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Totara User Guide Part 1: Getting Started

September 23, 2019

The Complete Totara Learn User Guide
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Introduction to Totara Learn


You’ve found The Complete Totara Learn User Guide, your source for all the answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding the world’s leading open source Learning Management System designed for the world of business.

The user guide has been split into three parts for your convenience, each covering progressively more complex features, with comprehensive and easy to follow step-by-step instructions to make it as easy as possible to gain all the benefits Totara Learn LMS has to offer.

Part 1 – Getting Started, is exactly that! Unveil the truth behind the global labour crunch and how you can navigate the new workforce landscape without losing a step with the powerful benefits that Totara Learn has to offer as your Learning Management System solution.

Then we’ll dive right into the LMS basics, providing step-by-step instructions on how to:

  • Manage content, courses, activities, and enrollments
  • Establish Offline and Blended Learning programs
  • Begin matching the organization of your LMS with the hierarchies of your enterprise

On top of all that, we’ll also cover learner personalization options, introduce the wide array of customization functionality, and show you exactly how Totara Learn LMS is built to help your business train, develop, and grow.

Part 1: Getting Started with Totara Learn

A Learning Management System (LMS) For Businesses and Corporate Learning

Are you thinking about adopting a learning management system (LMS) for the first time to support your corporation’s growing training needs? Or, are you fighting your current system that you’ve outgrown to make it work for your business? Maybe you are already using Moodle and are finding that it is lacking the functionality and capabilities you desperately need for your business to train workers and stay ahead of the pack in your industry.If any of the above points hit home with your situation, THINK TOTARA.

For those already familiar with Moodle, switching to Totara Learn—“Moodle’s corporate cousin”—will be an easy transition. Totara Learn is an open source distribution of the Moodle learning management system that has evolved specifically to meet the modern needs of businesses today.

While Moodle was originally built for the educational space, companies often find that it lacks the functionality needed for their businesses. Totara Learn has stepped up to the plate to meet these needs. With over 11 million users and growing, it has become the enterprise open source LMS and social learning platform of choice used by some of the world’s leading brands including Sony, Kodak, Berlitz, Samsung and Yamaha.

Totara Learn’s Four Freedoms

Totara Learn is dedicated to providing organizations with a powerful, flexible and innovative, open source platform and is based on Four Freedoms:

1. Freedom to Innovate

You are a creator, producer, problem-solver, innovator. Open innovation is empowering. Create the platform you want, rather than being forced to compromise. Adapt to changing circumstances and future proof your investment.

2. Freedom to Save

With Totara Learn, there are no expensive licensing agreements or locked down contracts. Save up to 80% of your total cost of ownership compared to other leading enterprise-class learning platforms. Maximize your budget and invest where it really counts—on your content and learners.

3. Freedom of Choice

Totara’s global community of solution providers offers you a real choice of value-added expertise. You get all the freedom, flexibility and benefits of Totara Learn with the attentiveness and personalized service of your chosen Partner.

4. Freedom to Learn

Totara’s open and flexible platform enables you to embrace change and create engaging learning experiences. Deliver seamless on-brand learning environments, improve teamwork, manage regulatory compliance and harness social learning.

Reading for later? Take Part 1 Home with you.


Top Five Benefits of Totara Learn LMS

  1. Open source software: freedom and flexibility supported by a strong user community
  2. No licensing costs, sustained by simple, affordable subscriptions: low cost alternative to locked down contracts
  3. Accessed via a web browser: easy online and mobile access for users and learners; hosted securely in the cloud
  4. Flexible and fully featured: choose how you want to use it and integrate it with other business software
  5. Supported by a strong partner network: tap into the expertise of partners offering a wide range of value-added services and expertise)

The next sections will walk you through the most important features to get you started with Totara Learn.

Corporate Learning and Delivery

Managing Content

1. SCORM Compliance

SCORM is an acronym for Sharable Content Object Reference Model, a set of technical standards and specifications used to create eLearning courses so that they are compatible with learning management systems. If your course meets the standards and specifications of SCORM, then it is said to be ‘SCORM compliant’ and should integrate seamlessly in your LMS. In addition to this, your SCORM compliant course will communicate with your LMS so that your LMS tracks the activities of your learners.

2. LTI Support (External Tool)

The External Tool feature in Totara Learn lets you incorporate content from external providers via LTI, which stands for Learning Tools Interoperability. Using LTI external learning applications can receive data from and send data to your Totara Learn site.

You can add an External Tool directly to a course or a Site Administrator can add it at the system level, meaning that anyone can use it throughout the site. This is great for shared applications.

3. Static Content Creation (Labels)

The Label module enables text and multimedia to be inserted into the course page in between links to other resources and activities. Labels are very versatile and can help to improve the appearance of a course if used thoughtfully.

Labels can be used to:

  • split up a long list of activities with a subheading or an image
  • display an embedded sound file or video directly on the course page
  • add a short description to a course section

4. File Uploads

The file module enables a trainer to provide a file as a course resource. Where possible, the file will be displayed within the course interface, otherwise learners will be prompted to download it. The file may include supporting files, for example, an HTML page may have embedded images or Flash objects.

NOTE: Learners need to have the appropriate software on their computers in order to open the file.

  • A file may be used to:
    share presentations given in class
  • include a mini website as a course resource
  • provide draft files of certain software programs (eg. Photoshop .psd) so students can edit and submit them for assessment

5. Dragging and Dropping Files

Simply click, hold, then drag and drop a file directly onto your course page. A message will briefly appear at the top of your screen to indicate whether this action is available or not. Folders must first be compressed/zipped before dragging and dropping them.

6. Uploading Files Manually

Instead of drag and drop, you can click the link Add an activity or resource and select File from the activity chooser (or choose from the Add a resource menu, if this is present instead). Clicking on the Add button takes you to the File picker which is the name given to the file storage and access area within Totara Learn LMS.

Having an effective way of getting access to this information is imperative for managers and C-suite executives to track progress, monitor completion rates or control access. They want to be able to run reports and dashboards that show whether objectives are being met and determine the return on investment.

Most LMS systems give access to only certain datasets, but not all data. If the built-in reporting functions of your LMS isn’t sufficient for your requirements, seek out vendors who can provide a reporting and analytics solution with enhanced capabilities.

Reading for later? Take Part 1 Home with you.



1. Database Activity

The database activity is both powerful and complex and has a number of capabilities that enable you to “fine-tune” your learners’ interaction with the activity.

Database activities enable participants to create, maintain and search a collection of entries (i.e. records). The structure of the entries is defined by the instructor as a number of fields. Field types include checkbox, radio buttons, drop-down menu, text area, URL, picture and uploaded file. Database activities have many uses, such as a collaborative collection of web links, books, book reviews, journal references etc.

2. Glossary Activity

The Glossary Activity feature in Totara Learn can be used in many ways as detailed below:

  • allow participants to create and maintain a list of definitions, like a dictionary
  • learner entries can be previewed by instructors before publishing
  • entries can be searched or browsed using alphabet, category, date and author
  • a glossary of terms can be easily referenced by learners
  • almost any module of Totara Learn can be set to hyperlink automatically to any word or phrase that is stored in or added to the glossary
  • glossary items can be grouped into categories
  • participants can comment on glossary entries
  • entries can be rated using trainer defined scales

Glossaries can be:

  • fully searched
  • viewed with different display formats
  • easily exported and imported via XML

3. Lesson Activity

A lesson is an activity that uses a series of pages to present the learner with information and questions. You can create a simple lesson like a slideshow, where the learner navigates through a series of pages or a branching lesson. A branching lesson allows you to present information in a non-linear way, where the learner is presented with a series of decisions that determine their path through the lesson. The learner’s answers are scored and feedback provided.

For planning lessons in Totara Learn, check out this article about Developing Learning Plans with Totara Learn LMS.


4. Planning a Lesson

Building lessons uses content and question pages and branches. There are two basic pages that you can create:

  • A page with a set of links to other pages in the lesson.
  • Each link has two components: a jump and a description that the learner sees as a button.
  • Divides the lesson into a number of branches (or sections).
  • Each branch can contain a number of pages.
  • The end of a branch is usually marked by an End of Branch page.
  • Can also be used to hold content in a lesson as a simple page with a Continue button at the bottom of the page.
  • Pages that have a set of links to other pages in the lesson.
  • There are six question types to choose from:
    • multiple choice
    • true/false
    • short answer
    • Numerical
    • Matching
    • Essay
  • Different jumps can be created based on the learners’ answers.

Branches can be nested within each other. For example, a lesson might be structured so that specialist points are sub branches within the main subject branch.

5. Creating a Lesson

The lesson tool enables you to create a series of screens with links between them depending on the user’s answer to questions or the pathway you have defined—enabling you to use a decision-tree approach to learning.

Reading for later? Take Part 1 Home with you.

Managing Courses

1. Creating Courses

Courses contain the activities and resources that learners will access to complete their training. A course is a single page broken into sections by topics or weeks with links to the activities and resources that the learner will access.

2. Course Formats

Totara Learn provides you with a number of options for the general format of your course. You can choose to order your course chronologically by week, conceptually by topic, or socially with a big forum as the central organizing principle. The course formats options are:


The course will include one activity only without any sections. Choose the type of activity that you want to appear when the course is selected. This format is suitable for courses that have just one activity..


The social format is based on a single forum for the whole course and is useful for less formal courses or for non-training uses such as maintaining departmental sites.


When you create a course using the topics format, start by choosing the number of topics you will cover. Totara Learn creates a section for each topic. You can add content, forums, quizzes and other activities to each topic section. If your course design is concept-oriented, and learners will be working through a range of concepts but not necessarily according to a fixed schedule, this is a good choice.


With this format, you specify a course start date and the number of weeks the course is to run. Totara Learn will create a section for each week of your course and the current week is highlighted. You can add content, forums, quizzes etc. in the section for each week. If you want all your learners to work on the same materials at the same time, this is a good format to choose.

Uploading Multiple Courses

Although it is possible to manually create courses in the system, you may wish to create courses via a file upload, especially if you want to create multiple courses at once. Site administrators can do this, as well as anyone with tool/uploadcourse:uploadcourses capability which by default is the Manager and Course creator roles (when assigned at system level). Any Managers or Course creators with the right permissions will be able to create courses and will also be able to delete courses (even if they do not have the capability course:delete set to allow).

Enrolling Users

Once you have set up your course, you can enroll users in the course. Enrollment methods must be enabled at the site level to be available within Courses.

This can be done by doing the following steps:

  1. Click the Administration block within Site administration > Plugins > Enrollments > Manage enroll plugins
  2. Each course can enroll users using different enrollment methods.
  3. The enrollment methods can be hidden and have their settings changed and reordered. Being the flexible platform that it is, Totara Learn provides a large number of course enrollment methods detailed in the table below.

Course Completions

Using completion conditions allows the system to automatically report when a learner completes a course. If a learner has completed the course, or activities used to calculate the course completion, the completion options are locked. Courses with completion conditions set can be used as evidence items for competencies.

Reading for later? Take Part 1 Home with you.


Next Step

Download The Complete Totara Learn User Guide Part 2: Basic Features for a look at how to get your content online, set up your courses, organize your users, and customize your design to stay properly branded. Get the most of Totara Learn LMS!

Check out our Totara learn's product page for more information about the business world's best open source LMS!

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