The continuing education (CE) market is sweet. By some estimates, CE represents $47 billion of total formal training spending in the United States alone. So, it’s no surprise the CE market is attracting a broad spectrum of providers. Associations, for-profit commercial training companies, academic institutions and subject matter experts everywhere are competing for a slice of today’s lucrative CE pie.

With all this competition, you need more than good content to succeed with CE programs. It also requires the ideal mix of technologies. From my perspective as a learning tech analyst, it includes at least a baker’s dozen of essentials, and today’s post will share my first five.

Ingredients for your LMS recipe. So, what exactly should you bake into your continuing education infrastructure? In most learning technology circles, the following list of ingredients you will find in a good learning management system (LMS) is considered secret. However, an informed buyer is a successful buyer. If you combine each of these key elements in a way to suit your taste, I’m confident you can find your perfect CE LMS solution.

User Interface: As with any modern digital business environment, CE success begins and ends with user experience design. It’s fruitless to try selling content to voluntary learners if your interface looks, feels and works like an Excel spreadsheet—or worse. Instead, demand that customer-facing functions have the same seamless visual appeal, logic flow and mobile capacity of mainstream content providers, such as YouTube, Netflix and Amazon. Anything less may not convince learners to invest their time and money with you.

Individual Ecommerce: Discounts, coupons and promotional pricing can dramatically improve your sales, especially when those capabilities are tightly integrated with shopping cart and checkout capabilities. Also, look for the ability to provide free content with payment gates and free trials with timed content access prior to purchase. These features can make the difference between a fly-by prospect and a customer conversion.

Organization Ecommerce: In the context of CE, ecommerce is much more than a single LMS feature. Serving organizations with many learners is a great way to exponentially expand CE content sales. Strong CE solutions support the process of buying in bulk within the LMS and automate processes for identifying and uploading learners, assigning content to learners, notifying them, and providing them with easy access to content. Also, on the back end, look for a solution which provides administrator-level dashboards, notifications and status reports.

Social Learning: More than threaded discussions, social learning now includes real-time activities within a course, class or any content item, as well as broader social interaction at the LMS platform level. Intra-class social activities include working in groups, submitting assignments, peer and instructor evaluation, interactions and grading. Platforms should support for multiple social activities, including following learners, identifying experts and mentors, subscribing to user content channels, and liking/sharing/commenting on content.

Gamification: Where social learning stops, gamification begins—again, at both the content and LMS platform level. Intra-content gaming capabilities should include the ability to author content with learning games like flashcards, matching or at the highest level where leaners compete against each other within content, based on cumulative points, questions answered, time-to-completion or highest grades. At the platform level, gamification should include leaderboards and contests that award content, cash or other prizes. Also, Open Badges integration is a way for learners to display their credits and achievements in a universally portable format.

Everyone knows a good recipe takes practice and patience. Be sure to read part 2 for the remaining essentials to LMS success.