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Feb 2011

Totara feature close-up: Competency Frameworks

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Shaping the future of learning

Totara is a new custom distribution of Moodle. Set to revolutionise the LMS market, it builds on the great base of Moodle and adds a whole range of enterprise features. This month we look in detail at the Competency Frameworks feature in Totara.

Totara provides an administrative interface for creating sets of competencies called frameworks. Once created, competencies can be assigned to positions, used to create development plans and make it possible to track which of your staff are competent in particular areas.


Competencies can be organised in a hierarchical, or tree-like manner. Each competency can have any number of sub-competencies, which themselves can have sub-competencies. Totara allows competencies to be aggregated, so it is possible to have a user automatically achieve a particular competency when they complete some or all of its sub-competencies.

If you wish, it is also possible to set up a 'flat' (non-hierarchical) structure.


In Totara you can set up multiple hierarchies, each with a different structure and properties. These independent hierarchies are called 'frameworks'. This provides a great deal of flexibility when modelling different groups of competencies. Each framework can have its own set of depth levels, custom fields and competencies (see below).

Competency Scales

Competency scales allow you to define levels of proficiency for a set of competencies, allowing you to track progress against the scale for individual users. For example, a scale could have three scale values: 'Competent', 'Competent with Supervision' and 'Not Competent'. For each scale you can set a default value (the value a user has initially) and a proficient value, which is the value a user must have to be considered proficient/competent in that competency.

Competency scales are defined independently of competency frameworks, and then each competency framework is assigned a scale, which is automatically inherited by its competencies. You can create as many scales as you like, and reuse scales for multiple frameworks. Every framework must be assigned a scale when it is created.

Clicking on the name of a scale lists its scale values and provides options for adding, editing, deleting and re-ordering them.

Depth Levels

Totara uses the concept of depth levels to refer to how far down the hierarchy an item lies. For example, a top-level competency (one with no parent), will be at depth level one. If another competency is created as it’s child, then it will be at depth level two. An example of depth level names could be Qualifications (Level 1), Unit Standards (Level 2), Assessment Criteria (Level 3).

Competency Templates

Also listed on a competency framework's page along with depth levels are 'Competency Templates'. Competency Templates provide a way to group together sets of competencies. A common use for this is to create templates belonging to a particular job or role. These can then be assigned as a set rather than having to assign each individually. Competency Templates are created within a framework and only contain competencies from that framework.

Custom Fields

Custom fields allow the administrator to attach additional information to competencies. Examples might include 'Level', 'Credits' or 'Domain'. Custom fields types include 'text field', 'checkbox' or 'pulldown menu'. The name and type of custom field is assigned to a particular depth level. Once assigned, all competencies at that depth level will be able to add data to the custom field. Custom fields can be grouped together within categories.

Creating Competencies

Once the competency framework has been setup, you can start to populate the framework with competencies. When competencies have been created they appear in a table. The depth levels are shown as columns, and the competencies are listed in rows. Child competencies appear below their parents (but in the next column). When editing is turned on you can edit, reorder and delete competencies, as well as add new ones.

When creating a competency you must choose a parent competency to assign it to. This can either be the top level (i.e. no parent), or one of the other existing competencies. If you want to create a competency in a new depth level you must create the depth level first (via the Manage Frameworks section)

Viewing Competencies

Click on a competency's name to view more information about that competency. When editing is turned on it is also possible to add additional information to the competency.

Competency evidence

Competency evidence items allow you to configure which accomplishments should result in a user being marked as 'competent' in a particular competency. When you click 'Assign new evidence item' a popup window appears with a list of available courses. First select a course you want to add evidence from. On the right a list of evidence items will appear. Select the green 'plus' icon to add the evidence item to this competency. The following items may appear as evidence items: Activity completion, Course completion or Course grade.


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Shaping the future of learning

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