How To Never Switch From Moodle To Canvas

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How To Never Switch From Moodle To Canvas

In my own work, I was recently asked to review our LMS platforms to understand whether we should move from Moodle to another system. One of the proposed systems was Canvas LMS.

I think Canvas is a very good system and, if you read their website, they of course try to make the case as to why you should switch to it:

“It’s The LMS That Gets Used”

For some time, this seemed to be the cut and thrust of the Canvas message. Canvas was tapping into the fact that most systems, including Moodle, are not well used in the organizations that implement them.

Some time back, I had the opportunity to visit an organization which had implemented Canvas and they showed some statistics on adoption, namely the number of course pages created in the months after launch. On the face of it, these numbers were very impressive.

A year later I spoke with a member of this team and asked how they were progressing with Canvas and got a somewhat surprising reply which went along the lines of:

“The roll out went well, lots of people use it but we cannot get staff to do much more than upload documents and set assignments”

I think this situation will be all too familiar to many Moodle users.

The conclusion I have come to is that, if Moodle (or another LMS) has already been adopted in your organization and is being used widely, even at a basic level, swapping out the tool is unlikely to yield anything more than marginal gain.

“It’s Not About Features”

This part of the pitch is very much tied to the first and argues there is no point in selecting an LMS based on features unless they are going to get used. However, my experience of Moodle is that many features do get used, if only by a small subset of users.

The fact that there are “niche” use cases does not mean they can be ignored. I am used to leveraging Moodle’s flexibility and its extensive list of third-party plugins to avoid having to deploy entirely new and separate applications. So my conclusion on this point would be:

It’s not about features, unless you ACTUALLY need those features and YOUR NEED FOR FEATURES CHANGES QUICKLY.

“CHANGE: It’s Worth It”

This statement is used in graphics on the Canvas site and links into a document where the arguments for switching your LMS are put forth.

Both Moodle and Canvas have their strengths and weaknesses but are ultimately very similar in what they do. So if your users are not leveraging Moodle to the best of their ability, why would you think they’d leverage Canvas any better?

This question is in part driven by the example I gave earlier of an organization that moved to Canvas only to hit the familiar plateau of users doing little more than uploading files and grading assignments.

Another issue I want to draw attention to is the fact that it is far easier to change a system than it is to change attitudes and organizational culture.

“Its not you, its the system”

A comforting thing to be told, and something for which there is an apparently clear and tangible “fix”: Change the system.

“Its not the system, its you!”

Now that is not what anyone wants to hear. It also risks having no clear way forward (that you’d want to admit anyway.) However, in many cases, this is the unfortunate truth.

“Moodle’s greatest strength is its biggest weakness”

This statement came from a very experienced and high-level Moodler I worked with. It refers to Moodle’s flexibility.

We all know Moodle is very flexible, and therefore very powerful. The downside is that without process or discipline, you end up with a system that could fairly be described as the “Wild West.” That’s actually how another colleague of mine described a Moodle implementation.

If your Moodle system is not delivering what you need, consider putting some serious effort into things like:

  • Policies
  • Processes
  • Quality Standards
  • Training
  • Governance

You may find that focusing on what these areas will deliver is more worthwhile than taking on a full LMS switch.

If you simply “blame the system” and switch your LMS, all you may have to show for your efforts is a slightly different place to upload course files and hand out multiple-choice quizzes.

Stuck with Moodle (and loving it)

We eventually came to the conclusion that

“change is worth it, switching our LMS is not.”

We decided to put some effort and resources that otherwise would have been spent switching systems into improving the one we have (Moodle).

I think that was the right decision for our organization, at least at this point in time. There is, of course, a lot of scope for improvement in the way we do things. But I believe switching out our technological platform is not part of it.


ecreators logoThis Moodle Governance related post is made possible by: eCreators. Moodle for the enterprise, K12 and corporate. Australia and Singapore. To learn more about eCreators, click here.


  • I really do agree with you. I have been involved with training users on how to use Moodle and very early on came to the conclusion that if you do not continue to invest in or cannot get staff to use Moodle then you are unlikely to be sucssessful with any other LMS. It is a culture change within the organisation that needs to occur. Frankly in most organisations i have provided training for they don’t know what a VLE is or how to use it. In one place I have worked the ‘product owner’ was so out of their sphere of knowledge that it was no wonder they were making the wrong choices.

  • I also agree with this article, and the comment below.

    One quote sticks with me, though. Someone at MoodleMoot 2017 said “Moodle supports the way you want to teach”. This is so true and I have not found any other system anywhere near flexible enough to be able to also claim this. Canvas is slick but impoverished from a pedagogy perspective. If our education needs richness, rather than repositories for PDFs etc., then most LMSs fail us.

    My advice is always to start with Moodle (walk before you think you need to run), develop a rich deliverable, and then think about other systems. Chances are you won’t move.

  • John Doubleday

    A lot of my students have special Learning needs and no other LMS I have looked at gives a teacher the tools to assist these students