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Charles River saves almost $300,000 and 1,000 learning administration hours in one year

Charles River is an American corporation specializing in a variety of preclinical and clinical laboratory services for the pharmaceutical, medical device and biotechnology industries.

The Challenge

In the last few years, Charles River has more than doubled in terms of both the business itself, through a series of mergers and acquisitions, and its customer base, making it increasingly difficult to meet the L&D needs of the organization and its learners with their previous, rudimentary LMS, manual spreadsheets and simple databases.

With more than 19,000 employees across 22 countries and thousands more customers globally relying on Charles River for their L&D needs, they needed a new way to ensure that they delivered consistent, compliant training in the heavily regulated life sciences industry.

Charles River decided they needed a modern LMS for all aspects of training, including onboarding, compliance, technical skills, health and safety training, professional development and employee evaluations, making a robust platform essential. They also needed stellar integration with their HR system to manage the high number of joining and leaving employees and those taking company-supported sabbaticals.

Additionally, an EU directive was introduced that required Charles River’s employees to be accredited as soon as they joined the company. This was a legal requirement, making finding a new platform that could be used to deliver the necessary courses urgent.

The Solution

Charles River chose to work with Spanish partner Actua Solutions, and opted for Totara Learn as their new learning platform to host Charles River Campus. The Actua Solutions team was quick to understand Charles River’s urgent requirements and support the team with helpful advice and a logical plan for the design, implementation, and launch of the LMS, as well as provide training for Totara Learn and the Storyline e-learning creation software.

While this project originated in Spain, the solution would also be used by teams elsewhere in the EU and in the US, who would be heavy users of the system. The original implementation process took around six months, including setting up a complex array of features and functionality to suit Charles River’s unique needs.

Blended learning is a vital part of Charles River’s learning strategy, so Totara Learn’s learning plans are used extensively. This has also helped manage the shift from in-person training to remote learning, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing a much more customized approach to learning as employees work with their managers to create a tailored program of learning according to their requirements.

One of the key reasons Charles River chose Totara Learn was the ability to link competencies with programs, helping them keep track of how people were performing. They also make good use of the reporting functionality to give them a better overview than ever before of how people are interacting with learning material and how they are progressing through the available material. The LMS is used not just by employees, but by external users (“researchers”) and customers as well.

Charles River also uses the LMS to deliver the accredited courses required by EU law, replacing the expensive and time-consuming face-to-face courses previously in use. The LMS can then award certificates to people who pass the accreditation courses, reducing the learning administration.

Additionally, the US team is making use of Totara’s hierarchies functionality to help them organize and deliver content more efficiently.

With 70 sites across 22 countries worldwide, Charles River also needs to deliver content in multiple languages. Totara’s extensive language pack functionality helps the learning team simplify the localization process by automatically translating the site navigation.

The US team also develops content using Storyline, including presentations with videos and innovative 3D renders, as well as PDFs as supporting material. As Charles River operates in the field of animal experimentation, content is often complicated, covering topics such as anesthesia, physiology, biology and legislation, making the ability to convey information clearly and accurately of paramount importance.

Charles River Campus is also integrated with the AALAS Learning Library, which imports all grades into Totara via an API, and content is also purchased from QuickHelp, My Industry and soon to be LinkedIn Learning. This sits seamlessly alongside their custom content developed in-house.

The Results

Charles River launched its Totara Learn in Spain in 2014, and in the first year saved approximately €20,000 on training. To date, Charles River has saved a staggering $11 million on the cost of training with Totara.

Upon its US launch in 2016, around 4,000 users accessed the system over the first year and saved approximately $250,000 on training, while reducing over 1,000 hours of learning administration. The US team reports they can now give real-time information to key personnel while centralising the majority of their learning assets.


Today, the platform has more than 40,000 registered users, with almost 8,000 courses available within Charles River Campus. Charles River’s learners have achieved over 2.8 million course completions to date, up significantly from 100,000 completions in 2018, as well as 150,000 program and certification completions to date.

“Totara is flexible, adaptable and can scale with us. I’ve worked with all the top 10 learning management systems in the last 19 years and Totara is by far the easiest to work with.” – Elton Machholz, Manager of Learning & Development, Charles River Laboratories

Despite having acquired and merged with other organizations using other learning management systems, Charles River has chosen to remain with Totara Learn as their LMS of choice by centralizing learning on the main Totara Learn system. This is due to the immense flexibility and ability to fit seamlessly into all of Charles River’s plans, which was lacking from the other learning platforms inherited from acquired companies.

Crucially, Charles River worked extensively with the providers of all available COVID-19 vaccines throughout the pandemic. They assisted these vaccine providers to bring their vaccines to market safely, quickly and efficiently, and played an invaluable role in the global vaccine rollout.

What’s New

Charles River has updated to the latest version of Totara, which brings with it key integrations with Microsoft Teams and Zoom for faster, easier management of online events, which they say will be a “game changer.” They also extended their self-paced, self-directed learning offering, as well as added more live seminars and virtual instructor-led training to the agenda.

With the latest upgrade, Actua Solutions helped Charles River improve the Campus toolbox of resources by adding new features and functionalities, such as a Merge User Account plug-in to help with the high number of re-joining employees and users.

“Totara’s test engine is so much better than those we’ve seen in any other LMS. It’s hands down the easiest to use, the most flexible, has the most capability, and importantly, it doesn’t take a PhD to use it!”
– Elton Machholz, Manager of Learning & Development, Charles River Laboratories


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