You’re just getting started with your very first course, and you’re a one-person team.
We all have to start somewhere, and many people start with Canvas: one of the best beginner-friendly LMS systems out there.
In this Canvas LMS review, we’re going to cover everything from their integration to setting up courses, how easy everything is to use, how well all the different moving parts flow together, and everything in between.
What is an LMS?
LMS stands for learning management system. It’s basically the ecosystem of your website that tracks courses, progress, data, analytics, and allows your students to access specific course material at their leisure.
An LMS system is necessary for any successful online course.
An LMS is like a souped-up version of a WordPress membership plugin, because while those only allow access to your site or specific pages, an LMS controls how the information on your site is distributed to the right students, while also controlling payments. An LMS will help you build a from-the-ground-up website to host your courses on.
What is Canvas LMS?
Canvas is an LMS system used most often by online educators that want to build independent courses, being courses that are not specific to business or employee training. With Canvas, you can host any type of course you want.
Utilizing cutting-edge mobile apps and top-tier user interfaces, Canvas helps you to create your website and the perfect platform to host your educational content. From course creation to gradebooks and quizzes, you have a full range of tools available to grade your students and ensure they’re learning the material as expected.
This full service offers live demos, collaboration tools, and helpful information from their parent company, Instructure.
Canvas LMS Ease of Use
Canvas LMS is easy enough to use regardless of how much experience you have with LMS systems, or if you’re just starting out. These are just some of the main features that they offer and how simple they are to learn.
There’s no installation on Mac or Windows—Canvas is an entirely SaaS cloud-based service that updates on its own, bug fixes on its own, and you don’t have to deal with downloads or updates.
So your installation times are non-existent, but getting started with your setup is still something you have to do.
Setting up your account and how you plan to use it takes anywhere from three minutes to about ten, depending on your preferences.
Once you fire up Canvas, you’re met with a well-optimized view of all the different things you can do with your site and courses. While Canvas could have a better walkthrough system, most of the UI is easy enough to figure out on your own.
They host everything for you. From our independent research and testing, we’ve found that Canvas has an excellent uptime rating, so it’s highly unlikely that your site is going to go down at any point. If it does, it won’t take long for it to be back up.
In the world of online education, once a student is sold on your course and decides to spend the money on it, you’re in—it’s not like free video content where they can just hop to the next site when the one they’re on doesn’t work right. Any interrupts are minor; Canvas is hosted through Instructure, and they do a good job.
Canvas LMS Pricing
You found a solid LMS that really piques your interest, and now you want to know how much it costs. Well, Instructure—the parent company of Canvas—doesn’t make that an easy task whatsoever. You have to request information from them, but thankfully, we’ve done that ahead of time for you.
Every single plan is customized based on your needs. With a low number of students and access to full features, we were quoted on $300 per month. That’s low, all things considered, but it scales up with you as your success grows. It’s like a scaling percentage rather than a flat fee.
While we wish there was an upfront pricing structure like with other LMS systems, Instructure gets away with this because they can boast about 100% of all North American Ivy League schools using their LMS service, as well as countless companies and teachers.
The good thing is that you can try a fourteen-day free trial of the full set of features, or if you’re a teacher, you can sign up for a free teacher account that never costs you a thing. It’s limited, but it’s there.
How to Use Canvas LMS
Canvas LMS includes everything that you need to get started with a great course idea, and evolve it from concept to an actual fully optimized course.
These are some of the ways you can use Canvas to get started on your project.
Setting Up Courses
Canvas is cloud-based, so you don’t have too much to do in terms of setting up. That being said, when you launch Canvas, it can be a bit daunting as they offer so many different things.
Stick with setting up courses to begin. On your Canvas dashboard, simply click on your courses and then the prompt to create a new course.
Canvas does drop the ball a bit here, because there isn’t as much instructional material to help you get set up. You’ll spend some time scanning the forums and help areas in the beginning, but the learning curve isn’t steep, so it’s just a matter of getting used to everything.
Canvas Commons is a repository that’s designed to store your resources. That includes PDF files, images, and any learning materials that you plan on showing to your students or allowing them to have access to.
The reason this is so important is because, until you begin making your own courses, most people don’t realize how many working pieces go into each individual course. It’s like pouring out a 2,000-piece LEGO set, throwing away the instruction booklet, and trying to make it perfect by looking at the box.
In this analogy, Canvas Commons is the instruction booklet. It allows you to quickly locate, import, and place resources into different courses and learning material so that it’s readily available for your students. It cuts down the time require to make solid, feature-rich courses.
Through the Canvas Network, you get access to free learning materials that you can suggest to your students, or partake in on your own. They do this to constantly show how well Canvas helps people to learn (and nothing is more tantalizing than the word “free”), and to showcase new features at the same time.
Canvas Network classes are live, so there are enrollment beginning and end dates, but even with that in place it’s still completely free to use. At the time of writing this review, courses were available for integrating STEM education into your Canvas site, K-12 achievement goals, as well as remote teaching aid. They provide tons of value here.
Canvas LMS Features
Canvas offers some of the most widespread features of any LMS out there. These include academic and education features, corporate and business-oriented learning material, blended learning, gamification, course authoring, mobile apps with mobile learning (not just for quick account access, but a full-fledged app), and more.
Canvas LMS thankfully integrates beautifully with Windows and Google apps. If you’re placing this into a pre-existing educational environment, you’ll be able to jump from one app to the next seamlessly and work Canvas into your current learning path.
Instructure is known for making excellent integration tools, but there’s something so satisfying about how Canvas seamlessly works with other major apps to make a perfectly cooperative workspace. It makes the process of getting started much easier when you know that what you make will work with what you’re currently using, and what your students are likely using.
What Makes Canvas LMS Stand Out From the Competition?
Apart from being used by the most sought-after educational institutions in the country, Canvas LMS is easy to use for anyone, whether you’re an educator or a business owner.
Typically, most LMS systems have one target in mind. They either want to appeal to business owners or educators, but most rarely meet in the middle and provide adequate solutions for multiple targets.
The versatility is great, but as you’ll find in the pros and cons section, one of the big things is pricing. It’s separated from the competition, but not for the best reasons.
Canvas LMS Analytics
Analytics are important. They help you model your business, find what is and isn’t working, and helps you understand what students and viewers expect from you. You can view individual course analytics with ease, which grants access to charts, graphs, and raw data to help you formulate your courses to be better for your students. Overall, the analytics are in-depth and useful.
Pros and Cons of Canvas LMS
Before you jump in with both feet, it’s important to know the main reasons to get Canvas, but also the drawbacks that might impair you down the line.
- Full Mobile Customization: You’re not just accessing Canvas from your phone to check some analytical data—you get full control over your courses on-the-go. That way, if a student contacts you with a question or concern, you can find the issue they’re having and right the wrong while waiting in line at the Starbucks drive-thru.
- Multiple Enterprise Types: Educators, business owners, personal trainers—you could make any type of course with Canvas. The versatility alone is something to celebrate.
- Quick Options: Short on time but need to alter a course or add materials? Canvas Commons allows you to import files and apply them to the specific course or course modules that you need in no time at all. You could download an email attachment from your phone and upload it in no time. If you hire freelancers to make infographics and PDFs for you, you’ll seriously appreciate this feature.
- Student-Friendly Communication: You get your own forum with your site, so if you can’t answer a phone call right now, a student could post their question on the forum to either be answered by another member of your community, or for you to answer it the moment you have time. You’ll also be notified when they post a question to make things simple.
- Dodgy Customer Service: While we praise some LMS customer service workers, not every system can operate at the same capacity. Perhaps it’s because they’re bigger, or because they deal with so many enterprises, but Canvas is either a hit or miss when it comes to customer service.
- Occasionally Laggy: Sometimes when you load this up, whether it’s on mobile or PC, you’re met with some decent levels of lag. This is basically overload from multiple members accessing their sites and using up the bandwidth on the site (that’s one of the few downsides to cloud-based SaaS). The lag isn’t terrible, but it is inconvenient and shouldn’t be there.
- Long Startup Time: If you’ve never used an LMS before, Canvas is (ironically) not going to be a very good teacher. It requires previous knowledge of LMS systems, or some tech-savvy skills at the very least, otherwise you can feel like you’re lost in the dark at times.
The Best Beginner LMS Out There
So at the end of the day, is Canvas the best LMS that you can sign up with? No.
That doesn’t mean they’re bad, they’re just limited compared to some of the giants that we’ve all come to know and love.
Canvas is a great way for beginners to start out with small courses and see how they fare. If you’re dipping your toes in the pool, you can take advantage of the good payment system that Canvas offers, while also learning how to build a course and see what it takes for someone to find it interesting.
Canvas is a solid choice for beginners, and it’s still growing, so it might grow right alongside you and be your forever LMS.