepreneurial platforms, such as Thinkific, Teachable, and Kajabi,are designed to quickly and easily create and market courses. These have options for developing a front-facing website (some do this better than others) and course landing pages. They also have built-in e-commerce solutions (integration with Stripe or Paypal is usually required) and are relatively inexpensive. The choice is nuanced and will really depend on the needs assessment. For programs that already have front facing WordPress websites, there are also LMS and e-commerce plug-ins that can be implemented quickly, such as LearnDash and LifterLMS. However, these have significant limitations in terms of functionality and reporting.
LMS that are designed for corporate training, such as SAP Litmos, Docebo, Absorb, Paradiso, etc., generally do not offer many options for interaction or assessments, and are more focused on gamification (e.g. badges for completing automated assessments) and reporting. They may or may not have a built-in e-commerce, though many will integrate with 3d party products. They are generally much more expensive to implement, though some LMS vendors offer a pricing structure that can be scaled up or down based on the number of users.
Although entrepreneurial and corporate LMS systems can be a good fit for executive and professional education programs (depending on needs), none are designed for evaluating student work and are severely lacking in such functionality when compared to any of the top learning management systems used in higher education, such as Canvas, Brightspace D2L, Blackboard and Moodle. If the courses are closer to the academic style than the corporate style, the following solutions may be a better fit.
Moodle has been used in higher education for some time now and is a powerful and highly customizable, though not the most user friendly system. However, Moodle allows extensions that may be attractive to executive and professional education programs. The two products we have reviewed so far are Moodle Workplace and Virtual Slate. Unlike Moodle, which is open source, Moodle Workplace is only available through Moodle partners, such as Moonami (US) and Edunao (Canada). Virtual Slate is available through another Canadian Moodle partner - Lingel Learning. Both require an integration with a separate e-commerce products that are priced separately. Virtual Slate only works with Stripe.
D2L also offers a framework that extends functionality and integrations with an e-commerce solution (Course Merchant), and digital certificates and badges.
ATTECS offers consulting services for all aspects of executive and professional education - needs assessment, system evaluation and implementation, program and course development, and evaluation. For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.