How Canvas is Different From WebCT

Canvas and WebCT view learning differently, and operate on different assumptions. Switching systems involves learning new tools, but it also involves a paradigm shift.

Closed vs Open:


In Canvas, files are open to students by default. Also, traditional learning management systems tend to try to re-create pale versions of popular tools inside the walled garden. Canvas thinks the role of an LMS is to integrate the best tools available, not to try to re-invent them. They make it possible to link up with services like Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs and WordPress.


Silos vs Integration:


In WebCT the various tools were independent. In Canvas everything works together. Assignments get a Gradebook column, a place on the calendar, and an entry in the Syllabus tool. Another example: when students log in, they see a stream of what is going on across all of their courses instead of having to visit every course site and search for changes.


User Choice:


Students are in charge of deciding how they want to be notified of events in the course. The data will come to them in the format of their choice (Facebook, Twitter, in-Canvas messages) and in the timing of their choice (immediately, once a day, once a week, never). Students CAN turn off messages, and need to know that they are responsible for making sure they don’t miss content.


WebCT = MySpace, Canvas = Facebook:


You will not have as many chances to customize the look of your course. Canvas takes its accessibility certification very seriously. In order to certify that its content is accessible for users with sight issues, it places restrictions on what you can do in your course. The downside: no more blinking glitter text. The upside: Canvas provides a Rich Text Editor that converts what you type into accessible content.


Mobile vs Desktop:


Canvas works on mobile phones and tablets, and faculty can even grade on the go.




WebCT was updated once a year. The internet moves faster than that, so WebCT has security issues. Canvas is updated every 3 weeks. Anyone and everyone can make and vote on feature requests, and the highest voted requests are implemented.

To sum up, though you can easily migrate your WebCT course structure into Canvas, you don’t necessarily want to.

The assumptions and constraints that shaped your course in WebCT don’t apply in Canvas. We don’t have to do things the same way anymore! You may want to experiment and take advantage of Canvas’s new tools.

With all that said, here is how Canvas’s tools differ from WebCT’s tools.

For more information about how WebCT and Canvas differ, see Utah State University’s free online resource: Canvas for Blackboard Vista Users


** This page was inspired by John Louviere’s exceptional talk at InstructureCon 2011 **