Totara Learning Solutions Totara LMS is a new breed of systems hitting the space. They are ideal for the SMB space and offer a strong set of features and a lower price point than most.

They are very solid competitors who do not cut corners for the price, which is why they are of real value.

Vendors in this space include Docebo, eFront, Litmos and of course Totara.

What I Loved

  • Super slick end user interface – it is clean and crisp – refreshing
  • Ability to add widgets, move widgets/blocks
  • Learner plan on main page
  • Certificates
  • Messages viewable
  • Featured courses
  • Can add APIs
  • Great feature set for the price, real bang for the buck stuff here
  • My Learning tab – shows alerts, recent learning, upcoming events
  • Graphical progress bar – basically less text or funky icons that only the vendor knows what is – example, a recall one vendor using a floppy disk  to represent an online course

What I Liked

  • Social – solid, could be better
  • Help always visible
  • Reporting capability
  • My reports – although I’m not a big fan as a whole on this – seriously, a transcript is more than fine here
  • Four tabs – right amount

What I Disliked

  • Totara Learning Partners handle hosting (if you want it) and support
  • Charge extra for hosting – Kineo Pacific told me 6K to host, Kineo Group told me 12K to 18K to host including support
  • Seems to focus more on client side server, when space as a whole is focused more on SaaS
  • Relies too much on Moodle architecture as in 80%
  • Admin user interface is weak
  • No immediate Admin snapshot dashboard

Welcome Home

After logging into the system, the learner goes right into this wonderful dashboard.

Each of these widgets (blocks) can be hidden and changed (they offer a variety of widgets).

You can add your own widgets too.

In the center of the screen is the “Featured Course” which is not to be mistaken with “My Course Completions” although if you are not paying attention you could easily assume it to be.

Quick Courses is a listing of a few courses and honestly I really don’t see the value of this section unless it is based on my current courses and the system is recommending a few that would aid or be useful to me.

The Home page Nuts and Bolts

  • Messages – Provided by your manager or the administrator
  • Blog – This was on the trial and for a nice product like this – it should be removed for the trial.  It is sooo boring.
  • Online Users – Why as an end user would I care? Unless their is some group component here or the psuedo Facebook angle, I see no real gain. I would rather like to see some other widget.
  • Help section – I love this, but would prefer it to be placed on the other side.  Kineo told me you could move the blocks around – but as an end user you cannot.  I wish you could.
  • Quick Courses – already provided
  • My Learning – Made up of two sections, Development Plan and Bookings – You can also find this info under My Learning Tab. When I clicked Bookings it was all about instructor led training – where was the webinars?
  • Calendar – Love it here, but when you hover over the dates, shows a tiny box if an event is available. Clicking the calendar is no good, because you do not go to the full screen calendar in the system. But if you click the month “October” then it goes to the big calendar.

I recommend that the enable the ability to click anywhere on the calendar to go the event calendar big screen.

  • Featured Course – Ugh, this was rubbish. It takes you to a text information of the featured course.  What was a huge downer for me is the course completion section is so colorful and graphical and then “Featured Course” is just some text saying “Featured Course”.

Give me a graphic or a clip here. Wow me!

  • My Course Completions – Love it! I’m a huge fan of graphical progress bars. Easy to view and understand.  Every system should have some type of graphical representation.

The Tabs

My Learning

Dashboard

  • Recent Learning – Course title, progress bar
  • Alerts
  • Upcoming events – includes ability to go to “Calendar”, add a new event, event listed with date and time
  • Quick Links

I really liked this dashboard. It was easy to understand, provided graphics including icons that made sense and was a snapshot of learning.

Learning Plans

  • Active
  • Required
  • Record of learning – Within this section you can view “All”, “Active” “Completed”.

Record of Learning

  • Shows type of course, course title, Plan – can include year, course due date, progress

Remember when I said that some times vendors put funky icons to represent items? Well in the Totara LMS the streak continues.

Represents E-Learning course. What it reminds me of is a CBT course, which is not the same thing as an online course.

Represents Blended Learning. I have to admit the first time I looked at it, I had no idea on what that was supposed to be.  Then after hovering over it and seeing it listed as “blended learning”, I realized it was a blender.

Here’s the thing, not everyone has ever seen a blender or can immediately recognize that image as a blender, I know I didn’t. It’s novel and clever, but sometimes clever is too clever.

What also struck me as odd was that the system is so full of colors, but the icons are grey. It is all about being consistent and to me, it seems that they failed here.

Other parts under Record of Learning

  • Competencies – Plan, plan status, competency, priority, plan, due date, Status

In training/learning we are all about positive reinforcement and feedback, so it was strange to see under “Status” such items as “No Ability” “Not Competent”.

I know if I was a learner that would not be a motivator for me and if anything would upset me. It is the same as saying “Wrong” or “Buzz, wrong” when a learner responds to a question in the classroom.

  • Objectives

  • Programs

My Reports

The learner can view a set of reports but they can also create their own report and include format (for example Excel), Schedule and Options. While I love this clever idea, I’m torn on whether all administrators would want their learners to create their own report.

As the administrator you can turn off this functionality including the viewing of “My Reports”.

Talk about Sad

Under the courses tab, you can view the listing of courses. While that makes sense, what hurts the product is the overkill of information.

Rather than a drop down or click down under the headers of each topic, you are faced with a smorgasbord of text, in a variety of font sizes (which you can change on the admin side).

I’m not sure how much the Moodle platform is tied into this approach, but I would surmise it is a factor.

When I clicked on the “Face to Face Training” course, I saw this


Do you notice any pattern here? The box icon? What does that represent? How about a “face” or something along those lines.

Calendar

I did want to mention the Calendar because I think it is so AWESOME! Every system should offer something similar (although we want different, yes?)Administration Side

Totara follows the path of some other systems when it comes to the “Administration” side. They replicate what the learner sees, rather than having an immediate dashboard snapshot.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the replication approach. I am a huge fan of the administration dashboard snapshot, which Totara does extremely well with on the learner side.

Let’s Go Site Administration

I could go into this huge diatribe about the administration side, but in essence you really need a knowledge of technical to fully utilize it.

Its heavily built on the Moodle side of things and while you can do a variety of items in a quick and easy fashion there are still some areas that have too much tech terms for the average person to figure out.

Case in Point:

Under Authentication your options are

  • Manage Authentication – easy
  • E-mail based self-registration – easy
  • Manual accounts – easy to figure out
  • No login – easy to figure out
  • Shibboleth – good luck – how many folks even know what that is? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Custom Themes

Another example of going from easy to use to challenging, unless you have a tech skill set in HTML and Javascript, which most administrators do not have as a skill set.

I know Totara is going to say that the product is built on open source and the folks who are buying it know the technical aspects/Moodle and thus this isn’t an issue.

But believe it or not there are more people who don’t know it and they do not have an IT person just sitting around waiting for them to call. 

Big Wins

Two sweet functions that are in the Totara system are Anti-Virus in the security section and “Spam Cleaner” in the reports section.

The A/V is Clam (open source) but still solid. 

Bottom Line

Totara offers the flexibility that many companies are looking for today in the SMB space.

With the power of open source, they are able to add a lot of features and functionality that already exists in the Moodle community. Despite some hiccups this is still a good system.  

While I have a concern with their partners (I mean how well do they handle support? Are hosting costs universal? What about assistance in general?), the product as a whole is of great value.

I have no problem recommending this system and have it listed as number 25 in my top 25 learning management systems of 2012.

But until Totara realizes that end users want SaaS as the primary rather than client side, they will still be more Moodle than Totara.

And frankly, that isn’t something most vendors would want.

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