Blackboard vs. Canvas: Key Features and Services Comparison

Blackboard and Canvas are two learning management systems (LMS) that target the K-12 and higher education market. Both solutions share social learning features and provide native mobile apps for learning on the go.

We’ve reviewed both Blackboard and Canvas and compared them to other LMS solutions in our comprehensive LMS Comparison Guide. In this post, we’ll compare both solutions in more detail to help you make the right purchasing decision.

Comparing Products

Here are excerpts from the Blackboard and Canvas reviews that summarize each solution:

Blackboard: Blackboard Learn is a web-based LMS that’s used in both academic and business environments to help students and employees improve their learning experience. It’s easily customized to an organization’s needs and integrates with Microsoft OneDrive, school information systems and Dropbox.

 

Blackboard Learn is tailored to four different markets: K-12, higher education, businesses and government. All four markets share Blackboard Learn’s main features, such as testing/assessments, discussions and a dedicated user learning profile. However, some features are market specific (e.g., the analytics feature in business and government markets).

Canvas: Canvas, created by Instructure, is a learning management solution created for educational institutions. Developed in 2011, Canvas was designed to better engage users in the teaching and learning processes. With Canvas, teachers also have access to Arc, an inclusive video platform for online teaching. Arc can be used with Canvas to easily upload and share videos to a digital classroom, as well as let students and instructors comment on videos to create conversations.

Note about Pricing

In similar comparison posts, we’ve discussed pricing of both solutions. However, we were unable to find pricing information on either Blackboard or Canvas. We recently published a post on Blackboard pricing where we tried to estimate its pricing based on a few sources. Canvas offers a 14-day free trial as well as an open-source platform.

We recommend you contact Blackboard and Instructure directly for price quotes, as they can offer you quotes based on your number of learners.

Two Core Differences

1.) Implementation & Integration

Blackboard: Users have three options of deploying Blackboard: in the cloud, on-premise and managed hosting. Blackboard also integrates with other solutions, such as school information systems (SIS), Dropbox, PowerSchool and Microsoft OneDrive.

Canvas: Canvas is a cloud-based platform, so implementation is shorter than an on-premise solution. As noted above, users can participate in the 14-day free trial or use Canvas as an open-source solution. For integration, Canvas offers a dedicated app center with a library of various educational tools that can be installed in one click.

Bottom Line: Blackboard would be the best option for a school that needs to host its own data. However, for schools that don’t have the resources to host data, both Blackboard and Canvas offer cloud deployment. Also, Canvas has a wide range of tools to choose from, while Blackboard only integrates with Dropbox, PowerSchool and OneDrive (in addition to a school information system).

2.) Features

Blackboard: Blackboard Learn recently debuted a new upgrade, called Ultra Experience, that provides a more streamlined workflow for users. Some of its upgrades include:

  • Upgraded Assessments tool with easier assignment creation, more visible due dates of assignments and the ability to engage in conversations within an assignment
  • Addition of learning analytics feature with automatic notifications if failing class, visualization tool and call to action relating to course activity
  • Addition of surveys and evaluations of courses that includes survey data reporting functions (e.g., ability to export data to SPSS or Excel)
  • Blackboard Open Content tool for creating, finding and sharing resources without having to import or export anything (users can also copyright their own content)
  • Targeted notifications that can be customized for specific users
  • Ability to access Gradebook in either list view or student view, where students can see grading progress of each assignment

Canvas: One main feature of Canvas is its use of videos as a source of collaboration and content. The Arc platform can be used with Canvas to easily upload and share videos to a digital classroom, as well as let students and instructors comment on videos to create conversations. There is also a web conferencing feature for both one-on-one and classroom learning. Other Canvas features include:

  • Outcomes – Also known as standards or competencies, Outcomes describe what a learner should be able to do, and they’re used to measure knowledge and ability.
  • MasteryPaths – MasteryPaths allows course content to automatically be released to a learner based on performance, providing differentiation to students.
  • Speedgrader – With the Speedgrader app for iOS and Android, teachers can preview student submissions, provide feedback and annotate homework submissions in a single frame.
  • Mastery GradeBook – Mastery GradeBook helps instructors assess the Outcomes used in Canvas courses and measure student learning for accreditation or standards-based grading.
  • Canvas Parent – Canvas Parent allows parents to engage with their children’s education by reviewing upcoming or past assignments, checking grades and receiving course announcements.
  • Canvas Polls – The Canvas Polls mobile app gauges students’ comprehension of material without “clicker” devices.

Bottom Line: While both solutions offer collaboration features, users will have to purchase the Blackboard Collaborate module for web conferencing functionality. Also, Canvas includes dedicated accounts for parents, while Blackboard doesn’t offer it.

Comparing Offerings

Here, we’ll compare different offerings of Blackboard and Canvas, such as customer service and shortcomings.

Training & Customer Support

Blackboard: Blackboard offers many training options that range from downloadable materials to customized programs for schools. It also offers tutorials on its YouTube channel and a community forum for connecting with other users. Users can access the dedicated help site for troubleshooting and answers to other commonly-asked questions. For system administrators and developers, a dedicated site called Behind the Blackboard has support resources, software update downloads and reference materials.

Canvas: Instructure has a support page where users can find their own answers, join community groups and share ideas. The vendor’s customer service representatives are available via email and phone.

Bottom Line: Both vendors offer a community forum for user networking as well as FAQs on troubleshooting. Canvas users can contact customer support via phone or email, and while most of Blackboard’s support resources are online, it’s unknown whether it has phone or email support.

Shortcomings

Blackboard: Users have reported that Blackboard Learn sometimes can get buggy (e.g., a page won’t load correctly). Also, unlike other learning management solutions, it doesn’t integrate with Google Apps.

Canvas: Customers have mentioned Canvas has limited customization capabilities. Others have reported that quiz-building is tedious. They’ve also mentioned that instructions for getting started with the solution are difficult to find.

Bottom Line: Until recently, Google Apps integration wasn’t available in both solutions. However, in January 2017, Canvas released an update that supports Google Apps integration, albeit with some limitations (for instance, no single-sign-on capability).

Takeaways

Although Blackboard and Canvas share a few similarities, the solutions also have several differences. You’ll want to look at each one individually to determine which best fits your school’s needs.

If you need more information on LMS solutions in general, our buyer’s guide can help. In it, we detail benefits, features and what to look for when purchasing a solution.

If you’re looking for alternatives to either system, head over to our Reviews page for detailed reviews on various LMS solutions.

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