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A great way of maintaining the social aspect of learning is to set up activities which require staff to collaborate and talk online. The forum module is an activity where learners and trainers can exchange ideas by posting comments. Forum posts can also be graded by the trainer or other learners.

(This video is taken from the Social tools course in the Totara Academy). 

Creating a forum

To add a forum to your course page follow these steps:

  1. Click Turn editing on.
  2. Select Forum from the Add an activity/ resource menu.
  3. Enter a forum name, this appears on the course page for learners.
  4. Select the forum type you want to use.
  5. Write a descriptive forum introduction.
  6. Customise the available settings.
  7. Click Save and display (or Save and return to course).

Forum settings 

Forum nameThe name of the forum. -
DescriptionA description of the forum, could include guidelines or instructions for usage. -
Display description on course pageTick to display the description on the course page. -
Forum type

Choose from:

  • A single simple discussion: A single topic, all on one page. Useful for short, focused discussions.
  • Each person posts one discussion: Each person can post exactly one new discussion topic (to which everyone can respond). This is useful when you want each learner to start a discussion about, say, their reflections on the week's topic, and everyone else responds to these.

  • Q & A Forum: The Question & Answer forum requires learners to post their perspectives before viewing other learners' postings. After the initial posting, learners can view and respond to those of others. This feature allows equal initial posting opportunity among all learners.

  • Standard forum displayed in a blog-like format:  An open forum where anyone can start a new discussion at any time, and in which the first post of discussion topics are displayed on one page with Discuss this topic links
  • Standard forum for general use: An open forum where anyone can start a new topic at any time. This is the best general purpose forum.
Maximum attachment size

When learners attach files to their posts, you’ll want to limit the maximum size of their posts so you don’t use up all your server space. This is especially important if you are paying a commercial hosting company for your Totara site.

Maximum number of attachments

This setting specifies the maximum number of files that can be attached to a forum post.

Display word count

This setting specifies whether the word count of each post should be displayed or not.

Subscription mode

Subscriptions to forums provide notifications to the users of new posts to the subscribed forum or forum topic. The notifications will be delivered depending on the users messaging preferences.

It is possible for  the trainer to choose whether a  subscription forum is optional or not.

The four subscription mode options are:

  • Optional subscription: Users can choose whether to be subscribed.
  • Forced subscription: Every member of the forum is subscribed and cannot unsubscribe.
  • Auto subscription: Every member of the forum is subscribed initially but can choose to unsubscribe at any time.
  • Subscription disabled: Subscriptions are not allowed for learners, although trainers can still subscribe.

The subscription mode and subscribe or unsubscribe links appear in Navigation > Forum administration when viewing the forum. Trainers can quickly change the mode via the Subscription mode options and view the current subscribers via the Show/edit current subscribers link.

Changing the subscription settings will only affect users who enrol to the course after the change is made it will not back-port and subscribe or unsubscribe existing course members.

Read tracking

Read tracking for a forum allows users to track both read and unread forum posts to make it easier to catch up with recent posts.

There are three options for this setting:

  • Optional: Learners  can Track / Don't track unread posts in Administration > Forum administration, or via their profile Forum Tracking option.
  • Off: It is not possible to track unread forum posts.
  • Forced: Tracking is always on in this forum, regardless of user preference or setting. No link in is present in Administration > Forum administration. This setting is only available when the Allow forced read tracking administrative setting is enabled.
Time period for blocking

Allows you to block learners posting after a given number of posts in a given period, after a certain number of posts learners can be warned that they are close to the limit. This settings is the period in days that the post will be counted.

Does not affect the trainer posting.
Post threshold for blocking

Sets the threshold for blocking. Setting  block threshold to 0 disables blocking. 

Does not affect the trainer posting.
Post threshold for warningSets the threshold for warnings. Setting the warning threshold to 0 prevents learners being warned that they are near the limit.Does not affect the trainer posting.
Grade categoryThis setting controls the category in which this activity's grades are placed in the gradebook.-
Grade to pass

This setting determines the minimum grade required to pass. The value is used in activity and course completion, as well as in the gradebook, where pass grades are highlighted in green and fail grades in red.

Aggregate type

A score in the grade book for the learner’s submissions in the forum. The grade is set using the dropdown menu below this option.

The aggregate type defines how ratings are combined to form the final grade in the gradebook.

  • Average of ratings: The mean of all ratings.
  • Count of ratings: The number of rated items becomes the final grade. Note that the total cannot exceed the maximum grade for the activity.
  • Maximum: The highest rating becomes the final grade.
  • Minimum: The smallest rating becomes the final grade.
  • Sum: All ratings are added together. Note that the total cannot exceed the maximum grade for the activity.
If No ratings is selected, then the activity will not appear in the gradebook.

Select the type of grading used for this activity. If scale is chosen, you can then choose the scale from the scale dropdown. If point is chosen, you can then enter the maximum grade available for this activity.

Restrict ratings to items with dates in this range


Common module settingsSee Common Module Settings to learn more.-
Activity completionSee Activity Completion to learn more.-
Restrict accessSee Restrict Access to learn more.-
TagsSee Tags to learn more. -

Searching forums

All of the forums within a course are searchable and browsable. Performing a forum search can find useful information easily. All forums within the course are searched simultaneously.

The Search Forums block can be added to your course page and enables you to quickly search for a particular word within a forum post.

For advanced searching, press the search button without typing anything in the words field, you will see a complete form that makes it easier to do advanced searches.

An advanced search enables you to refine your search in any/all of the following ways:

  • These words can appear anywhere in the post: One or more words you type in here will be found in all the places in the post they appear.
  • This exact phrase must appear in the post: The phrase you enter must appear exactly as you enter it.
  • These words should not be included: Identifying words you don’t want can help narrow down the resulting list of messages.
  • These words should appear as whole words: The search engine will return posts that contain your words as part of a larger word. For example, if searching for “cat”, posts with the word “catalog” will be returned. Selecting whole words will look for a space before and after the words you have entered.
  • Posts must be newer/older than this: This narrows down the number of posts according to time limits.
  • Choose which forums to search: This enables searching within one forum only.
  • These words should be in the subject: If you know the subject line of the posts you want, you can limit your searches by the subject line.
  • This name should match the author: If you only want posts from certain authors, enter their names here.

Forum posting

The default content of Subject is usually 'Re: <the name of the parent post>'. You can change it though.

When writing text in Totara there are several formats you can choose to produce your text, depending on your expertise and the type of browser you are using. Please refer to Formatting text for further information.

Sharing images through forums

When an image is attached as a file to a forum message, it is immediately displayed full size after the message (i.e. no need to click on an attachment). This an excellent way of sharing images without having to go through the process of uploading them as files and linking them from within web pages.

Images may be dragged and dropped into the box as well as uploading via the add link and the File picker.

Sharing sound and video through forums

If multimedia filters are enabled, a sound file (mp3) or accepted video file can be attached and it will be embedded into the forum post in an appropriate player.

As with images in the previous section, multimedia files may be dragged and dropped from the desktop instead of uploaded via the File picker.

Post length

Extra long posts cause problems when doing a forum search and can be difficult to read on screen. Rather than creating a very long post, consider copying and pasting the text into a text file and add it as an attachment to your forum post.

Post editing time limit

There is a time limit for editing posts, usually 30 minutes. It is set by an administrator in Administration > Security > Site policies.

Mail now

A mail now checkbox is available for anyone with the capability to manage course activities, normally teachers and admins.

Checking the Mail now box results in a notification being sent immediately (i.e. when the cron next runs) to everyone subscribed to the forum, rather than after the post editing time limit.

 For users who have enabled email digests in their profile, the notification is not sent separately from other forum post notifications.

Reply to posts via email

If enabled by an administrator (in Incoming mail configuration), you can reply to forum posts via email.

  1. Click the Reply by email link in the email.
    1. You will see a special unique email address to send your reply to.
  2. Reply using the email address provided.

     Make sure you remove the original email content so that your forum post does not contain the quoted text.

  3. You should receive an email saying your reply has been successfully posted.
  4. Your post now appears in the forum.

Moving between forum threads

Links top and bottom left and right (where applicable) take you to the previous and next forum discussion in a list.

If your forum has groups, you only need to post once and your post is copied for each group.

Adding and editing subscribers

You can manually add or remove people as subscribers to a forum in Totara Learn. Subscribers will get an email update (controlled by their digest settings) when a new post is made. To add a new subscriber, follow these steps:

  1. Select Show/edit current subscribers from the Forum administration block.
  2. Select Turn editing on.
  3. Search for the user(s) you want to add in the search field under the potential subscriber selection list.
  4. Choose the user(s) and select Add.

Archiving forums

When forum threads get very long, you may want to archive them and start up the conversation again with a good summary. Discussions can be archived one by one or by backing up the complete forum with user data, then restoring it.

  1. Create a forum named Archive forum on your course page.
  2. Go to the forum containing the discussions you want to archive.
  3. Enter the discussion by clicking on the discussion name. At the top-right corner of the screen, you’ll see a dropdown menu labelled Move this discussion to.
  4. Select Archive forum from the list.
  5. You’ll now see the discussion in the archive forum. Click the Forums link in the navigation bar and select the original forum from the list.
  6. Post a summary of the archived discussion in the original forum to restart the discussion.

Using an archive forum allows you to keep the discussions manageable, while retaining all of the detail of the original. 

Managing discussions is also easier with some help. A number of studies have reported the benefits of assigning groups of trainees to moderator duties for discussions around given topics. If a group of trainees knows that they are responsible for being able to discuss an issue intelligently with their fellow learners, they are much more likely to be sure they’ve done the reading and really understand the topic. They can be responsible for moving the conversation along, answering basic questions, and archiving and summarising a discussion.

To create learner moderator groups, assign a small team of learners to each forum or discussion. Be sure to enable ratings for everyone, in order to allow the learner group to use ratings.

Forum preferences

User's can individually configure their own forum preferences, including digest type and forum tracking. 

  1. Go to the Preferences page from the user menu
  2. In the User account section click on the Forum preferences link. 
  3. Configure the preferences
  4. Click Save changes

Preferences settings 

Within forum preferences you can configure the following settings.




Email digest type

This setting determines how a user will receive any posts from forums to which they are subscribed, allowing them to receive messages individually or on a daily basis. The three digest options are:

  • No digest: The user will receive one email per forum post (this can lead to a lot of emails if forums are very active)
  • Complete: The user will receive one digest email per day containing the complete contents of each forum post
  • Subjects: You will receive one digest email per day containing just the subject of each forum post
You can also choose a different setting for each forum if you wish
Forum auto-subscribeThis setting specifies whether a user will receive email copies of any posts that are added to forums in which they have previously posted.  This can be manually overridden within a forum.-
Forum trackingEnabling forum tracking will highlight posts that have not yet been read (where allowed within the forum).-
On this page

The Totara Academy has a whole course dedicated to using Social tools in Totara Learn. Here you can learn more on how to use these tools, see best practice, and give it a go yourself.

Provide feedback about this page using the link in the bottom right of this page. 

Still have questions? Why not post them in the forums of the Totara Community?