Moodle v TotaraLMS

Moodle v Totara

We have been working with Moodle installs for some time on behalf of clients and only recently have we finally had the long awaited opportunity to try out TotaraLMS (

Totara is based on the Moodle framework and is open-source, however you will be hard pressed getting a copy and getting it working without spending many tens of thousands of dollars – either via purchasing the annual support subscription from Totara and then having specialist assistance to install it.

I have seen quotes around the $15K mark just to install it. Hosting and other services are on top and one client ended up with a quote around $ 60K in year 1. Of course, in year 2 the only cost is hosting and the optional Totara support subscription.

I was asked to provide advice on Totara so to do that I attempted to setup Totara on one of our servers so I could offer my opinion from at least having some hands-on experience with it.

Firstly I did all this without professional Totara or Totara Partner support. By going at it alone, I quickly came across two primary obstacles. Firstly, trying to get a copy of the code to install. Ultimately I found an instance of their 2.5 version forked on GITHUB which I promptly downloaded. I also found a free download of Totara’s latest test/beta version called Seedlings. I might add – I think its great Totara make this available for developers to test, try and contribute to etc. The next big challenge was getting documentation. The Totara site has a help system – but its more designed for end-users and limited on install/tech information. It is fair to say, if you don’t have a Moodle or technical expert working with you – you will struggle! In my opinion, the scarcity of documentation and help around is all deliberately designed to support the Partner channels – which I get, but being open-source, must admit – I expected more from them…

In the end, it installed with minimal fuss. I installed both 2.5 and the 2.6 Seedlings versions. I installed 2.5 as a Moodle upgrade (from Moodle 2.6.2) and had issues (in fact, didn’t persevere). The fresh install of 2.6 went without a hitch.

My initial thought is somewhat – impressed! I liked it instantly. Whilst the Administration side is 99% Moodle look and feel and functionality, the user/manager side is awesome. Out of the box it includes cool features like learning plans, my team (hierarchy type functionality), cool reporting mechanisms and great non elearning components. I liked the RPL/Proof ef evidence features. This would certainly serve well in the corporate community.

My client was wanting to have multiple organisations setup within the LMS and wanted a skin (theme) tailored for each organisational level login. I set about researching this and found that you cannot do this with the default Totara, however on the Totara Partners had indeed created such a plugin and theme. Great – I emailed asking for information and cost – 3 days later I am writing this blog and still no response. I therefore worry that not only are Totara partners very expensive, but what level of support will my clients receive?

The latest Totara themes are responsive (means it will adapt to your users’ mobile devices) and is nice and clean. On the whole – I like the simplicity and cleanliness of the included themes. I would like to get a much more functional home page though and once again – there is VERY little to find googling Totara themes – other than being directed to partner sites. I found a UK partner who at least advertises theme prices which ranges from 999 to 4500 Pounds – yep – expensive for open-source yet again (compared to your typical $ 90 Moodle theme equivalent) – but the Totara can certainly be customised to look quite good.

I will add some more information in coming weeks as I try to stretch the Totara LMS to its limits trying to configure and utilise every feature possible.

If anyone reading this article is in the market for either Moodle or Totara LMS – please speak with James Fordham who can either provide the full service for typical LMS environments, or point you in the right direction if your requirements are complex.

Bottom line – Whilst I think Totara has a lot of offer, Moodle is just quicker, cheaper and simpler to establish, get up and running and use.

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