Moodle vs Canvas – a popular question among those looking take their courses online. Both platforms are among the most popular learning management systems, with a wide community of global adopters. Both platforms can also be used for varied eLearning applications, including K-12, corporate and higher education.
So, what sets these two platforms from other LMS? For starters, Moodle and Canvas can both be considered (more or less) cloud-hosted systems, providing their users a simple user experience that most self-hosted systems simply can’t compete with.
If you are looking for cloud-hosted software to power your eLearning site, chances are Moodle and Canvas are already on your mind. However, if both of them serve the same purpose, operate within the same LMS category and share many features, how can you determine which one is best? In this guide, we’ll give you an overview of both platforms to help you choose the winner in the “Moodle vs Canvas” battle.
What is a cloud-hosted LMS?
Before we start exploring the Moodle vs Canvas debacle, we figured it would make sense to take a brief look at how cloud-hosted learning management systems work first.
Unlike a self-hosted LMS, where you have to install the learning management software on your own server, a cloud-hosted LMS is fully hosted online and is typically offered as a service (with a SaaS model).
From the user’s perspective, this has many advantages. For starters, you don’t have to deal with any installation hassles or worry about maintenance. All you have to do is purchase a plan and you’ll be good to go. Getting your site off the ground is quick and easy, and updates and IT support are all provided for you. Plus, since cloud hosting plans have a fixed monthly or yearly price, you’ll be able to easily predict your operating price.
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies though. Cloud-hosted learning management systems also have their drawbacks. For one, your site will have to adapt to the parameters set by the plan you purchase. In most cases, plans restrict how many users or file storage space you have access to, forcing you to upgrade as your site scales.
Generally speaking, LMSs that use a SaaS model is also less customizable than their self-hosted counterparts, so you might experience less flexibility when it comes to adding tailored features to your site.
Now that you know what you’re getting into with your cloud-hosted LMS, let’s jump into the Moodle vs Canvas comparison and find out what sets these two learning management systems apart.
Everything you need to know: Moodle
Moodle is a pretty popular LMS, used in 242 countries and 182,000 sites worldwide, and powers everything from small e-learning sites to large-scale educational institutions.
While users have the option of installing Moodle directly on their servers, they can also opt to host Moodle on the cloud, which is why Moodle is considered a cloud-hosted LMS.
The look of a Moodle site is determined based on the selected theme, which acts as a layout, template, or skin that determines how your site appears on the front end. Moodle comes with two standard themes: “Boost” and “Classic”, but you can also rely on its extensive theme library you can download and install for free.
However, if none of these options suit your preferences, there are also multiple premium theme options out there. To make your site even more unique, you can also develop your own Moodle theme or work with a Moodle expert to create one for you.
Moodle makes it easy to sell online courses, with several payment gateway options available. The PayPal payment gateway is included as a standard, but you can also get plugins to integrate Alipay, Stripe and other patement gateways from the Moodle plugins directory.
A Moodle site is made up of learning spaces, which contain courses. Said courses are created by admins, managers or course creator users roles can be organized according to various format options:
- Weekly: A section is assigned for each week of your course. The sections are dated according to the schedule.
- Topics: “Topics” is the default Moodle course format and organizes your courses into separate topics titled by the course creator.
- Single Activity: As the name indicates, single activity courses are made up of a single activity page where all content is contained.
There are additional “contributed” formats that have been created by the Moodle community. Among these you can find a Daily course format, that mimics the weekly format, but with sections created on a day-to-day basis.
Courses themselves contain resources, which include audio/video files, books, pages, and IMS content packages, and activities, which include assignments, lessons, quizzes with over 15 different question types, forums, and chats among other interactive options. Within activity options, Moodle also allows course creators to add H5P files and SCORM packages to their courses.
You can further elaborate on your courses by adding “blocks” at the lateral sections of the screen, providing your students access to additional content that can help them while they navigate the central learning area.
All together, Moodle has all the tools to help you create a robust and engaging online course curriculum.
Other eLearning features include:
- Groups that allow you to organize your students and assign specific groups different activities
- Various course enrolment options include guest access, self enrolment (with the option to use an enrolment key), manual enrolment, bulk enrolment, and purchased enrolment (through PayPal).
- A grade book containing your student’s assignment and quiz scores.
- Activity and course completion reports.
- Gamification through badges that can be awarded manually or upon activity completion.
- Support for competency-based education (CBE), where grading is based on students demonstrating competencies defined by the instructor.
But wait – there’s more!
Among Moodles other eLearning features we find the Moodle App. The app allows your students to conveniently access their courses from their mobile devices and even supports offline learning. The app if free for up to 50 active devices and 2 offline courses, with premium plans available for larger-scale requirements.
As an additional option, Moodle’s service providers also offer a solution specially designed for corporate and employee training, “Moodle Workplace”. This option enables you to assign courses to certain users and schedule programs and share centralized content across departments. It also includes custom reporting options and features that allow managers to track progress, automation for enrolment, and certifications, among other tools that simplify delivering corporate training online.
If we are talking Moodle vs Canvas, support is one area where Moodle definitely stands out. With a large community of users around the globe, you’ll find no scarcity of resources.
For starters, you’ll find the Moodle.org community forums, where you can easily connect with other Moodle users and find help with any of your questions. With its community spread around the world, Moodle forums are available in multiple languages.
If you are willing to invest more into support you can also join the Moodle Users Association, which has multiple membership levels starting at 100 AUD per year. Here you’ll be able to connect with Moodle experts using more exclusive forums, join live meetings and discussions, and even collaborate on projects for Moodle core.
You can also hire a Moodle Partner or developer to provide you training for using the platform, aid in support, help you customize your site, and design your courses.
If you are willing and comfortable handling Moodle installation and hosting on your own, you can start using Moodle for “free”. We use the term free pretty conditionally here, but you’ll still have to cover the expenses of getting a server to host your site and cover the costs of site support and maintenance. That is without taking into account any additional plugins or LMS customization you may choose to implement.
However, there are other options for using Moodle, created with those that are not so tech-savvy in mind. “MoodleCloud” is by far the fastest and easiest (though definitely not the cheapest) solution to get your Moodle site off the ground. With this hands-free option, Moodle partners take care not only of your LMS’s installation and hosting but also of maintenance and updates.
The most affordable option for MoodleCloud is their Starter Plan, for $120 USD per year with unlimited courses and activities for sites with a maximum of 50 users. (Keep in mind that users also include admins, managers, and teachers, other than students). Plans scale up gradually depending on the size of the site, up until their Large Plan, which is 1510 USD per year and can host up to 1000 users. File storage also varies across their different pricing plans ranging from 250 MB to 5 GB.
Moodle, being Open Source software, is open to be customized or modified by anyone. This is great for anyone looking for a platform with the flexibility to adapt to specific requirements, whether you plan to make edits on your own or work with a Moodle developer.
This flexibility has also enabled developers to extend Moodle’s features for commercial purposes by creating LMS plugins, add-ons, and integrations that you can use to tailor your eLearning site.
You’ll find no shortage of plugins with 1966 options currently listed in the plugin directory. You’ll find plugins for a wide variety of purposes including:
- Attendance tracking
- Video conferencing
- Adding checklists or to-do lists
- Real-time quizzes
- Displaying lesson objectives
- Add programming questions with code answers
…And many many more!
Everything you need to know: Canvas
Canvas is a cloud-based open-source LMS created by Instructure. It can be accessed from any web browser and supports more than 20 languages.
Canvas sites can have six standard user roles: Admins, Designers, Instructors, Teacher Assistants, Students, and Observers. Additionally, you have the option to create as many custom user roles as you need to best control access to your site.
Canvas LMS uses the Canvas Catalog solution to manage the eCommerce elements of an e-learning site. The catalog works as a course registration and payment system. The catalog conveniently and attractively displays your LMS’s courses and allows students to purchase access to them using any of the supported payment gateways:
- Authorize.net (Accept Hosted)*
- OneStop Secure*
- PayPal Payflow
- Transact (requires both Checkout and Gateway)
It isn’t hard to figure out why many of the world’s biggest universities use Canvas LMS to power their online learning experience. Not only is the platform widely accessible, but it also includes all of the course authoring tools you need to create comprehensive and engaging online courses.
Courses can be added directly from the Canvas Dashboard. If you already have course content from another LMS you can quickly import it using something known as the “course import tool”. This tool also allows you to add and reuse content from previously created Canvas courses.
Otherwise, you can directly create content for your courses including the following options:
- Modules: Modules are the units your course is broken down into, essentially organizing the student’s journey through the course. Each module can be made up of files, discussions, assignments, quizzes, etc. For more control, you can define pre-requisites the student must complete in order to access a specific module or lock access until a specific date.
- Assignments: You can add different assignments to your Canvas courses, including quizzes that can be graded or just for practice. Assignments can also include graded student submissions and discussions.
- Mastery paths: Mystery paths allow you to create an adaptive learning experience on your online courses, by personalizing your student’s journey through the course. They allow instructors to conditionally assign content to their students based on their performance on any graded assignment, discussion, or quiz.
- Announcements: Instructors can take advantage of the course announcements section to quickly and efficiently communicate with all students enrolled in a course.
- Conferences: Through the conferences feature, Canvas LMS allows instructors to implement live sessions into their courses, allowing their students to benefit from real-time learning and increased course interactivity.
- Learning outcomes: Instructors can add state learning outcomes to grading rubrics to best measure skill-based student progress.
- Course certificates: Through the Canvas course catalog, online schools can automatically issue certificates upon student course completion.
Additionally, Canvas provides course creators with many other resources to improve the online learning experience such as an e-learning calendar students and teachers can use to keep track of courses, events, and assignments.
Learners can also benefit from a course chat tool that can be used for convenient real-time group discussions or be used as an outlet for online office hours.
As if that weren’t enough, canvas also allows students and teachers to conveniently experience eLearning content on the go through their suite of mobile apps.
Canvas LMS as it provides its users, instructors, and students with a wide range of resources. To start, Canvas LMS has compiled an extensive Knowledge Base containing resources and guides exclusively created with administrators, instructors, and students in mind. Troubleshooting and video guides are also available.
Additionally, Canvas users can find additional help through the Canvas community forum, email, and phone support.
This all sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into the Canvas user experience. Despite all of the resources mentioned above, you should keep in mind that a large portion of user reviews describe it as “buggy”, “complicated” and “hard to navigate”, with multiple reports of support being difficult to reach.
Like with Moodle, pricing varies based on several factors including organization size, training, and support requirements. However, unlike Moodle, Canvas doesn’t disclose specific pricing plans for its cloud-hosted LMS. Instead, prospective buyers must contact Instructure to get their specific needs reviewed and receive an individualized quote.
It is also important to note that, even if we are focusing on cloud-hosted LMS, Canvas HAS no option for self-hosting.
Being open-source software, it is possible to contribute to Canvas or customize it for your needs through development work. Through open APIs and LTI integrations, you can also enhance your Canvas platform by connecting your LMS to some third-party apps and tools that you already use and love.
Moodle vs Canvas: Which one is better?
So, who is the winner in the Moodle vs Canvas battle? Both Moodle and Canvas are popular options in the eLearning world, however, they do have some key differences. Canvas might be a better option for those that want access to a wide range of eLearning features built-in, without having to worry about downloading any additional plugins.
However, those looking for more flexibility for customization, a united community, and accessibility to support resources might find Moodle to be a better choice. Additionally, if your needs and priorities change down the line migrating to self-hosting (or even another LMS) is easier using Moodle.
Looking at user satisfaction rates is another very telling way that can help you during your LMS selection. According to the eLearning Industry, Moodle is the clear winner in this area, with 79% user satisfaction compared to Canvas’ 64%.
Ultimately, the best option is up to you. However, it is never a bad idea to consult with a team of LMS experts to help you make that final choice. Our LMS consultants and developers, who have successfully completed over 300 hundred projects, are the ideal team for the job. Regardless, we hope that this post gave you the necessary insights to make an educated choice.
We love to hear back from our readers so if you have any questions or want to share your experience using any of these learning management systems, please leave us a comment below!