The Learning Management System (LMS) market is a crowded one, but that isn’t deterring entry. Michael Arrington considers the launch of Canvas to be post-worthy. Its worthiness seems to stem from two aspects of Canvas: the founder, Josh Coates; and the video, which features a flamethrower.

Canvas is in some ways similar to Totara, which I covered about a month ago. The code is free/open source, and the intention is make profit from services, including hosting and support. In the case of Canvas, the for-profit organization is Instructure.

Canvas differs from Totara in that it’s for the academy, while Totara is for the enterprise. As you’ll know if you watched the video, Canvas has a very specific target. That would be (as Mike puts it) “the entrenched player in the University LMS space, Blackboard, and… its $377 million or so in revenue.”

As an entrant to the academic segment of the LMS market, Canvas resembles Schoology. So I’ll examine Canvas in terms of the challenges I identified in an earlier post about Schoology.

One set of challenges arises from the difficulty of being an entrant into a segment that includes a large gorilla, as well as other incumbents. Canvas/Instructure has certainly made a bold, aggressive, and well-funded entry.

Another set of challenges relates to that fact of student life, social media. A quick look at Canvas suggests that it provides integration with Facebook (to name a social gorilla) rather than building social networking into the Canvas LMS itself. If so, I think that’s the way to go.

I tried to start using the Canvas in the early hours of this (Tuesday) morning. I submitted a support request shortly after signing up. I’ll post again, or update this post, when I’ve received a response to my support ticket and/or signup.

Interesting LMS sounds like an oxymoron. A Learning Management System (LMS) is often a teaching administration system, used to keep track of courses, students, and class assignments. That might be necessary, but it doesn’t excite many of us.

So what might make an LMS interesting? How about social media? Schoology launched its LMS plus social net last year. I’ve posted about Schoology previously, although the most recent post identifies a set of challenges I think it will be hard for Schoology to overcome.

Now there’s Totara: “designed to meet the learning management needs of busy enterprises and to deliver the benefits of open source software.” Totara is a distribution of the free/open source LMS Moodle.

Here are some questions about Totara, most of them with answers. I hope to be able to fill in the missing answers soon. The first question may well be the most critical, in terms of providing the kind of credibility and supporting services that enterprise clients will look for in a provider.

Who is behind Totara? Kineo and Catalyst, the former specializing in e-learning and the latter in open source. That said, neither firm is a stranger to the intersection of learning and open source: each had previously worked with Moodle. Totara was founded as a joint venture between Kineo, Catalyst, and Flexible Learning Network. FLN has since become Kineo Pacific.

What’s the difference between Moodle and Totara in terms of software features? There’s a handy (PDF) comparison table. Not surprisingly, most of the differences take are extensions of Moodle for the enterprise. For example, Totara seems to allow far richer individual development plans than does Moodle 2.0.

Do I download Totara, or is it a hosted service? Up to you, the client.

So can I get started right now? It doesn’t look like it, but it shouldn’t be long (January 2011 – hey, that’s this month), and there are demo webinars and recordings thereof.

Does Totara have social networking features? Now this I’m not sure of. Moodle, and hence Totara, does have some social media features, in that it includes blogs and wikis.

Anyone care to comment on Totara and social networks, or about any other aspect of Totara?

Totora is a new open source learning management system. It’s from Kineo, and the quote is from Kineo’s Cammy Bean.

Totara is a distribution of the free/open source LMS Moodle, aimed at Kineo’s corporate clients: I’m sure that it’s aimed to attract new clients, as well as to serve current clients.

Since Moodle is under the GPL, so is Totara. That means that when you get Totara, you get its source code, and are free to modify and redistribute your modifications. (It means more than that, but that’s enough about the GPL for this post.)

I plan to try out Totara when it becomes available. It looks as though that means January 2011. The LMS I’m trying out right now is Schoology, about which I posted last week.


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