HR Tech Interview with Lars Hyland, Chief Learning Officer of Totara

Adequate and quick training (especially for critical roles) has to take precedence in time of a global pandemic, how are HR Tech innovators helping companies meet these needs effectively?  Lars Hyland, Chief Learning Officer of Totara shares his thoughts and observations in this chat:



Hi Lars, tell us about yourself and Totara…?

I’ve always had a deep interest in how people learn, engage and perform in the workplace and have made a career out of applying technology that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of people’s experience at work.

Totara’s Talent Experience Platform unifies a transformational learning management system (LMS), a user-centric learning experience platform (LXP), and a comprehensive performance management system under a single and highly adaptable architecture. Totara’s flexible architecture gives organizations the freedom to innovate, the freedom to choose, and unlocks critical resources for reinvestment into where it really counts.

Totara was launched in Wellington, New Zealand in 2010 and has quickly grown to have over 1,800 enterprise customers worldwide, supported by a community of expert partners.

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We’d love to hear your observations on the biggest ways in which talent experience and learning platforms are evolving today..?

The sheer pace of change and high uncertainty that we all face means that the way organizations function and respond demands a level of adaptability and flexibility that their technology infrastructure cannot easily cope with. You are far better placed if you move away from proprietary systems which can be both technically and commercially constraining, and instead adopt open, flexible technology that can be more readily configured, extended and integrated to meet new business needs as they arise.

Another factor is that your people are demanding a more coherent and aligned workplace experience. That means changing the typical silos within your HR function that can often confuse and frustrate with clashing priorities. Instead, the HR team can be streamlined by replacing multiple, disparate systems with an integrated platform that allows all activity to be coordinated. It makes for a much more friction free experience for the audience.

Given the shift in trends due to the Covid-19 pandemic; how do you feel talent learning platforms need to evolve in future to meet changing needs? Can you share a few interesting innovations in this space from around the world that you’ve come across…?

Planning horizons have shrunk significantly due to the disrupting factors of technology, pandemics and economic shocks, all of which are accelerating underlying changes across all sectors. It means that flexibility beats efficiency going forward. Switching to a remote-first work experience impacts the design and blend of learning opportunities you provide your people. One of our customers (Etex) changed direction at the start of the UK lockdown by using their platform to support furloughed staff with a whole new communications portal so they could keep employees engaged and informed. In Australia, our platform was used to provide vital ventilator training for healthcare workers preparing to cope with high demand.

On a more general basis, encouraging peer to peer learning through the open sharing of created and curated content empowers collaboration and accelerates problem solving and innovation far faster than relying purely on formal, sanctioned sources. This social learning, when coupled with standardized learning and development paths, is becoming far more common. And people are demanding more autonomy in their roles so this can be both personally empowering as well as more productive for the organization as a whole.

Most employees are keen to retain the flexible working they’ve experienced throughout 2020. Switching from primarily face-to-face training to a fully blended online learning design is now essential – it’s not good enough to expect your existing courses to transfer straight to Zoom. So, think carefully about your audience’s needs and new environment and consider a mix of live virtual learning events, structured e-learning programs and a regularly maintained bank of digital resources that can be used as performance support.

How you define your workforce is changing too. You need to also provide learning and engagement support for those not directly on your payroll – so contractors, those in your supply chain, sales channels and even your customers. Personalize the learning to take into account the type of worker they are. Ensure that your learning management system can automate how you offer a tailored experience for these audiences.

When formulating your employee policies, work towards building an intentional learning culture. You can do this by encouraging each person to set small clear goals, remove distractions, actively seek feedback, deliberately practice new skills, and set aside the time to reflect regularly. This needs a supportive management culture, so a continuous performance management framework provides the regular feedback and check-ins that embed these intentional learning behaviors.

We’d love to hear about some of the most innovative learning models you’ve come across for employees in B2B / tech?

At Totara we are privileged to have a global community of customers willing to share their experiences of using our technology in many different ways and across most sectors. Take a look at our collection of over 300 success stories where you’ll find ideas to use in your own organization.

Here are some examples that have taken advantage of the flexibility and open nature of our technology:

  • Deloitte, one of the leading global consulting firms, makes full use of Totara for their internal training. They have created the BizQuiz app for mobile microlearning, a Netflix-inspired, data-driven LMS for accountants and an engaging digital literacy program for use across the organization
  • Mitchells & Butlers, a large bar and restaurant group in the UK, combines formal and informal learning to encourage knowledge sharing across its 46,000 staff, tailored to the needs of multiple brands.
  • JetBlue Airways, one of the leading carriers in the United States supports its employees in gaining their own degrees through their innovative JetBlue Scholars program, leading to significantly improved engagement and employee loyalty

The flexibility, security and ease of integration of the Totara platform is also proving attractive to government and other public organizations. The USDA serves over 140,000 staff across 30 unique agencies, while in the UK, Totara supports healthcare workers within many of the trusts that make up the National Health Service.

As HR leaders respond to the business needs of the new normal; what are some of the top thoughts you’d share with them when it comes to implementing HR Tech to drive business goals and strengthen policies keeping current challenges in mind.

HR technology investment needs to prioritize adaptability and flexibility. The economic outlook is highly uncertain but the ability to respond to change quickly, and cost effectively is critical to competitiveness going forward. Your technology infrastructure needs to be easily reconfigured, extended and integrated to meet new business priorities as they emerge. That means you need more control over the systems you bring into your organization. They need to be open and flexible to change on your terms, not the vendor.

Break down any silos within your HR function and ensure that the workplace experience you offer to your people is streamlined, coordinated and friction-free.

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Before we wrap up, we’d love to hear a little about the employee culture and experience at Totara!

At Totara, we were literally born virtual from the outset, having been founded in Wellington, New Zealand and Brighton, UK. As a result, our global team could easily transition to remote working when the pandemic hit. Our culture is well-schooled in asynchronous communication, helping us navigate time zones and varied work patterns. We are a remarkably diverse team, having attracted talent to our R&D hub in New Zealand from all over the world. And we are very proud of the industry leading product training and support we offer our Totara customers and partners to help them be as successful as possible using our products. We try and exemplify the open, flexible, and respectful environment that we believe is essential to survive and thrive in the new world of work.


Totara offers innovative solutions that are helping to transform the learning technology software marketplace.

Lars Hyland is a longstanding thought leader in the fields of HR and learning technology and the Chief Learning Officer of Totara, a provider of enterprise learning, engagement and performance management technology. He leads the drive for adoption of Totara’s open Talent Experience Platform, working in collaboration with a worldwide network of expert partners. Lars has over 30 years’ experience working with a wide range of organizations to build workplace learning experiences that raise people performance, productivity, and engagement.

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