Totara: Another Interesting LMS

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?

Schoology: Challenges for the New LMS

I’ve posted before on Schoology, a Learning Management System (LMS) with social networking features. This post follows up by identifying some of the challenges facing the new LMS, and the startup behind it. I focus on Schoology as an LMS for educational clients (as opposed to enterprise clients) on the basis of its current testimonials.

The first challenge is awareness. Decision-makers, such as university information technology officers, need to be aware that there is an LMS called Schoology and that it offers social networking features. The LMS market is crowded enough that achieving awareness may not be easy.

The second challenge is articulating the importance of social media in an LMS. Students already have access to social media, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, etc. Is the LMS enhanced by including another set of social media tools?

The third is making the case that a new LMS is required in order to integrate learning management and social media. If those making the LMS purchase decision consider social media important, they are likely to communicate this to Blackboard and other incumbents. Schoology already includes social features, and hence has a head start, but the lead may not be insurmountable.

A fourth challenge relates to Schoology’s credibility. There are two aspects to this. Is Schoology, a new LMS, as well-developed in terms of features and robustness as established solutions such as Blackboard? Does it execute the basics, such as setting up courses and enrolling students, as smoothly as systems that have been used for these basics for many years at many institutions?

The other aspect of Schoology’s credibility challenge relates to Schoology, the startup, rather than to the LMS it offers. It is a fact of entrepreneurial life that many startups fail. Even startups that succeed often do so by being acquired, thus making their founders and investors money. But will the firm that did the acquiring continue to support the product, or did it make the acquisition in order to reduce competition or redeploy the talent of the acquired company? This is a concern often raised in the LMS market, especially in the light of acquisitions by Blackboard.

The above is rather unbalanced, as a list of challenges without discussion of how Schoology intends to overcome them. Rather than make this post longer by adding what I think Schoology is doing, or should do, in the light of these challenges, I’ll contact the Schoology folks to see what they have to say.

Social Learning Management Systems

What are we talking about here? Well, according to Wikipedia:

A learning management system (commonly abbreviated as LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content.

The word social seems to crop up in connection with learning a lot these days. Maybe we add it to the stock term LMS to create a couple of new alphabet soups. I think that each of the terms is significantly different from regular LMS, and from the other, that the new abbreviations may be useful.

That the two terms mean different things is important. They differ with respect to the units of learning they emphasize. A SLMS emphasizes traditional units of learning: courses. It adds a social component, which may change the way in which learners engage with the content and with each other.

A NSLMS needs to encompass the units of learning content made possible by social media. This includes, to use an example from Bingham and Conner, short videos. It is interesting to note that their primary example of an organization using short videos, TELUS, did away with its existing LMS. It is also interesting to search the index of the book for LMS (or learning management system); there is no such entry.

SLMSs do not typically address the new social learning, any more than traditional LMSs do. SLMSs are more social because they add a social layer to the system for managing learning.

NSLMS, in contrast, are “new social” because they enable management of the new social learning. This means that they recognize smaller and less formal units of learning. To mix one of Bingham and Conner’s terms with one of my own, NSLMSs recognize microsharing as a means of learning.

To state all this is to raise questions about NSLMS. Can they enable the management of microsharing without becoming cumbersome? There are more units of learning, and many more combinations of those units, when microsharing starts to provide some of the learning formerly provided by more traditional learning. (Yes, I do mean “some of,” rather than “all of.”)

Then there are the more fundamental questions about NSLMSs. Who is working on them? How much do organizations need them? Which organizations have already developed in-house NSLMSs?

Perhaps the most fundamental question of all is: do NSLMSs exist?

A Course on Schoology

Schoology is a learning management system (LMS) with social media features. My wish to kick the tires was quickly granted, in the form of the verification of my signing up as a teacher.

I created a course on Schoology. I should clarify that. Do I mean I created a course about Schoology, or that I created a course at Yes, to both. What I created is very much a first version.

You can check out Schoology and the course by going to and using access code GT24N-XBSBF. Hope to see some of you there. Since I need to approve registrations using that code, feel free to email me (andrew at changingway dot org) so that I can respond to your registration request promptly.

Totara: Another LMS Launches

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.

Schoology: A Real Learning Management System?

If you ask most students and instructors what they think of Learning Management Systems (LMS), you’re probably going to get one of two responses: “What’s a Learning Management System?” or “I really hate the system we have to use.” (Typically, there’s a company name attached.)

Blackboard is the typically-attached company/LMS name. It’s the LMS I’ve had to use as teacher and as student, and the above paragraph reflects my experience. The paragraph by Audrey Watters at RWW. It opens an post about Schoology, “a startup that seeks to address many of the pain points of the LMS.”

Schoology apparently has the look and feel of the social networking sites with which students are familiar. That sounded interesting, so I signed up. I wanted to kick the tires right away. I signed up as a teacher, and went into verification limbo. I hope to be able to get going soon. It would be possible to start learning about Schoology right now, through relatively passive means such as reading blog posts (such as the recent post on updates to the service). But, as usual, I prefer more active learning.

I’m hoping that Schoology is a real LMS, focused on learning and on the student. Blackboard always felt to me like a TMS – a teaching management system – focused as much on the teacher as on the students.

WordPress Beginner Course: Design Plan

I’ve recently been developing some WordPress training. This in partly in order to offer and deliver such training in the Washington DC/southern Maryland area – and beyond. It’s partly because I’m taking classes in Instructional Systems Design at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Here’s my Design Plan for a WordPress Beginner Course (pdf).

Instructional Design Books

Instructional Design? Some of my initial thoughts on ID (or ISD, with the S standing for System) are in an earlier post. A thought not captured in that post is that I’ll be doing some reading on ISD.

So I was interested to see a list of books for instructional designers, culled by Amit Garg from a LinkedIn discussion. I saw the list via Cammy Bean, who also linked to the reading list she posted a couple of years ago.

I note that both lists start with e-Learning and the Science of Instruction. So I’ll probably get it (after asking why each list links to the first edition, rather than to the second, which came out in 2007). It’s interesting that this book is about e-Learning, rather than about ISD more generally.

Cammy’s list also includes Non-Designer’s Design Book. I was surprised to see it on an ISD list, but I do recommend it highly. It discusses basic design principles, and applies them to flyers, business cards, web sites… almost everything except courses. But then, e-Learning tends to mean learning from a web site.

Books About WordPress (3.0)

Why books about WordPress? There is so much free stuff online about WordPress: the Codex, for example.

An advantage for online is that much of the material there is kept up to date. Books, in contrast, may suffer from bibliolescence: a term I coined to describe a book’s contents becoming obsolete. This risk is particularly acute for books about things that change rapidly or frequently, as WordPress does.

And yet, there’s something about a book: you can read it without having to boot anything up, you can flip through it, etc.

If you’re thinking about getting a book about WordPress, but are concerned about it becoming stale, now is as good a time as any to get one. WordPress 3.0 has just been released, so another major (i.e. deserving of a .0 version number) release is probably a while away.

So how many books are out now, or soon, covering WordPress 3.0? Searching Amazon shows that there are few.

One of them is the forthcoming edition of WordPress For Dummies. As author Lisa Sabin-Wilson posted recently, the 3rd edition, which includes WP 3.0, will soon be shipping. As I wrote in a previous post, the 2nd edition covers a fair amount of ground, despite its title and gentle pace. So I’m inclined to recommend the 3rd edition to those starting from scratch, or don’t mind a book that starts from scratch.

I’d be interested in news and previews and reviews of other WordPress books including the new features that came with 3.0…

Instructional Systems Design

I’ve recently started getting interested in Instructional Systems Design, often referred to as ISD, or Instructional Design. Well, I’ve been interested in, indeed doing ISD, for some time now. What I’ve been finding out about recently is ISD: the domain, with its own books, courses, gurus, etc. Here’s a definition from

The process by which instruction is improved through the analysis of learning needs and systematic development of learning materials. Instructional designers often use technology and multimedia as tools to enhance instruction.

From my software industry background, this looks like systems analysis applied to learning. And indeed, the introductory text I’m reading makes the systems analysis connection on the first page of chapter 1 (ISD From the Ground Up (2nd Ed): A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design, by local-to-me prof Chuck Hodell).

The ADDIE framework is widely used in ISD. ADDIE refers to the phases: analyze; design; develop; implement; evaluate. Again, this looks like a framework from software. ADDIE also looks like a framework from the Strategic Management courses I’ve taught in business school (e.g., analyze, formulate strategy, implement, measure).

Most of all, ADDIE looks like what I did when creating courses, particularly those I had to opportunity to create from scratch (favorite example: Blogging and Business focused elective for MBA students). It’s interesting to see the process described formally, with checklists, definitions, etc.

ISDers seem to be very active in social media. I won’t make a list of resources, at least not in this post. I will, however, thank and link to Christy Tucker. Her blog features weekly update/bookmark posts, as well a very solid backlog of more introductory posts. Christy is good enough to provide thoughtful responses to comments on these fundamental posts (e.g., What Does an Instructional Designer Do?).

Some sources (e.g., Wikipedia) note that instructional design is historically and traditionally rooted in cognitive and behavioral psychology. However, most of what I’ve seen on ISD so far looks more like systems analysis than applied psychology.

I’ve started a new category at this blog for Instructional (Systems) Design and related stuff, since I expect to be writing more about it, and it doesn’t fit neatly into any existing category. My reasons for writing about ISD include: sharing what I’m learning; deepening my own learning; and getting comments from you, dear reader.

Edit: I renamed the category to Learning. The above link reflects that.