In a previous blog post by our CEO, Sara Spivey, she deftly distinguishes the key differences between a typical Learning Management System (LMS) and a Continuing Education Management System (CEMS). Understanding these differences will definitely help you to select the right CEMS for your organization. However, when it comes to making that decision, I recommend your research go even deeper.


When it comes to assessing the features of a CEMS, many decision makers struggle to understand which features will truly be useful to their end-users. To make the decision process easier, I categorize features into one of two buckets; “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”.


So how do you determine which features are must-haves and which are merely nice-to-have?


To answer this question you must first establish criteria for assessment. To establish these criteria, I recommend you consider three sources that impact a feature’s categorization as either a must-have or a need-to-have:

  1. Demographics
  2. Politics
  3. Economics


Let’s consider each…


In the 10+ years InReach has been delivering Online CE for associations, we have learned how demographics influence the categorization CEMS features. Over time, your baby-boomer members will be replaced by Generation X & Y and the Millennials. As the demographics shift towards these currently younger generations, the demand for on-line CE programs will become must-have. These generations are typically technology-savvy and will be accustomed to consuming education on-line. Therefore, the must-have category includes features that enable shopping (catalog), purchasing (e-commerce and shopping cart) and participating in CE programs (interactive viewer) over the internet. The must-haves list also includes robust on-line certification capabilities in the form of participation tracking, evaluations, tests, affidavits, etc. And, to generate maximum buying activity, the CEMS must have features which help you to entice buying activity such as opt-in email marketing, bundling capability, discounting schemes, gift cards and product-to-product marketing.


Politics also have a huge influence on the requirements of a CEMS. I’ll define “politics” as a source which defines:

  • What you must do
  • What you can’t do
  • What you’re allowed to do


A great example is the mandatory requirement to provide interval testing for enduring continuing medical education (CME) programs. The CEMS must provide the ability to deliver a test to a learner between each segment/chapter of an on-line enduring CE program. If the CEMS lacks this feature, CME credits will not be given. Another, less obvious but equally important feature is the ability to calculate tax on shipping and handling. Many states are required to tax the shipping and handling of products. A CEMS must support this if an organization is to launch an on-line CE program. I recommend research on what is mandatory in your state/jurisdiction. Mandatory features are obviously must-haves.


Economics is often ignored when selecting the right CEMS. When you deliver an in-person event, you are limited to the capacity of the room in which the event is held. This caps the economic return on the investment to deliver this in-person event. A CEMS must be able to “break down the room barriers” and broadcast the event over the internet in the form of a webcast, webinar or audiocast. Moreover, the CEMS should support the capturing and replay of this event so that members who could not attend the live event can still buy the replay or on-demand program. Finally, to gain the greatest return on your investment, a CEMS should enable you to share your programs with other like organizations. By sharing your programs with other organizations, you gain access to participants/buyers outside of your market. You can see that for the same cost for delivering the event, you can drastically increase your return through the must-have features of the CEMS.


Clearly, I’ve focused on only a few must-have features. There are many more features in the must-have category. The right CEMS should come from a vendor who understands how demographics, politics and economics impact the feature drift from mere “nice-to-have” to “must-have”. Be sure you know the difference. It’s easy to be seduced by the nice-to-have features. Remember, if a CEMS lacks the must-have features, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to launch and maintain a successful on-line CE program.