Intro – What is Canvas?
Canvas has become one of the most unique MOOC platforms for more than 18 million higher ed, K-12, and workforce users worldwide. The service sets out to make teaching and learning easier for both professors and students alike. It does so by connecting teachers, students, and institutions in a clear and effective way – allowing each party to achieve their goals related to personal and professional development.
Unlike other MOOCs, Canvas differentiates itself by granting content partners full autonomy over how the course is taught, how grades are allocated, instructional material, and cost. What this means is each course is unique and different from every other course on the network.
The official statement from the company’s website illustrates this point below…
“Canvas Network allows institutions to define the structure of their courses and the approach to teaching that makes the most sense to them – some institutions have chosen to pursue a massive open online course format (MOOC), and some have chosen to pursue a smaller online course format with more interaction.”
What types of classes can be taken at Canvas?
One of the drawbacks of Canvas is they literally partner with any and every university organization out there – meaning although you’ll have access to a wide variety of classes – some of these classes may actually be pretty terrible. Since there’s no form of quality control, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be receiving the best in online education.
What’s more is since the courses are left at the discretion of the institution and teacher – you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into. Each course varies in structure, learning style, and cost – thus some courses may be a great fit for you, whereas other courses may run contrary to your preferred learning style. This can be both a good and a bad thing – it’s good in the sense that professors have greater flexibility over how they administer their material – however, at the same time, it can be a little frustrating for students, especially if they find themselves signing up for a course that isn’t administered in the way they expected.
Nonetheless, Canvas differentiates itself from other MOOCs by including courses that are much more relevant and suited to user desires. For instance, the site recently leveraged the popularity of “The Walking Dead” to create a course on survival, science, and society.
Since the site launched in 2013, it has administered over 400 open online courses that were created by over 150 universities (keep in mind – over 200 of these courses were free).
The main areas of focus are:
Arts & Humanities
Education & Training
Health & Medicine
Science & Technology
Some specific examples of courses can be seen below:
What are the classes like, and how does it work?
Canvas is quite a unique provider of MOOCs – “it is developed and supported by Instructure, an education technology company that partners with educators, institutions, and technologists to build open educational resources and break down barriers to learning” (taken from the company’s website).
What this ultimately means is Canvas merely provides the infrastructure for learning to take place. There less so a course provider, and more so a learning management system. The ugly side to all of this is the courses taught using Canvas can either be really awesome or flat out terrible. There doesn’t seem to be that much of a middle ground. What’s more is the way in which the courses are administered tends to vary drastically between courses since there are no quality standards set in place. Some courses are taught using video and audio, whereas other courses are taught by disengaged professors who leave much of the teaching on the backs of students.
Class structure and whether the courses come equipped with certification is contingent on instructor preferences as well. This ultimately means that if you’re looking to use Canvas to boost your employment opportunities – this may not be the best MOOC for you, considering you may not receive any certificates after completing a course.
Although the structure of each course differs quite differently – the courses are mostly free scheduled and self-paced. Meaning you have full freedom over when and how you accomplish the respective course.
As far as the process to enrolling in a course – it’s quite straightforward and easy. It starts with you simply visiting the site and browsing through the course catalog. After you find a course you like, click the course title to view more information. If you like what you see – you can enroll by clicking the blue enroll button on the course details page.
The cost of the course is left at the discretion of the professors. Out of the 400 classes offered on the site, over 200 have been taught for free. With that said, the majority of the courses listed on the site are free for enrollment. Keep in mind, however, that some classes may ask you to purchase additional items for successful completion of the class.
Is there any advantage to taking courses at Canvas?
The benefits of taking a course on Canvas are quite subjective. Some individuals have expressed great satisfaction with the network, whereas others view it as ineffective.
Whether or not the network is worth anything depends on your needs and desires. If you’re looking to teach a course or learn in unique and engaging ways – Canvas is a great resource for you to check out.
Some of the reasons why you should check out the site are jotted below:
Diverse courses – Canvas partners with a variety of different universities and institutions, meaning you can expect to find a diverse range of courses – format wise and topic wise. If you’re looking for specialized courses, the site may just have what you’re looking for.
Professors have greater autonomy – The service seems to be attracting a lot more institutions and professors – this isn’t surprising since the site gives them greater control over their content and teaching style. Going forward this could mean great things for you since you’ll have access to even more courses and top notch professors.
The infrastructure is very user-friendly – Everything you need to excel in your course is illustrated in a clear and straightforward manner. You won’t have to subject yourself to hours of frustration sorting through course material, instead, it’s grouped by categories, making it very easy to follow.
The main issues with Canvas…
Like with any MOOC – Canvas suffers from its fair share of issues. The most frustrating and annoying of which are explained below:
Not a lot of courses to choose from – Although Canvas offers quite a diverse range of courses, the total number of courses offered is pretty small relative to other MOOCs. This is the case because the site is still quite new.
Enforced limits on student enrollment – Most of the courses enforce a limit on student enrollment, meaning if you’re not quick to sign up for a course – you will miss out.
Doesn’t hold instructors to a preconceived standard of quality – The site doesn’t clearly illustrate the standards it holds its instructors to – nor does it talk in depth about how instructors are chosen. Instead, the process seems very subjective and on a case by case basis, meaning you’re not guaranteed the best when it comes to quality.
Lack of curriculum – Since the structure of courses is left at the discretion of professors, you’re more likely to find courses with no curriculums – making it very difficult for you to follow along and stay on track.
Who’s it for?
The site is open to anyone eager to learn. The only thing required to enroll in any of their courses is an active email account.
Although Canvas prides itself on providing educational access to as many people as possible – the site is best for high school and college students.
To give you a better indicator of whether or not Canvas is the right fit for you – read the reviews below from current and past users of Canvas.
Conclusion – are their courses legit?
It is apparent that Canvas has its fair share of issues, from lack of quality control to a small number of courses to choose from. Despite the issues, the network does an adequate job at creating and administering unique courses.
With that said, if you’re just starting out your journey in online education – you want to analyze the benefits and costs of using Canvas quite closely before deciding to enroll in the service. Quite frankly, if you’re just beginning to take online courses, you’re probably better off choosing another MOOC – you’ll have a larger database of high-quality courses to choose from.
If, on the other hand, you want to experiment with your learning style and you’re keen on taking a very specific type of course – Canvas may just be the best bet for you.
this was a great review of Canvas chock full of info. I was aware of Canvas but never truly understood what it was. You have opened my mind. Education is the key to moving forward with anything in life. Have you yourself used any of the courses? I like the idea that there are free ones and also that you can get a diverse look at the topics.
Wow Wendy I didn’t even know there was anything like this out there. There are a lot of people I know that would love to take a class in something that peaks their interest. It is really cool that over half of the courses are free! Do you know how often new courses are added?
I believe they are added regularly, so I’d keep checking back for new courses!
Wendy, I myself am in the education field. Well, almost. Just need to finish teacher certification.
I was not even aware stuff like this existed.
What exactly is a MOOC?
And, do courses like that actually show as credits on your degree plan if you are to transfer them? Guess I am a little confused since this is the first time I have heard of a route like this.
Well I’m glad I could open your eyes to something new! MOOCs are online classes (often times college level) that are open to the general public, typically anyone can take them and learn. There are a lot that are entirely free but others you have to pay for.
They don’t necessarily show as regular credits or transfer to colleges, but certain MOOC providers do offer that option for certain paid courses.
For the most part, it’s more of an open form of education for anyone to take regardless of acceptance, income level, location, etc. It is never bad to learn just to learn, and you can still learn and acquire new skills from them and apply them to your work even if they aren’t an “official” recognized certificate/credit. This is an exceptionally good option for entrepreneurs.
Hi Just wanted to let you know that I like your site. If there`s one thing I know at the age I am now is that your never to old to learn. In fact I have attended College and have a diploma in Medical Office Assistant. But the thing is you can learn in the comfort of your own home now. this would be great for anyone to use, in fact I would use it.
Yes – lifelong learning is a good thing. People get so focused on the end result (getting a degree) they forget the entire reason they are there … to learn!
I guess someone would have to be willing to take the risk on a class to see if it was a decent class of not. I probably wouldn’t go with classes like this if I needed it for a degree but more just for general learning. I would definitely try a free class first before deciding to take a pay class. I did type in a couple classes in their search for things I would be interested in, and neither showed up.
Well a lot of courses are entirely free so worst case if you don’t like it you can just stop without losing money. Sorry to hear you didn’t find any types of classes you were looking for! There are many other providers of these types of online courses so maybe you could find what you are looking for on another platform like Edx, Coursera or FutureLearn.
Hey Wendy, great post. I’m actually using Canvas for one of my online classes in college and it’s worked great so far, but it’s only been a few weeks. I’m a big fan though of the navigation of Canvas and how easily I can move around in it. Thanks for the post.
Thanks for commenting, it’s great to hear from someone else who has used Canvas’s platform.