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Totara LMS, One Year On

Posted by: Arun
Category: Future learning, Industry insights, LMS Solutions, Social mobile learning
Learning management systems for employee onboarding

“Totara LMS was launched at Learning Technologies in 2011. As we come to the end of 2011 there are over 80 organisations using Totara and a community of over 30 partners globally selling, supporting and developing Totara. Clients of Totara range from some of the largest corporate organisations including Tesco, Vodafone Ireland, Michelin, Cable&Wireless, Logica and Guys and St. Thomas NHS Trust.

So how did we get here?


The Totara vision

Totara LMS was conceived on the idea that open source software, developed with an active community, could deliver real benefits to corporate organisations in the area of learning and development. Other open source learning platforms had already delivered significant benefits in the education sector and it was felt that similar benefits could be gained outside of education. The course centric structure of open source LMS and other elements which worked well in education worked less well in corporates, which led to frequent customisation to bridge the gap between what it did and what corporates want. This led in 2010 to the vision for Totara.

Totara is a simple concept. It’s a custom distribution of the open source learning platform that has been transforming education, designed and developed specifically to meet the needs of corporate clients. The aim was to build a community of partners (Webanywhere is a Totara Platinum Partner) that would contribute to the development of Totara and provide professional support services to clients. Totara would be licence free and the core team developing and supporting the product would be funded through a low cost annual support subscription based on five sizes of installation.

A simple concept, with a big vision: The aim of Totara was nothing less than to transform corporate learning by providing open source enterprise software.

We aimed to do five things differently:

  • Drive down cost through open source. Totara achieves a significantly lower cost of ownership because there are no per user proprietary licence fees.
  • Meet the needs of enterprises: Whilst an open source LMS provides a wide range of core functionality, Totara provides extensions that enable organisations to manage the complexities of their organisational structure, talent and learning requirements of specific positions, competences, learning plans, mandatory learning, compliance and also to allow managers to manage their teams including setting objectives, allocating learning and reviewing performance. Totara also has major advances in classroom booking and management, reporting, and search which bring it more in line with what you’d expect from an Enterprise LMS.
  • Make customisation easy. Totara has a great range of innovations out of the box. But customers can take it further – the ability to customise is central to the open source model, and Totara is designed to be highly flexible.
  • Deliver peace of mind with commercial support. Totara subscriptions ensure clients have the latest security releases, patch updates, fully-tested new feature releases, and error correction when required. Now, enterprises can procure the best value, fully-featured open source LMS, secure in the knowledge that it is comprehensively maintained and supported.
  • Have a different way of innovating. An open source ‘ecosystem’ exists to support the product’s development and distribution which is explained later.

So the aim of Totara was to provide an enterprise level open source platform with commercial support as an alternative to the large and expensive proprietary LMS systems. Forget per user per year licences. Forget the message that it’s got to work one way and one way only. Totara partners like Webanywhere can add services and configure it any way clients want. Forget lock-in. You can buy services and support from any Totara partner.

In short Totara aimed to turn the LMS market upside-down. Ambitious? Well, if you’re going to get in the game, you may as well be a game changer…

How does it feel (and look?):

Totara aims to provide a more learner centred experience than most LMSs – designed for the learner, not the administrator. That means taking a more web-based approach, and look and feel is a big part of that. So to answer the question, how would you like it to look? Contact us and we can show you a few Totara theme designs which show the flexibility and range of options.

HR Management, talent management or learning focus?

In recent years the needs of learning and development teams have been subsumed in large monolith enterprise software systems that include HR databases, recruitment, talent management and enterprise planning. The current vogue is for large integrated single talent management and HR systems. This is reflected in the purchase of Learn.com by Taleo, Learning Gateway by Lumesse and Plateau LMS by Success factors and then subsequently by SAP. What we are seeing in the market is larger and larger software suites for the HR function.

These developments have meant that the needs of learning teams have become less and less central to the software suite and a lower priority in terms of investment and innovation. Whilst there is a clearly a need for integration of learning and HR systems our approach has been to develop a best class learning platform which can integrate with HR systems, whether SAP, Oracle or another HR system. The core focus of Totara is delivering a first class learning experience that can play nicely with other systems.

Also the very nature of these large systems tends to negate innovation and rapid adoption of new technologies. US analyst Josh Bersin in commenting on the latest SAP acquisition of Success factors notes that all the integration effort “typically slows down innovation and takes lots and lots of intellectual energy.” Our aim is to have an ‘ecosystem’ of innovation with inputs from many groups:

Innovation from everyone: The Totara ‘ecosystem’:

Totara is not just building a product but a community ecosystem – a network of professionals that collaborate and share to improve Totara. Totara believes in communities, no one knows everything and everyone has something to contribute. The Totara community is already very active and recent contributions include a 360 module, programme management functionality and evidence management modules.

How has the market reacted?

The market has been very receptive to Totara and our belief in Totara having the potential to deliver a commercial open source product has been vindicated. Over 80 organisations have already selected Totara LMS.

Webanywhere has signed up as a Gold Totara partner as part of the partner / reseller network, and we offer a range of customisation, development and support services.

The client uptake has been a great testament to this model.

In less than a year Totara has been adopted by many leading organisations globally including:

Tesco – UK’s largest private sector employer
Vodafone Ireland – part of the global Vodafone Group
NZ Inland Revenue – New Zealand’s tax department
SNCF – French Railways
PAZ – the largest energy company in Israel
Queensland Health – state health provider in Australia
Michelin, China – the World’s largest tyre manufacturer
Logica – one of the largest business and technology service providers
Guys’ & St Thomas’ NHS Hospital – a leading UK hospital
Toll Transport – Australia’s largest logistics and transportation solution provider

Totara is not only delivering significant cost savings, it is delivering learning experiences that change behaviour and improve performance.

What are they saying? Here are just a few quotes:

“The use of open source technology in our business is a real milestone in our approach to learning.” – Tesco

“Having been using an open source LMS for the last 4 years I’m delighted we made the move to Totara – the additional functionality means we can really use our LMS to enhance our learners’ training experience and give them control over their own development paths.” – Vodafone Ireland

“One of our major concerns was cost: could we buy and implement a scalable, corporate LMS that looks good and is easy to use without breaking the bank? We didn’t have to look much further than Totara! Not only are we now in a position to effectively deliver our training in a variety of methods, but we have a great looking, customised and branded LMS.” – Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

At the Learning Technologies conference Jane Williams from Tesco will present a case study on why they chose Totara but one of the key factors was the ability to deliver a great learning experience.

The Future of Totara LMS

2012 is looking even more exciting than 2011 – if that’s possible! Totara is taking advantage of all the recent developments in open source LMS. The next Totara release in Quarter One of 2012 will include all recent LMS features, but it will also include a range of new functionality developed specifically for Totara. This will include performance appraisal and feedback features.

2012 will also see a software as a service (SaaS) version of Totara so that smaller organisations can buy and deploy Totara very quickly and easily. Totara will also take advantage of mobile features and be available on mobile devices.

Have a look at the latest version of Totara at www.totaralms.com – we think you will be impressed.

Alternatively Webanywhere has a stand at Learning Technologies so feel free to book a demo with us either before the event or come and see us at stand 14 – we’d love to see you there.