LMS vendor interview: Totara

28 janvier 2011

For the first interview of the year, I am very pleased to welcome Steve Rayson, Managing Director of Kineo. Steve is involved in the Totara project, a corporate release of Moodle which has been officially launched during the Learning Technology exhibition in London this week…

Sébastien Fraysse (SF): Could you briefly introduce Kineo and its partners, as well as their experience with Moodle?

Steve Rayson (SR): Totara is a joint venture of three companies Kineo, Catalyst and Flexible Learning. We all have a lot of experience of customizing Moodle for corporate clients and felt there was a need for a specific version for corporates.

Kineo is an e-learning solutions company with  offices in the UK, Europe, US, Israel, China and the Pacific. Kineo provides a full range of e-learning services including content development, consultancy and custom Moodle implementations. Kineo’s Moodle clients include BP, Timberland, Nikon, Tesco, PepsiCo and the BBC.

Catalyst is one of the original Moodle Partners and has one of the largest, if not the largest, open source development teams in the Moodle Community. Catalyst are based in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Catalyst Moodle clients include many large New Zealand government departments including Inland Revenue, Intel and the Open University.

Flexible Learning is an e-learning company based in New Zealand and are leaders of the Mahara e-portfolio project, used by many Moodle customers. Flexible Learning, now trades as Kineo Pacific.

Thus we have bought together a very strong alliance of partners to create and maintain a custom distribution of Moodle for the corporate sector.

SF: Why did you decide to create a corporate release of Moodle? What functions of Totara will differ from Moodle, and why?

SR: Moodle is a great platform and is already the leading learning platform used by corporates according to a survey by the E-Learning Guild in the US.

However, Moodle was designed for the Education sector and we find that we were constantly having to do custom developments for our corporate clients to address some of the limitations of Moodle as a corporate LMS.

We find in corporates:

  • They need to manage a wide range of formal and informal learning
  • That learning depends on roles and competences
  • Manager roles and the ability for managers to review and add to a person’s learning plan
  • To manage classroom courses as well as online learning
  • Site wide reporting and ability to drill down according to organisational hierarchies

Thus the type of additional functionality we have added to the Totara distribution includes:

  • A competency structure to which you can link roles and learning resources and courses
  • A management hierarchy allowing managers to review and manage their team’s learning
  • Individual development plans to manage staff performance and development
  • Full classroom management and self-service
  • Sophisticated reporting and a dashboard for management reporting
  • A global site search facility
  • Enhanced theme branding to ensure you can fully reflect any corporate brand

Moodle is a great platform and we feel there will be significant demand for a distribution designed specifically for the corporate sector as they are under pressure to deliver cost-effective learning solutions now more than ever. Totara brings open source benefits and much lower costs than proprietary alternatives.

SF: What is the business model of Totara? Do you deliver free and/or commercial releases of Totara?

SR: Totara is available on a subscription basis. In essence we will charge a small annual fee for product support and services, to enable us to fund a core team that will support, enhance and maintain Totara. We have tried to keep this as low as we can and certainly way below that of proprietary systems, thus for product support for up to 250,000 users and consultancy on set up etc., the annual subscription will be $29,950, for smaller numbers it is much less, with an entry subscription of $2,950.  The product support subscription also provides access to documentation, training materials and all updates/new releases.

Totara is a custom distribution of Moodle and we are very keen to support the core Moodle project; thus we aim to contribute back code and revenue to the core project. We are great believers in Moodle and the way it is transforming education; we just saw the need for adjustments and the new functionality we have added to make it truly an enterprise LMS option for corporate organizations.

SF: Is Totara still an open source LMS? In other words, will adopters be allowed to modify the source code?

SR: Yes, Totara will be distributed on an open source basis. Thus a subscriber can modify the source code and do custom developments.

SF: Do you directly provide all LMS related services (consulting, customization, hosting…) or do you intend to built a network of partners to deliver such services?

SR: Totara itself will focus on developing and maintaining the core product; and providing product support, the vision is that Totara Partners rather than Totara will provide the related services.  We are conscious many organizations will need support so we are establishing a global network of Totara Partners to support clients, although Subscribers will also be able to implement and host their own installations. Totara Partners will include the three founder partners Kineo, Catalyst and Flexible Learning; so we will have at a minimum Totara Partners in Europe, the US, China, the middle east and the Pacific. We are though talking to around 30 companies about being Totara partners at the moment and we are aiming to increase the Partner network over the year to make sure we have full global coverage and a choice of partners for clients.

SF: Will Totara be based on Moodle 2.0?

SR: The first release will not be Moodle 2.0, we have been working on Totara for some time and decided that the first release would not be Moodle 2.0 and that we would do a further Totara release for Moodle 2.0 later this year.

We will be providing scripts to allow Moodle users to upgrade to Totara and to new versions as they are released.

SF: Thank you very much Steve for this great interview. I invite our readers to visit the Totara website.

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