Blog: Heuristic Thinking

What Kind of System? An AMS vs LMS vs CMS...

Posted on Oct 4, 2019 11:57:33 AM


Let’s assert a principle that software performs best when it performs the tasks it was designed to do. That’s not a stretch, is it? You don’t want to do calculations in PowerPoint and you don’t want to keep track of invoices in Word. So how does that principle apply to the world of credentialing management software? On the surface, it seems like there are a lot of different platforms that can meet the needs of a credentialing organization.

Let’s take a tour through the options and then apply this principle to them. First of all let’s eliminate custom software right off the bat. Why? That’s easy: why do you want to reinvent the wheel? There is software out there specifically designed to support your requirements. You wouldn’t pay someone to build you a word processor. . .why would you pay someone to build you a credentialing management system? And if that is not a clear enough illustration, ask yourself why you don’t want someone to build you a word processor: chances are you can’t afford to build a fully featured word processor, you probably don’t have the expertise to define the functionality you want, and you definitely don’t want to pay to maintain it over time.

So let’s put some scope around what a typical credentialing organization needs to do:

  • Accept applications for certification
  • Coordinate an examination process
  • Track educational activity leading to recertification

Add to that functionality you would want in any system:

  • The ability to generate reports about system data
  • A mechanism for automated communications
  • A way to handle documents
  • A way to manage financial transactions


A credentialing management system will have all of those capabilities, but so will some other prospects. Let’s consider the following alternatives:

Association Management System – designed to support a membership organization and to understand the relationships and transactions associated with each member;

Learning Management System – designed to deliver learning experiences and track activity.

Credentialing Management System – designed specifically to manage complex workflows, evaluation processes, and extensive rules sets;

With the core needs in mind, it is easy to see how one could conclude that AMSs and LMSs could do the job of a credentialing management system:

  • They have a mechanism for collecting information from a person;
  • They have mechanisms to integrate external data sources like exam administration; and
  • They have ways of tracking activity.

It is only when we go a bit deeper that the differences emerge. While they all CAN perform a credentialing function, the more important question is HOW they perform the function.

Let’s look specifically at the process of collecting applications for initial certification. Any AMS or LMS will have a way to collect information about a person. It doesn’t take too much digging to discern some profound differences:

  • The AMS has no internal sense of process – you apply for membership and you are granted membership;
  • An LMS may have a sense of process, but of internal activity – an LMS is designed to track coursework completed within the system. It isn’t designed to collect educational transcripts or employment references that might demonstrate eligibility;
  • The CMS has extensive sense of process – you need to meet minimum requirements, those requirements may be complex and may have options, and the process of reviewing applications may require extensive coordination among staff and subject matter experts;

The same principle applies to how platforms support recertification. An AMS, an LMS, and a CMS can all be set up to support recertification, but they approach the task differently:

  • Some AMSs have certification modules. These modules are typically designed to track continuing education activity that a member uses to demonstrate to an external board that they have met requirements. There is no concept of a certification cycle, distribution requirements, or limits. Similar to the issue with initial applications, there is no concept of review or audit.
  • An LMS will track continuing education, and may even have a way to define distribution requirements in the form of curricula. As with initial applications, however, they are not designed to track activity that is completed outside the system. They are also not typically designed to support extensive reviews and audits.
  • A credentialing management system will have a set of tools to illustrate program rules, track activity, and support complex review and audit processes.

A picture emerges from these examples that highlights the functional areas a credentialing management system will have relative to other systems. While they all share some characteristics, such as storing member records, handling automated communications, and tracking education activity, only the credentialing management system starts with the most important aspect of a credentialing program: its evaluation Processes.


LearningBuilder is designed to support credentialing processes, as well as the essential functions of AMSs and LMSs like automated communications and content delivery.

So how is it that AMSs and LMSs can represent that they can do all the things a credentialing management system can do? Let’s use the example of an AMS “certification module.” How do we go from a system that tracks continuing education for use by an external board to using the system to track a board’s requirements?

The answer is customization. The AMS software vendor will construct custom add-ons to the core code that reflect a program’s needs. An AMS implementor can program all of the rules governing how many units, the credential cycle length, and distribution requirements to reflect program design. Customizations occur in one of two layers: within the core database, in which implementors create special tables and application code to enforce rules; and as an external portal that serves as an intermediary between the AMS and the end user. Either way, you end up with a body of code implemented specifically for you.

The so-called “configurable” AMS that places a layer of custom code on top of a system whose concepts are radically different from a credentialing function.

So what is wrong with customizing? Well, it is pretty much the same reason you don’t want to hire a group to build you a word processor. . . Consider these examples:

When you customize an AMS or LMS, you are not really buying the AMS or LMS. You are really buying the software and the customizations. Even if the underlying functionality is great, the customizations may not (and are likely not to) be.

If you need custom programming, you need to be exceptionally precise in your definition of requirements. Programming is hard and brittle. If you make a mistake in your definition or a coder misunderstands, you may need extensive re-work to reflect your needs.

If your rules change, you need to expect that those changes will need to be re-programmed, initiating a whole new cycle of precise definition, accurate interpretation, and faithful implementation.

Finally, the customizations you paid for will need to be revisited when you want to upgrade to the next version of the software. Because you bought an entire layer of custom code, those customizations may need to be altered to reflect the new way the software works.

To summarize, you want to avoid customizing the AMS or LMS, because:

  • Their core concept is different from a credentialing concept
  • Any gaps need to be closed through customization
  • Customizations are brittle, expensive, and perishable

When considering what kind of system to purchase, consider the following line of reasoning:

  • What is your core mission? If your core mission is to manage a credentialing process, you want a credentialing management system, not an association management system or a learning management system.
  • What do I get by choosing a credentialing management system instead of an AMS? A system designed to support my mission without customization, and a team that has repeated success supporting credentialing functions.
  • What do I lose if I don’t choose an AMS? You may need to look harder for functionality that is not core to your mission, such as meeting management, publications, and subscriptions, but there may be other ways to close those gaps.

So let’s make a commitment to one another: let’s stop purchasing software designed to support someone else’s job. Let’s stop buying membership management software when we need a system to qualify people. Let’s stop twisting learning software when what we need is a way to manage credentials. Let’s find a group that knows certification and has built a system specifically to address my organization’s mission.

Imagine the possibilities!

8 Benefits of Taking Your Credentialing Program Paperless

Posted on Oct 3, 2019 1:53:42 PM


In 2019, so much of what we do is entirely online. However, many credentialing organizations continue to manage their processes manually, creating unnecessary administrative burdens. Is there a better way? Yes: LearningBuilder.

Save Time.

Credentialing can require a complex application and review process. There are often many required fields, third-party authentication, transcript submissions, and more. Compiling all of these documents can be daunting and tedious for prospective applicants, and potentially even more so for you, the reviewer!

Putting your application and review process online saves time every step of the way. Using LearningBuilder, applicants can easily view what is required of them and submit all necessary documentation in one centralized place without needing to mail or upload any additional paperwork. They can even quickly request third-party employment verification, which we will build on later.

On the flip side, LearningBuilder simplifies your review process by allowing you to view a cohesive picture of each and every candidate as you review. You have the ability to flag specific portions of the application for further review, or request clarification from the candidate themselves, and move on to the next application without losing your place. 

Make Better Use of Staff Resources.

Your staff should be doing what you do best: working to improve employment in your respective fields. You shouldn’t be spending unnecessary effort sorting through incomplete applications or responding to emails and phone calls from candidates regarding next steps.

Online applications and candidate progress tracking puts all of this behind you by giving your candidates the tools they need to guide themselves through their certification journey. They will be able to view exactly what they have completed, what is still required prior to submission, and how far along they are in the application or renewal process. Once test scores or third-party documents are received, it will automatically notify the candidate in their portal. All of this can be applied to an automatic random auditing process as well. Forget worrying about your hundreds of unread emails or confused phone calls – give your constituents a clear picture of where they are in relation to where they’d like to be.

Easily Manage Third Party Reviews.

Does your credential require third parties to verify experience or vouch for particular skills and accomplishments? LearningBuilder streamlines this by automating this process entirely. Candidates can submit a summary of their skills or experience and enter the information of the third party whose feedback is required. The system automatically sends a request for verification and can notify both the reviewer and the candidate upon completion. It’s time to put an end to the never-ending game of telephone.

Another benefit to managing your credentialing process within LearningBuilder is the opportunity to integrate with the other systems that you have in place, be it a CRM, AMS, test administrator, payment gateway, or LMS. Having your systems “talk” to one another ensures that your data is consistently updated across all platforms, and makes the journey to accreditation or certification cohesive and convenient. Have testing eligibility automatically communicated to your vendors, and score reports easily uploaded into your CMS, so your practitioners have a one-stop-shop for everything pertaining to your credential.

Online Progress Tracking

“I’ve done X, Y, and Z. What else do I need to do?”

Allowing your practitioners to easily track their progress means empowering them to work at their pace and own their achievements. This doesn’t have to end with an application progress bar. Throughout the renewal process, give candidates the ability to see exactly what is required in terms of continuing education, and how close or far they are to achieving various milestones based on your requirements.

Automated Notifications

Automating your processes makes it easy to keep in constant communication with your applicants every step of the way. Use the platform to manage your communications - whether it be deadline reminders, program information, or simple confirmation messages. Remind certificants of important upcoming dates, or prompt applicants with incomplete documentation to finish the process – all without lifting a finger.

Open the door to new possibilities

A system with more capabilities means having a program with more possibilities. LearningBuilder opens the door to the expansion of your program in ways that were not previously possible. Use a credentialing platform to offer approved continuing education directly within the candidate portal, automatically tracking and reporting attendance and collecting reviews. A CMS with an assessment engine provides even more flexibility, allowing programs to offer low-stakes practice exams or opportunities for reflective practice that help assure continuing competence.

Program Analytics

Perhaps the greatest benefit to managing your data in a CMS is the holistic overview of your program that it can provide. Where are candidates struggling? What are your opportunities for growth? Your dashboard view of program analytics gives you the toolset to make data-driven decisions that grow your program and allow you to expand your organization’s reach.


In 2019, maintaining a paper-based credentialing process has simply proven tedious and inefficient. The days of paper and PDF applications are behind us if a board’s true interest lies in advancing their profession. The administrative benefits are undeniable, and the candidate experience is vastly improved, as is their relationship with the governing board. If you haven’t already considered moving to a CMS, now is the time to begin evaluating your options.

LearningBuilder is a state-of-the-art credentialing management software that is currently leading the certification, accreditation, licensing and continuing education industries.




Using LearningBuilder to Engage Your Constituents

Posted on Oct 3, 2019 1:46:07 PM


Whether your constituency is made up of licensees, certificants, learners, or practitioners, keeping them engaged is essential to a successful credentialing program. How can LearningBuilder help you implement your communications strategies?

“I didn’t forget, you just didn’t remind me!”

Have you heard that comment from a certificant who missed a key deadline?

Life can get hectic, and it’s important to keep in constant contact regarding deadlines or application status. LearningBuilder’s automated communications features allow you to periodically remind practitioners via email or text message (coming in 2020). Harness these tools communicate key dates to candidates who have not yet completed the application process and certificants who need to recertify. By engaging your community with reminders and next steps applicants, candidates, and certificants always know where they stand in their credentialing journey. Candidates feeling confident and comfortable with deadlines and standing is key to increasing renewal rates.

Restructure long application cycle times into shorter milestones.

Reward practitioners who stay active. Consider allowing different pathways to recertification that encourage ongoing engagement throughout the certification cycle, as opposed to cramming just before the recertification date to maintain the credential.

It is not uncommon for organizations to have a 3 year, 5 year, or 8 year recertification cycle. Much can happen in the certificants world in such an extended timeframe. Consider breaking these extended timeframes into smaller segments using LearningBuilder’s ability to add milestones within the cycle. You can even reward practitioners who meet the milestone deadline with less to do over all and offer those who don’t meet the milestone with a “catch up” requirement. It can even improve Board cashflow with incremental recertification fees due at the milestone.

Alternatives to the high stakes recertification exam

There are several alternatives to a high-stakes recertification exam that Heuristics has initiated for boards using LearningBuilder. Among the most distinctive have been longitudinal assessments (as piloted and promoted by the American Board of Medical Specialties), and the Journal Article Review Recertification Pathway (JARRP - as offered by the American Board of Obesity Medicine).

Longitudinal assessments are lightweight, real-time remote assessments used as an alternative to high stakes recertification exams. Using LearningBuilder’s timed assessment feature, boards offer candidates the opportunity to complete shorter, lower-stakes exams on their own time while maintaining the same rigor and content coverage as an in-person exam. These can even be completed on mobile devices, offering exceptional flexibility to your constituents.

The American Board of Obesity Medicine also offers an alternative recertification pathway that focuses on engaging their constituents. Certificants can choose to participate in the Journal Article Review Recertification Pathway, for which they read at least twelve pre-selected journal articles every two years. Upon completion, candidates complete a short assessment on the journal article and must answer at least 75% of the questions correctly. After ten years and sixty total journal articles read, the certificant is exempt from the high-stakes recertification exam.

Increasing the frequency of engagement with your practitioners doesn’t have to be a one-way street. Providing convenient alternative pathways can reduce stress while naturally increasing engagement - a win for both parties.

How we help you engage employers

Many certifications are required or supported by the employers of the certificant. LearningBuilder makes it easy for you to engage your profession’s employers through the employer portal. Using the employer portal, employers can sponsor applications, verify work experience, and pay certification / recertification fees. Using the employer portal, your organization can offer special employer discount programs, including vouchers. Technology enabled Employer programs are an important way for organizations to promote the value of the credential to a key stakeholder group while making it easier for them to certify their staff.

Word of mouth is still the most powerful form of marketing.

Higher levels of engagement lead to increased loyalty. If you are in an industry such as nursing, your workforce has plenty of options for certification. What do you offer that similar boards may be lacking? Provide an excellent candidate experience by granting your constituents the guidance and communication that they deserve. In return, your certificants will demonstrate your credential’s high standards in the workplace and serve as powerful evangelists for your organization.

LearningBuilder is a state-of-the-art credentialing management software that can help you with automated communications and much more.

Meet in Minneapolis: CLEAR 2019!

Posted on Sep 10, 2019 4:39:57 PM

Minneapolis-skyline-20070508-2The LearningBuilder team is gearing up for the
2019 CLEAR Annual Educational Conference in Minneapolis, MN from September 18th - 21st, 2019!

Learn how easily you can define, implement, and evaluate standards using a solution tailored to your board.

LearningBuilder for Regulatory Agencies is a mobile-friendly eLicensing platform that balances the needs of all your stakeholders – the public, your licensees, and your staff. 

Visit us at booth #114 in the exhibit hall for some free Starbucks and fun swag! Interested in meeting up with a member of our team? Reach out today!


ASAE 2019: See you in Columbus!

Posted on Aug 6, 2019 4:29:23 PM

We are thrilled to be heading to Columbus, Ohio for the 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting!

Whether you're interested in technology solutions for continuing competence, or just on the lookout for free swag, booth #1912 will have something for everyone. The LearningBuilder team can't wait to meet our fellow attendees and enjoy everything that this incredible conference has to offer!

Heuristics Principal and COO, Ali Neal, will be available for one-on-one appointments at the LearningBuilder booth throughout the conference. Reach out to Ali here if you are interested in learning more about growing a credential or managing continuing education!

Safe travels - see you soon!


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