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Decentralising the course creation process

This is a guest post from Catalyst's Business Development Manager, Joey Murison.

"How can we give our subject matter experts and our partner organisations the ability to design and publish courses on our Totara LMS?"

We at Catalyst are excited when our clients bring us innovative and challenging ideas seeking effective solutions. That’s why when one of our clients came knocking at our door to ask how they could decentralise the course creation process, we knew it was a challenge with our name all over it.

The challenges of decentralising course creation

Some initial thoughts were quickly proven unsuitable. For instance, if we just enabled all users to have course creator privileges, how do you ensure the consistency in the course design? Alternatively, if you have many course publishers, in many different locations globally, using many different languages, how do you ensure that the course content, the course catalogue and the subject matter are fit for purpose? Finally, if many people are creating and publishing courses, how do you ensure that there is no replication or double up? These challenges are usually the everyday focus of an LMS administration team, and while this does exist in our client’s case, they are by no means the subject matter experts, and it's these experts who have the great knowledge that our client wishes to share.

Introducing the course creation wizard

We solved this problem for our clients by developing and implementing a 'publishing workflow' that enables all content creators (subject matter experts) to use a wizard-style approach to course creation in Totara LMS. Each stage of the wizard focuses on a separate stage of the course creation process and ensures that the mandatory elements required to build the course, the course information page and the catalogue presence are always applied correctly and consistently.

The publishing workflow wizard begins by asking the content creator which type of course/activity they wish to publish. It was agreed with our client that the following course types would be the most commonly used, and these are presented in an attractive interface with clear icons:

  • Audio file or soundbite
  • External link
  • Event or classroom-based session
  • Embedded HTML content such as a YouTube video
  • Document
  • SCORM package
  • Skillsoft off-the-shelf training package
  • Video

As the content creator progresses through each stage of the publishing workflow, they are able to add the data and content required to create the course.

Upon completion of the publishing workflow, the course is published to the course catalogue. In the case of the LMS presented here, this includes significant improvements to the course catalogue design, the inbuilt search engine and the use of tags and filters to categorise courses. The publishing workflow is also the primary way to ensure that all of the categorisation and search metadata is correctly applied in the process of publishing a course. An optional feature exists within the publishing workflow plugin which enables the client to enforce an approvals stage at the end of the publishing workflow process. To date, this has not been activated, as the platform is still growing its user base, and similarly its cohort of approved content creators.

The success of the publishing workflow is obvious when we look at the number of courses created since the site went live only a short time ago. Content has been created and published by creators based in multiple countries worldwide, in a range of languages, and in every case the required levels of quality and consistency have been maintained.

What's next?

A future development that is being considered is the addition of a course creator training course that a subject matter expert might complete to train in the use of the publishing workflow. Currently this training is completed via a brief phone call or webinar with the central LMS administration team. The key deliverable will be the ability to apply course creator privileges to the subject matter expert automatically upon completion of the training exercise.

Catalyst's publishing workflow is just one of a handful of innovative and exciting Totara LMS customisations that have been delivered collectively on behalf of this client and others. Further innovative developments include:

  • Our offline player
  • Our Content Delivery Network enabling consistent delivery globally
  • Our course catalogue design
  • Implementation of SOLR open source search
  • Improvements to the Totara LMS Learning Plans

If you’re interested in any of the above developments, be sure to contact Catalyst to find out more.


In association with

Catalyst IT

Catalyst IT specialises in free and open source technologies and services, and is one of the founders of Totara Learning Solutions. Since 2010 our e-learning teams in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom have built up a local and international reputation for high volume, high-availability Totara hosting and support on dedicated, highly secure environments featuring state-of-the-art monitoring and performance. Our in-depth product know-how and extensive LMS project experience make Catalyst the ideal technology partner for implementing, hosting and maintaining complex Totara instances. When required we can develop additional functionality, branded theme designs and integrations with external systems. We understand that by working collaboratively with our clients we can maintain our global reputation for delivering quality tailored solutions and help you make the most of your Totara installation. 

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