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Getting started

Site Administrator is one of the default roles in Totara. As a Site Administrator you have the highest level of permissions and capabilities. You can assign other users the role of Site Administrator, but this role cannot be deleted.

It is important to understand the difference between Site Administrators and Site Managers, as well as other roles. Typically you do not want to have many Site Administrators on your site - you should use the Site Manager role for day-to-day site management, and only use the Site Administrator role for site administration. You may even want to create a separate role containing only the permissions and capabilities you require on a day-to-day basis. This will ensure that you, or other users, do not accidentally change your site's configuration and important settings.

Let's take a look at the basics of being a Site Administrator.

Before you begin

Before you jump straight into configuring your site, you should ask yourself a few important questions. If you are setting up your Totara site for the first time, consider the following:

  • How will users access the site? Will logins be provided or do users create their own accounts?
  • Will guest access be allowed?
  • Will your site require multiple languages?
  • What format is your user data currently in?
  • How do you want to assign your learning?

Look and feel

Before your users start creating learning and enrolling Learners, it is recommended that you take the time to customise your site to match your organisation's brand. While you can do this at a later date, and you can continually update your site's appearance, it is recommended that you customise your site before adding learners. Remember, you don't want your learners to see an empty, unbranded site before you're ready for them to see it.

You can customise the look and feel of your Totara site in a number of ways. Firstly you can change your theme(s), which determine the fonts, heading styles, colours and icons on your site. You can also configure how themes are used in the theme settings.

Next you can customise your site's front page or dashboards. You can use these to present important information, such as announcements and news, and give your learners an overview of their learning. 

Finally, you can add blocks to most of your pages. These are additional items on your page layout that can be used to present information or offer useful functionality - for example displaying a calendar of upcoming events, or allowing learners to quickly return to their recently visited learning.

You can also display your site in multiple languages if required. You can install additional language packs by going to Site administration > Language > Language packs.

 Find out more about customising your site in the course on Dashboards and basic theming on the Totara Academy. 

Hierarchies and job assignments

One of the most common and efficient ways to assign learning is based on the roles your Learners fill, and the parts of your organisation in which they operate. You may want all Learners in a certain position to complete one course - for example, you want all advisors across your organisation to complete a given course, regardless of where they work. Alternatively, you may want all of your learners based in European countries to complete the learning, regardless of their role.

You will probably want to assign learning based on your users' roles and where they work. As a Site Administrator you can facilitate In order to do this effectively, you need to set up hierarchies. These allow you to map out the structure of your roles, organisations, and the relationships between them.

It's useful to consider how your hierarchies should be structured before adding users. Additionally, you can set this up in order to user HR import.

 Find out more about Hierarchies and job assignments in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy. 

HR import

Getting started with a new platform can be a daunting prospect - chances are you have a lot of data to manage. Thankfully, HR import allows you to automatically import and update your user data, position and organisation hierarchies, competencies, and more.

Instead of manually setting up your positions, organisations and users, you can import them from a CSV file or external database.

Once you have configured the appropriate settings, you can run HR import to import your data into the site.

 Find out more about HR import in the course on Creating users in Totara Learn on the Totara Academy. 

Setting up categories and courses

As a Site Administrator, you will probably want to create multiple courses on your site. These are organised into categories, which act as folders. These categories can also be used to filter content in the course catalogue. Once you have identified the appropriate category, you can start creating your courses. While you can leave the creation of courses to your site's Course Creators, as a Site Administrator you can set default course settings to save them time.

A course is a page that contains all of the activities and resources for a particular set of training, including videos, SCORM packages, forums, quizzes, seminars, and more. You can change the course settings on a course-by-course basis, and determine which activity types are available to your Course Creators.

Now it's time to create your first course. When setting up each course you need to consider the following:

  • Which category does my course belong in?
  • Which course format should I use?
  • What types of activities will I include in my course?
  • Does course completion need to be tracked?
  • Do I want to divide the course into sections?

You can configure important course settings and add a title and description when you create each course. You can also edit these settings after creating the course.

 Find out more about Courses and categories in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy. 

Programs and certifications

Once you have a library of courses on your website, you and your users may want to compile them into programs and certifications. These are structured learning pathways that require learners to complete sets of courses in order to demonstrate their understanding of the topic.


Programs are made up of multiple courses that learners need to complete in a specific time frame. You can configure programs so that learners have to complete content in a specific order, or allow them freedom to work through the learning materials as they see fit.

You can divide courses into sets, and use the AND, THEN and OR rules in between course sets to determine how they must be completed.

Additionally, you can configure programs to notify learners about any upcoming deadlines or overdue work.

Again, while your Course Creators, Site Managers, and Editing Trainers will typically create and manage programs and certifications, you are able to set default settings.


Certifications are similar to programs in that they are pathways of related learning, but are only valid for a set amount of time. A certification may have a set expiry date (e.g. 31st December) or a relative expiry date (e.g. one year after the learner was enrolled on the certification). Once this time has elapsed, learners will need to recertify. You can configure certifications to have different pathways depending on whether learners are completing them for the first time or recertifying - you may want to allow learners to recertify by completing specific topics rather than the entire pathway.

You can also set each assignment to have a set due date or a relative due date, and you can enable extension requests if required.

 Find out more about Programs and certifications in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy. 

Course catalogue

You can also configure your course catalogue to make it easy and intuitive for learners to find learning that is relevant to their training needs and interests. The course catalogue shows all of the courses, programs and certifications available to learners. Learners can narrow down the list using the filters in the left-hand column.

 Find out more about the Course catalogue in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy. 

Site policies

Now before you add any users to your site, you may want to set up site policies. You can set statements which your users will need to agree to before they can access your site. You can also add these policies in multiple languages.

User management and user data

Chances are you require an LMS because you need to provide learners with access to your learning materials.

The first step is determining who needs to have access to your site. The next step you need to take is providing your learners with access to your Totara site. Depending on how many users you have, and other requirements, you can use a range of different authentication methods, from self-registration to single sign-on.

Additionally, you may find that you want to capture information that is not included on user profiles by default. You can achieve this using user profile fields. For example, you may want to know which languages your users speak. In this case, you could add a field to user profiles allowing users to add information about any languages they speak.

Once you have added users to your site, or they have created their own accounts, you can start enrolling them on courses, programs and certifications.

 Find out more about the Creating users in Totara Learn in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy. 

User roles, permissions and capabilities

There are a range of roles available in Totara, affording different permissions and capabilities to different users. The default Totara roles are Site Administrator, Course Creator, Editing Trainer, Trainer, Staff Manager, and Learner. You can find a summary of the key differences between these roles on the Using common roles page. You can see a summary of the key differences between these roles here.

When getting started, you need to ask what your different users will need to do in the system. You may require a handful of trusted Site Administrators, as well as a number of Course Creators, Editing Trainers and Trainers who will populate your site with learning materials and run courses. Naturally, you will want the bulk of your users to be assigned to the Learner role - this will give them limited capabilities in the system, but allow them to fully participate in courses.

You may find that you want to edit the permissions of each role. For example, you may want some users to function as Course Creators, but not be able to delete courses or activities. Instead of modifying the Course Creator role, we recommend duplicating the role and removing the unwanted capabilities.

You can also assign these roles at different levels, or system contexts. For example, one of your users could be a Course Creator within one of your categories, meaning they are only able to create new courses in that category. However, they could also be assigned the Trainer role for specific courses in other categories.

 Find out more about user roles in the course on Site-level user management on the Totara Academy. 

Enrolling users

Now you have your learning materials and your learners on your site, you can start enrolling learners on courses, programs and certifications.

You can set up each course with different enrolment methods enabled depending on your requirements. For an optional course that might be of interest to learners across the organisation, you may just want to enable self enrolment. For mandatory training that needs to be completed by a specific audience, you might want to enable audience sync, meaning learners are enrolled or unenrolled on the course if they are added or removed from the selected audience. Alternatively, for courses with more sensitive or specialised content you might only want to enable manual enrolments to ensure that only the right people have access. You can use any combination of enrolment methods for each course.

Note that as a Site Administrator you are in control of which enrolment methods are available on a site-wide level. For example, if the self enrolment plugin has not been enabled at the site level, other users will not be able to select this enrolment method for any of their courses. Check which enrolment plugins are enabled to ensure that your users have access to the full range of plugins they may want to use.


In order to efficiently assign learners to content, you will probably want to set up audiences. There are two types of audiences you can use - set audiences and dynamic audiences.

With set audiences you can simply add users to an audience, then assign courses or programs to that entire group of learners.

Alternatively you can create dynamic audiences, which add and remove users from the audience based on a set of rules. For example, you could set up an audience including all learners who work in the UK and have already completed a basic first aid course. You could then use this audience to automatically enrol users meeting these criteria on an advanced first aid course. As soon as a UK-based user completes the basic first aid course, they will be enrolled on the advanced course.

With dynamic audiences, any users you add manually or via HR import will be automatically added to your audiences based on their rules.

Dynamic audiences are a powerful tool that you can use to ensure that your Learners get the learning they need with minimal human intervention.

 Find out more about Audiences in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy.


Once your users are up and running on your site, you can start using reports. As a Site Administrator you can set up a range of reports that will help you and other users to understand how people are using your site. Totara's custom report builder allows you to create custom site-wide reports using a number of data sources drawn from various features.

Totara also includes a number of useful embedded reports which can provide valuable insight into your users' learning. As a Site Administrator you can also customise Totara's embedded reports using the report builder.

 Find out more about Reports in the dedicated course on the Totara Academy.  

Totara Academy

The Totara Academy includes a program specifically tailored to the needs of Site Administrators, containing a range of courses focused on specific features and functionality. Through elearning tutorials, videos, interactive simulations and quizzes, you will develop all of the skills you need to administrate a Totara Learn site. The program should take you approximately twenty hours to complete if you complete all of the activities.

 Find all the information you need in the Site Administrator program on the Totara Academy. 

Find out more

If you're looking for specific information about how to complete a task as a Site Administrator, there are plenty of useful pages on Totara Help. Here is a selection of useful pages to get you started:

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