Open LMS vs. Canvas: Which LMS Leads in Providing Custom Learning Experiences?

There’s a lot to consider when choosing the right learning management system for your organization. Your learners demand an engaging, personalized learning experience that will help them progress in their education and careers, and you require a secure platform to protect your most sensitive information. Not only that, but your LMS provider should be able to help you resolve any unforeseen software issues quickly and efficiently.

To help you make an informed decision about which LMS platform is right for your organization, this article compares two popular eLearning solutions: Open LMS and Canvas by Instructure.

Meet the Contenders!

Open LMS

Open LMS leverages and enhances open-source Moodle™ to deliver fully customizable, highly effective digital learning experiences for every user. In addition to housing your eLearning content, Open LMS’s features and extensions include personalized learning options, extensive customization capabilities, offline mobile access to learning programs, and more.

With hosting from Amazon Web Services (AWS), data is securely stored in the cloud with nearly limitless resources to keep your information safe, including a multiple-level backup strategy. Additionally, Open LMS has a team of global software experts available to assist with any administrative support requests in an average of just 50 minutes, ensuring your questions are answered quickly and your programs keep running smoothly.

Two versions of the Open LMS platform are available:

  • Open LMS EDU: Tailored for academic instruction, aimed at schools and tertiary education institutions such as colleges, vocational education and training (VET) institutes, and universities.
  • Open LMS WORK: Focused on employee training, targeted at businesses and organizations with existing learning and development (L&D) programs, or those looking to implement one.


Canvas by Instructure is a cloud-based LMS that offers eLearning solutions for the K-12, higher education, and professional learning markets, although its primary audience is higher learning institutions. The platform is the same regardless of whether learners are enrolled in a university course or a professional training program. The LMS includes common features such as mobile accessibility, third-party integrations, and course management.

“Open LMS lets you choose nearly every detail about how your LMS instance looks and feels to your end-users, ensuring that your software becomes an extension of your organization’s culture.”

Open LMS: Key Product Features

1) Extensive Customization Options

Open LMS lets you choose nearly every detail about how your LMS instance looks and feels to your end-users, ensuring that your software becomes an extension of your organization’s culture. You can integrate your existing logos, color schemes, fonts, and other branding elements into the platform to give your users a consistent and cohesive learning experience that reflects your organization’s goals and values.

In addition to choosing how your software looks, Open LMS’s software engineers can customize the platform from the back-end and create unique plugins to solve your organization’s specific pain points. You can distinguish your platform even further by importing data from your HR, CRM, ERP, and other systems to create a centralized user management and reporting system within the LMS.

2) Personalized Learning Designer (PLD)

Exclusively available with Open LMS, the PLD is a plugin that lets instructors automate elements of their courses to give students differentiated learning experiences tailored to their needs. Student behaviors within a course will trigger various automated actions from the PLD, such as:

  • Sending personalized assessment feedback based on complex outcome thresholds
  • Setting reminders to complete assignments or interact with course materials, including specific content items
  • Recommending additional learning materials or courses based on a learner’s previous training/academic history

With the PLD, instructors spend less time on repetitive, manual processes and more time connecting with their students and attending to their unique learning needs.

3) Advanced Multi-Tenancy Capabilities

Open LMS makes it easy to create independently managed tenants under a single LMS—each with its own unique branding, user management, and authentication systems. This makes it easy for large organizations or university systems to divide their training and learning resources among their various brands or entities in a controlled, organized environment. Administrators can share learning and training content with tenants of their choosing without duplicating or recreating materials, saving L&D teams time and resources and ensuring that the relevant people have access to the same information.

"Open LMS enables offline access to its platform through the mobile app, so learners can keep upskilling and reskilling on the go, and instructors can offer feedback, grade assessments, and communicate with students from anywhere, not just their offices.”

KEEP READING | ‘4 Reasons Why Your Organization Needs a Multi-Tenancy LMS

4) Automatic Recertification Reminders and Course Enrollments

Everyone needs reminders now and then, and Open LMS doesn’t let its end-users forget to complete essential training tasks. Administrators can configure courses so that learners are automatically reminded to recertify their skills when their credentials are due to expire. Additionally, the LMS can be configured to automatically enroll learners in the appropriate courses so learners don’t need to guess which programs are essential for them to improve their skills.

5) Full Offline Mobile Access

Your learners and instructors can use a phone, tablet, or other mobile-ready device to access their learning content with Open LMS’s mobile app. The app is available on Android and iOS devices and can be fully customized to match your organization’s brand, just like the desktop version of the LMS. Learners and course instructors can use the app to access:

  • Course content, activities, calendars, and grade books
  • Interactive content, including videos and synchronous virtual meetings
  • Internal messaging between learners and trainers
  • File management
  • Mobile push notifications

Open LMS enables offline access to its platform through the mobile app, so learners can keep upskilling and reskilling on the go, and instructors can offer feedback, grade assessments, and communicate with students from anywhere, not just their offices.

6) Extensive Administrative Support

With an average response time of just 50 minutes, Open LMS’s global team of software developers and LMS experts quickly responds to your administrative support requests and ensures your platform keeps running smoothly at no additional cost. The Open LMS team is dedicated to client success and provides high-level support and consulting services as part of its standard LMS agreement.

In addition to a dedicated support team, Open LMS clients receive discounted access to premium content from the Open LMS Academy. The Open LMS Academy is a comprehensive collection of complimentary and premium professional development courses to help you improve your skills in areas like:

  • Course creation
  • LMS features and functionalities
  • Digital learning pedagogy and andragogy

7) Exclusive Ecommerce Suite

Open LMS provides an ecommerce suite that helps organizations and learning institutions increase revenue without resorting to expensive and complex external solutions. The Open LMS ecommerce suite lets LMS administrators establish catalogs for selling courses, certifications, and more. Content can be sold as a single instance or as a subscription. Catalog offerings can be customized to include options like:

  • Quiz attempts
  • Site subscriptions
  • Exclusive, paid content within free courses
  • Seats for a live event
  • Skills certifications that can be pushed out to LinkedIn

The ecommerce suite also lets you embed direct course purchase links into social media copy or other promotional materials. This gives users a cleaner experience by taking interested customers directly to a purchase page and reducing their number of clicks.

“Digital badges validate learners’ skills and accomplishments and can be useful for future job applications or career progression.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT ECOMMERCE | ‘How an LMS With Ecommerce Capabilities Benefits Your Bottom Line: 5 Tips for Implementation

Canvas: Key Product Features

1) Online Course Catalog

Similar to Open LMS’s ecommerce functionality, Canvas Catalog is an online course catalog that integrates with the Canvas LMS product. The feature lets you bundle multiple courses together, create course listings for specific departments, organizations, or groups, and create custom certificates that you can distribute to learners after they complete a learning program.

2) Verifiable Digital Credentials

Canvas has its own take on skills certifications with verifiable digital badges available through Canvas Credentials, another product that integrates with Canvas LMS. Canvas’s clients can design learning programs that include skills-based credentialing systems so learners can showcase their workforce readiness to future employers. Digital badges validate learners’ skills and accomplishments and can be useful for future job applications or career progression.

3) Interactive Video Learning Platform

Canvas Studio is a video learning platform featuring a personal media library, live video integrations, and engagement analytics. While Open LMS’s video creation tools are embedded in its LMS, Canvas Studio is a separate product, although it does integrate with the Canvas LMS so users can create and interact with video content without leaving the learning platform.

4) Third-Party Integrations

Like Open LMS, Canvas offers several third-party integrations to enhance its learning platform and meet users’ needs. Instructors can choose from a variety of integrations from a prepopulated catalog and add them to their courses to give users a more customized learning experience.

Open LMS’s Weaknesses

1) Clients Give Up Some Control (But Not Much!)

Choosing an LMS provider for your eLearning needs usually means sharing control of your learning platform with an expert team. Giving up a small amount of freedom to do whatever you want on your learning site also means you’re not on your own if an unexpected error occurs. While you might not have absolute control over the platform, you do have the benefit of software engineers and LMS experts who will manage all system updates, keep your plugins running smoothly, and ensure your sensitive data stays secure.

2) Some Features Only Available Through Partnerships

While most of Open LMS’s extensive array of features come standard with the platform, some functionalities and add-ons like automated exam proctoring, accessibility audits, and course content creation services are only available through its partner integrations.

“It’s more secure to properly vet and approve third-party applications with the help of trained software experts who understand both your needs and the LMS’s capabilities before giving instructors broad access to any integration options.”


Canvas’s Weaknesses

1) Additional Cost to Access Certain Integrations, Features, and High-Level Support

Many of Canvas’s most appealing features are not included in their standard LMS package. If you want extensive video creation tools, high-level customer support, access to digital badges, and feature-rich integrations, you’ll need to purchase each thing separately. This can significantly drive up the cost of your learning platform and make it difficult to budget appropriately.

2) Potential Security Risks for Clients

Canvas includes a pre-populated catalog of third-party applications. Although instructors might enjoy the ability to choose which third-party integrations they add to their Canvas courses, this can open up their organizations to potential security risks. Some third-party integrations might collect sensitive user information that violates data privacy regulations like the GDPR.

Often course instructors aren’t adequately trained on how to identify which software applications are safe to install since that’s not their area of expertise. It’s more secure to properly vet and approve third-party applications with the help of trained software experts (such as Open LMS) who understand both your needs and the LMS’s capabilities before giving instructors broad access to any integration options.

3) Lack of Automation Features

Canvas can’t automate course enrollments or send learners reminders to recertify essential credentials. Instructors or administrators must manually complete these tasks, which takes valuable time and resources that could be allocated elsewhere. Manual tasks also increase the risk of human error and mistakes that could be avoided with automated tools.

4) Inability to Define Custom Learning Paths

Learners have unique needs, which means differentiated learning journeys are essential to successful learning outcomes. Canvas offers a product that gives students a roadmap for completing their learning program, but the LMS can’t define customizable learning paths that include a mixture of online courses, face-to-face sessions, and assessments that give learners the individualized resources they need to thrive.

When Is Open LMS Not a Good Fit?

Open LMS might not be the best fit for you if:

  • You’re not likely to need high-level support, or you’re comfortable paying extra for advance support if the need arises
  • You don't expect to benefit from automation and personalization features
  • You don't anticipate a need for back-end customization
  • You don't expect a need for custom learning paths
  • You don’t anticipate a need for ecommerce features

When Is Canvas Not a Good Fit?

Canvas may not be the ideal learning software solution if:

  • You need an LMS capable of automating course enrollments and personalizing learner journeys
  • You require a fully customizable learning environment that reflects your unique brand and culture
  • Your learners and instructors need accessible, offline mobile learning environments
  • You’re seeking a straightforward LMS without unexpected costs
  • Your organization includes multiple brands that need unique training environments under a unified learning platform
  • You want all new LMS integrations to be evaluated by software experts to avoid potential security risks or performance issues

One Key Takeaway: Choose Open LMS!

Open LMS offers unbeatable administrative support, extensive features and functionalities, a fully customizable learning environment, and a team of experts to help you every step of the way—all included in your subscription agreement. By choosing Open LMS:

  • Your learners get differentiated experiences tailored to their unique needs
  • Repetitive tasks can be automated to save your instructors valuable time
  • You get a learning platform that’s customized to your specific needs, from back-end software configuration to visual elements like colors and logos
  • You can leverage multi-tenancy capabilities to manage learning for your large institution, organization, or extended enterprise with ease
  • Your learners and instructors can access course materials both online and offline, so learning doesn’t have to stop if the WiFi goes out
  • You can increase your revenue with advanced ecommerce capabilities
  • You can rest easy knowing that your software is backed by a team of dedicated experts who want to see your program succeed
  • And more!
Ready to enhance your eLearning program? Contact us to discuss your specific needs or request a demo to see how Open LMS can take your online learning initiatives to the next level.
Andy Braden
About the author

Andy Braden

Customer Education Consultant at Open LMS

Customer Education Consultant at Open LMS

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