Totara Talent Experience Platform Review: Closing the Circle on Learning, Engagement & Performance Management

In our review of the new Totara Talent Experience Platform, we found an excellent, integrated LMS, LXP and performance management solution.

Totara talent experience platform

There has been a lot of interesting news coming out from Totara in recent weeks, a Talent Experience Platform and Totara Learn 13. So I was delighted to get the chance to have a demo of the latest iteration and additions to Totara.

Here at Learning Light we have long tracked Totara, and have always been impressed with the capabilities of this LMS as it evolved and found its own identity in the market. Totara has proved extremely popular – I am reliably informed there are 1800 installations and 19 million users, and Totara has always offered a solid solution to organisations looking for an LMS that is configurable and accessible.

The Totara Learn 13 LMS is a core part of the Talent Experience Platform but of course it is still available as a standalone LMS or it can be part of the wider Talent Experience Platform that seamlessly co-opts three components – Totara Learn, Totara Engage (an LXP) and Totara Perform (a performance management system) into one.

Let’s start by taking a look at what is new in Totara Learn 13…

 

Totara Learn – the LMS

Learn 13 is the latest iteration of the Totara Learn LMS that has been refined over the years to be highly adaptive and configurable. It is of course an open LMS, following the principles of Open Source software.

 

Multi-tenancy

Learn 13 has a number of very exciting new developments that alone significantly add to the capability of the Totara LMS. Learn 13 is now able to offer a very sophisticated multi-tenancy capability, where earlier iterations of Totara had some limitations.

The Totara team have worked up a very capable multi-tenancy capability that will allow sophisticated extended enterprise solutions to be offered by users to support and train their channel partners.

This solution is not just a simple clone SCORM pusher but a fully loaded Totara instance with a full suite of capabilities for the tenant user, including full branding, the creation of tailored workflows and the new Totara Learn 13 reporting suite, which is very impressive for its capability and new UI.

 

Reporting

The Learn 13 reporting suite is simply superb. Too often the back end of LMS are not given the same UI and UX treatment as the front. Here Totara has set a new standard.

Make no mistake – the level of design detail here makes reporting a pleasure, not a chore. A tiled layout of the reporting options with a graphical display of the type of report offered is easy and intuitive to use.

A quick click and a summary option allows for the next level of visibility before you run a report. The reporting presentations are top notch and interactive. In a world now full of data, this dynamic reporting really does work in delivering insight effectively to learning activity.

LMS reporting in Totara

That is not all. Reports can be run but differing users see only certain slices of the information in the report. This eliminates the need to create multiple reports and reflects the capability of Totara at configuration and set up with the “audience” approach to model the organisational users experience according to their role effectively.

I like this a lot (and to my shame this is not new to Learn 13) but it allows for a commonality of understanding to be achieved across an organisation… a line manager sees his team’s data, his boss all has the manager’s data and so it flows upwards with common and shared reporting metrics, just neatly sliced.

 

Enhanced ILT (Instructor Led Training)

The commitment to creating and then automating administrative tasks in Totara has long been a core capability, but now there have been a number of enhancements, including a significant capability in managing ILT and VILT (virtual instructor led training) with an open (agnostic) integration capability with pretty much any webinar platform – just paste the link in.

There is solid TMS (Training Management System) functionality in here and it is very easy to capture external learning events. Workflows for enrolment management as well as waitlists are all there and will meet most organisations use cases.

 

A very strong VILT (Virtual Instructor Led Training) suite

Those familiar with Totara will know of the “seminar” capability (this is all about ILT). A tutor or an instructor will just love this new capability in Learn 13 to really make the learning into virtual ILT and add some top-notch gamification features as well to drive engagement.

An integration with Open Badges is now included and is a neat feature, as endorsements are allowed for in the system.

Attendance management is well catered and can be quite granular in detail of reporting, and the ability for the tutor or instructor to rate a learner’s contribution is simple but very nice as well.

eLearning attendance management

 

Totara Mobile App

Totara is now fully mobile with an app allowing for offline learning. The app works like a dream and will be a delight for non-desk workers who can now really be part of the organisation’s learning.

Multi-disciplinary training content

 

A focus on the learner experience

Totara Learn 13 has designed-in efficiency options for organisations that will have a real impact upon the LMS administration team, allowing them to focus much more on the learner experience than the learner management.

What do we mean by this? Well there are a number of things going on that Learn 13 offers as core capability that really will enhance the learner experience.

The content management capability gives the organisation the ability to create sophisticated adaptive learning pathways and to provide course bundles.

Alerts and tasks can also be created easily, and communications to manage learners are powerful and purposeful in their execution. The learning catalogue function is also very capable and content can be tailored to very specific audiences by groups or roles.

Tagging of content for discoverability is also allowed for in Totara Learn – since V12 to be completely accurate.

So, as you can see, with much of the basic administration automated as much as possible, the team can focus on creating the optimal learning experiences in Totara using this really powerful but intuitive capability. I am especially taken with the conditional access feature that allows this automation to happen.

One very useful feature I noted in Totara V12 and have always liked since is the ability to create and manage organisational permissions and hierarchies in a rather nice mixing desk style, so I had to take another look and it is still very cool and very useful.

Organisational hierarchies in Totara

 

Totara Engage – LXP (Learning Experience Platform)

It has been interesting to watch the emergence of the LXP sector in the market, with many LMS vendors looking to bend their product towards an LXP (and many in fairness do this quite well, others just re-brand and change their messaging).

Conversely, we see LXP vendors adding LMS functionality to their platforms. Some may do this well, while others will fall into the trap of creating a corpulent and confusing product.

However, I “take my hat off” to the Totara team who have invested in creating an LXP that is both pure-play and also seamlessly encompassed within Totara Learn 13.

This is no mean feat and is much more than just an integration. I could not find a blemish on the UI or UX when using these products as one – the coherence of the learning experience is compelling.

Totara Engage can be acquired as a standalone product or as part of the Talent Experience Platform. It would be very unfair to describe Engage as a bolt on, or even as a totally integrated enhancement to Totara Learn. In reality, Engage just becomes part of Totara Learn without issue or angst. It just works.

The Totara Engage LXP offers a rich and powerful solution for learners to learn informally. I recently listened to a webinar with Craig Weiss and Charles Jennings talking around learning, and Charles highlighted the work of the much missed Jay Cross around informal learning.

I noted that Totara Engage has the interesting concept of individuals having their own “Workspaces” to curate, share and collaborate ideas and information (as well as learning), and Jay’s concept of the organisational “learnscape” is in many ways realised with Totara Engage.

Totara Engage LXP

 

The engagement quotient

There is a lot going on in this LXP as you would expect. Curation is both very capable and very easy. I was particularly taken with how easy tagging is made on this platform.

Pulse surveys can be created, Peer to Peer working facilitated, and there is a powerful marking and assessment rubric available to provide the magic (and too often missing in many corporate LMS) ingredients of feedback and recognition of employees who learn and share and engage.

Not content with adaptive learning in Totara Learn 13, the Totara Engage LXP uses machine learning to drive a recommendation engine that will only get better and better: a really solid statement of intent from Totara.

However, it is the commitment to “learning in the flow of work” that is core to Totara Engage, with links to a content library and the ability to leverage MS Teams to share links and notifications quickly and easily across the organisation.

Totara engages with content repositories such as Go1, and they can plug in quickly and easily (naturally a subscription is required).

eLearning content repositories

 

I like the strap line that Totara Engage helps engage, unite and upskill a workforce.

 

Performance Management – Totara Perform

Here we see a bit of a fork in the road, Totara Learn 12 had many of the features already that now make up Perform. Going forward updates will be in Perform only.

I had a long hard think about this approach and the concept of a Talent Experience Platform, which is a term first coined, I think, by Josh Bersin. As I see it, the Talent Experience Platform will come to play a key part in the organisation’s HR and learning technology stack as it is a coherent approach for larger organisations.

Having a defined performance management system, this clearly becomes the glue that holds together HRIS (including pure play talent management systems) and the LMS/LXP in a modern organisation’s tech stack.

So, yes, I feel Totara has made the right decision to build Perform out as a separate entity, though as we discussed, like Engage, it can assimilate seamlessly into the full Talent Experience Platform.

Totara Perform is about continuous performance improvement and let’s take a look…

Firstly, in my view performance management sounds a little ominous and too often gets over complicated. In essence it should be quite simple (but too often these types of platforms are overwhelmingly clunky and confusing) – Totara Perform is at the other end of that spectrum.

It makes performance improvement approachable and accessible, since it provides the very framework to make it an easy and everyday thing for all involved. To me this is the crucial approach if productivity is going to be improved.

Totara Perform will very easily allow for the creation of competencies and/or goals and there is a lot of flexibility in there in defining what needs to be achieved – be it skills, behaviours or knowledge.

The evidencing mechanisms range from assigning courses through to collating of evidence such as colleague of manager feedback, through to more formal performance activities such as weekly one to ones or more structured appraisals.

The beauty of Perform is its flexibility and capability to create achievement paths (which is a much nicer term) with custom scales and custom paths with strong, underpinning learning logic to help learners achieve higher and more rewarding levels of performance.

Totara as a performance management platform

 

In Summary

By itself, Totara Learn 13 is a compelling learning management system ideal for larger corporates and other organisations who require a feature-rich LMS that delivers learner engagement and learner achievement aligned to organisational requirements.

The Totara Talent Experience Platform produces another dimension to organisational learning with the addition of an excellent LXP and a performance management platform as well.

Most organisations need the underpinning capability of an LMS (in my view) along with the compelling content curation and content surfacing capability of an LXP. The addition of performance management capability effectively closes the circle in allowing for the creation of a true learning organisation to now become a digital learning-led reality.

Learn more about the excellent Totara Talent Experience Platform on their website.