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A lesson is an activity that uses a series of pages to present the learner with information and questions. You can create a simple lesson like a slideshow, where the learner navigates through a series of pages, or a branching lesson. A branching lesson allows you to present information in a non-linear way, where the learner is presented with a series of decisions that determine their path through the lesson.

The lesson activity allows learners answers to be scored and feedback to be given. Question types include:

  • Multiple choice.
  • Multi-answer.
  • True/False.
  • Numeric.
  • Short answer.
  • Essay.

What are Content pages and branches?

Content pages are pages that have a set of links to other pages in the lesson; each link in a Content page has two components, a jump and a description that the learner sees as a button. A Content page can effectively divide the lesson into a number of branches (or sections). Each branch can contain a number of pages. The end of a branch is usually marked by an End of Branch page.

Branches can be nested within each other. For example, a lesson might be structured so that specialist points are sub branches within the main subject branch. Working on sub branches can get complicated without a plan.

Content pages can also be used to hold content in a lesson as a simple page with a Continue button at the bottom of the page.

Planning a lesson

It is a good idea to plan your branched lesson out on paper before you try creating it in Totara. There are three basic pages that you can create:

  • Question pages: With six question types to choose from; multiple choice, true/false, short answer, numerical, matching, and essay. You can create different jumps based on the answer given.
  • Content pages: A page with a set of links to other pages in the lesson.
  • Simple page:  A Content page without the set of links. By default a continue button will appear, with a jump to the next page.

Creating a Lesson

The lesson tool enables you to create a series of screens with links between them depending on the user's answer to questions or the pathway you have defined. In other words, the lesson tool could be used for a decision-tree approach to learning. Since the user's pathway through the lesson activity could be quite complex, it is important to plan your lesson. We suggest you take a few minutes to draw a flowchart for your lesson, outlining which screens need to be created.

Consider the following; What will the first page display? What are the options? Where will the options take the learner? It’s important to answer these questions for each page of the lesson to avoid getting lost while you are actually creating the content.

To create a lesson:

  1. Click Turn editing on.
  2. Select Lesson from the Add an activity... dropdown menu.
  3. On the Adding a new lesson page enter the lesson name, this is the name that appears on the course page for the learners.
  4. Customise the available settings, as required, see Lesson Settings to learn more.
  5. Click Save and display to take you to the next step where you set up the lesson screens and navigation (or Save and return to course page to finish editing).

How to add pages to your lesson

Once your lesson activity is set up you can add the lesson content.  You will see a screen what would you like to do first? You are presented with a series of options: Import questions, Add a Content page, or Add a question page. All of these options are explored below. 

Import questions

You can import questions from a variety of formats. The lesson module will create a page for each question you import.

Add a Content page

A Content page is a lesson page without responses to learner selections. Instead, each selection option branches to another page. Content pages do not impact a learner’s grade. A lesson may start with a Content page that acts as a table of contents.

Add a question page

A question page consists of a title, some content, and a question at the bottom of the page. When a learner answers a question, they see the response for their answer and a Continue button. The Continue button takes the learner to the appropriate branch page.

Creating a question page

  1. To add a question page click the Add a page... dropdown select and click Question.
  2. Select the type of question you want to create.
  3. Fill in the question details for page title, page contents, answers, and responses.
  4. Add the Jumps (the page the learner will move to when the option is selected). 

    Don’t worry too much about the jumps - we recommend you go back and define the pathway once all your pages have been created.
  5.  Add the Score; 1 denotes a right answer 0 denotes a wrong answer.

Creating a Content page

  1. To add a Content page click Add a page... dropdown select and click Content page.
  2. Complete the Page Title and Page Contents.
  3. Add your Descriptions (text appears in a button) and Jumps (where the button will take the learner).

    If you add no description or jump information a Continue button will appear at the bottom of the Content page that will jump to the next page.
  4.  Add the Jump.

Lesson Settings

There are a large number of settings available for the lesson activity. These settings can be edited after the lesson is created.

Required fields are marked with an asterisk (* ).


Name: This is the name of the Lesson activity the learner will see on the course page.

Time limit (minutes): This puts a time limit on the lesson. The timer will not evict the student from the lesson when the time is up, however, a question answered after the time limit is not counted.

Maximum number of answers/branches: This value determines the maximum number of answers the trainer can use. The default setting is four.

Grade options

Practice lesson: A practice lesson will not show up in the grade book.

Custom Scoring: This will allow you to put a numerical point value on each answer. Answers may have negative or positive values.

Maximum grade: This value determines the maximum grade which can be awarded in a lesson.

Student can re-take: This determines whether the learners can take the lesson more than once, or once only.

Handling of re-takes: When learners are allowed to re-take the lesson this determines how the grade is calculated, as either a mean or best tries.

Display ongoing score: When this setting is turned on, each page will display the learner’s current points earned.

Flow control options

Allow student to review: When set to yes this will allow learners to navigate back through the lesson and change their answers.

Display review button: This will display a button after an incorrectly answered question, allowing the student to re-attempt the question. (This is not compatible with essay questions).

Maximum number of attempts: This value determines the maximum number of attempts a learner has in answering any question. The default value is five.

Action after correct answer: Determines the lesson setting for what to do when a correct answer is given by the learner.

Display default feedback: When set to yes when a response is not found for a particular question, the default response of 'That’s the correct answer' and 'That’s the wrong answer' will be used.

Minimum number of questions: This value sets a lower limit on the number of questions seen when a grade is calculated. It does not force learners to answer that many questions.

Number of pages (cards) to show: This parameter is only used in Flash Card type lessons. The default value is zero which means that all the pages/cards are shown in a lesson.

Lesson formatting options

Slide Show: When set to yes, this enables the display of the lesson to be as a slide show.

Slide show: Width/slide show height: Type the number of pixels wide/high the slides will be.

Slide show background colour: The six letter code for the background colour of the slides.

Display left menu: When set to yes this shows a list of the pages/Content pages.

Display left menu only if grade greater than: By setting this field to a value greater than zero the trainer can force students to go through the entire lesson and be awarded a grade. When the learner retakes the lesson after meeting the required grade they will be able to see the navigation menu.

Progress Bar: When set to yes the progress bar will display how far through the lesson the learner is. The progress bar is most effective in a linear lesson.

Access Control

Password protected lesson: The learners will require a password to access the lesson.

Password: Allows you to set the lesson password.

Available from/Deadline: Allows the trainer to set the date the lesson will be available for.

Time limit: This allows you to set a time limit on the lesson which can now be seconds, minutes, hours, days or weeks. Learners will see a countdown counter in a block as they work.

Restrict access: See Restrict Access for more details; this feature is only visible if Conditional activities have been enabled in the site and the course.

Activity completion: See Activity Completion for more details, in addition to the standard activity completion conditions, the Lesson also has Require end reached and Require time spent criteria.

Dependent On

The Dependent on setting allows a lesson to be dependent on the learners' performance in another lesson in the same course.

Conditions of the dependency include;

  • Time spent: The learner must spend this set amount of time in the required lesson.
  • Completed: The learner must complete the required lesson.
  • Grade better than: The learner must earn a grade in the required lesson that is greater than the one specified.

Pop-up to file or web page

Pop-up to file or web page: This will create a pop-up window at the beginning of a lesson to a file or webpage. Click Choose or upload a file... to add.

Show close button: Will display a close window button on the pop-up window.

Window height/width: Type the number of pixels wide/high the pop-up window will be.


Link to an activity: Allows the trainer to include a link to any activity in the course at the end of the lesson.

Number of high scores displayed: Type a number to limit how many of the top scores are displayed.

Use this lesson’s settings as defaults: Set to yes before the lesson is saved and the settings for this lesson will be the default settings for the next lesson.

User and group overrides: When a lesson has been created, it is possible to override certain settings for individuals and groups. The settings for this are located in the Lesson administration block:

Common module settings

See Common Module Settings to learn more.

Activity completion

See Activity Completion to learn more.

Restrict access

See Restrict Access to learn more.

Grading Essay Questions

Essay questions require manual grading (a person must grade this) with an optional comment.

To grade an essay question:

  1. Click the Grade essays tab at the top of the lesson page.
  2. Click the essay link in the middle column of the page.
  3. Give the essay a score and add some comments.
  4. Click the Save changes button.
  5. When you have finished grading essays, click the Email ALL graded essays link to notify your learners.

As learners complete the lesson, their scores are recorded in the gradebook. If you’ve allowed learners to attempt a lesson multiple times, their scores may change as they repeat the lesson.

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