Sunday, 22 November 2015


The most prominent brand name at the WOLCE this year was Totara. The NEC was festooned with Totara sponsorship banners and their logo was on everyone’s badge. This caught my interest since I work at a Moodle-based company. Totara is a distribution of Moodle with lots of added code giving it additional features for corporate and government markets. Totara and Moodle core code have always been the same, though. When Moodle’s core version was updated, so was Totara’s. They were joined at the hip.
Not any more. Totara announced just before WOLCE that it was forking from Moodle, citing the need for deep architectural changes to facilitate innovation and the need for a major UX overhaul. The last version to fully merge core code will be 2.9, due in October. The next Totara release will be 9.0 in 2016, being the 9th release of Totara.
Here’s what Totara CEO Richard Wyles had to say about the announcement: ‘The leadership of Moodle Pty Ltd has made it clear to us that it is their intent to clone recent Totara LMS versions to offer the market ‘Moodle for Workplace.’ In contrast to the millions of dollars of investment and hundreds of thousands of lines of code that we’ve developed to create Totara LMS, cloning in itself does not add further value and does not present a sustainable strategy. Conversely, if Moodle HQ forks Totara LMS to create an ongoing Moodle variant for workplace learning, and they invest in that branch and support it, then this provides customers with more options from which to select. It is my view that the team at Totara Learning are more closely focused on the needs of corporate users, and that our partnership and support models are more aligned to successful outcomes for partners and customers alike.’
Commentators have pounced on the announcement, raising concerns about what it means for the Moodle community. It does, after all, come soon after two other major announcements: Blackboard's acquisition of Nivel Siete, which makes it a majority contributor of Moodle Partner revenue, and Remote Learner leaving the Moodle partner program. The main question is, how is Moodle’s open-source model going to fare in this more aggressively commercial environment? Is Moodle being torn apart by corporate wolves?
Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas is cool about it. Here's what he says in reply to one concerned commentator: ‘This is really not big news. Totara had already practically separated from core Moodle quite some time ago. The way their extensions are written make them impossible to merge back to Moodle core without fully rewriting them. There are a lot of core changes, making it harder for them to track us over time. They always kept their current code private (so it's not really open source in the true sense) - same with their mobile app which also forked from our older one a while back.
The Totara project has never contributed back to Moodle financially, and their code contributions back to Moodle core have been minimal for a long time. So this change in their development policy really has no effect on Moodle at all.’
It will have an effect, though, on those who develop Moodle plugins that have always worked the same with both Moodle and Totara. As the two LMSs gradually diverge, it may become necessary to develop two different versions of a plugin. This will be something of a headache for Moodle integration developers.
A happy meeting on the Course Merchant stand at WOLCE was with Mark Berthelmy, Managing Director of learning technology specialists Wyver Solutions. He has written a post about our Moodle learner management, reporting and communications software CourseCRM in which he says ‘What CourseCRM does, it does extremely well. So, if you’re looking for a way to efficiently support and track students and their courses, then you should consider CourseCRM.’
Course Merchant partner Training Orchestra also exhibited at WOLCE this year. Their high-end Training Management System for Enterprise customers could be described as CourseCRM on steroids. It’s a complete ERP system for running a training department or training company, with graphical scheduling interfaces, logistics planning, automatic paperwork generation, resource planning and much more. Training Orchestra already has 250 major corporate clients, 500,000 users worldwide and handles 1 billion euros in training budgets annually.
Such systems are fairly new and there’s nothing else quite like Training Orchestra on the market at the moment. It bridges the gap between the Student Information Systems used by large academic institutions, like Unit-E and SITS, and the fragmented range of tools often used by training companies: Excel plus a database plus a CRM, a mix which doesn’t tend to scale well within growing organisations. Training Orchestra unifies the whole process into a real-time, collaborative system that can optimise processes and increase profitability.
Training Orchestra’s stand was buzzing with interest from corporate customers and their CEO, St├ęphane Pineau, was delighted with the level of interest generated for the software.

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