What is Canvas?

Canvas is a web-based learning management system, or LMS. It is used by learning institutions, educators, and students to access and manage online course learning materials and communicate about skill development and learning achievement. 

Canvas includes a variety of customizable course creation and management tools, course and user analytics and statistics, and internal communication tools. 

Institutions may provide users with a Canvas account, or individual users can try the free version by signing up for their own account.

Learn more about how institutions around the world use Canvas to increase student engagement and success.

Canvas Defined

Condensing something as robust as Canvas into a simple definition is quite a challenge but we'll try.

Canvas LMS is an open and reliable web-based software that allows institutions to manage digital learning, educators to create and present online learning materials and assess student learning, and students to engage in courses and receive feedback about skill development and learning achievement.

Additionally, while Canvas is primarily a web-based software, any user can access Canvas on a mobile device from the Canvas Teacher, Canvas Student, and Canvas Parent apps. Learn more about the Canvas mobile apps.

Basic Canvas Features

Canvas includes a variety of built-in course construction and management tools that can be customized to create unique and accessible teaching and learning experiences. 

  • Instructional designers and instructors may create and share course content using Assignments, Discussions, Modules, Quizzes, and Pages. They may also choose to foster a collaborative learning experience using Collaborations, Conferences, and Groups. Additionally, course creators can use the Course Import Tool to bulk-upload pre-existing LMS course packages and/or course materials. 
  • Students use Canvas to view and interact with course materials, view feedback, communicate with their instructor, and interact with other course users.
  • Students and instructors can showcase their work by creating their own ePortfolios.
  • Canvas also allows institutions and instructors to add state and institutional learning outcomes to rubrics in order to measure and track student skill development and learning achievement. Optionally, instructors can customize the learning experience using Mastery Paths.
  • Instructors can provide students with comprehensive feedback on assignment and quiz submissions using SpeedGrader and manage grade reporting in the Canvas Gradebook. Instructors can also allow peer reviews to encourage student-to-student feedback.
  • Instructors can facilitate real-time course interactions using Chat and communicate course news and updates with students using Announcements as well as the Calendar and Syllabus. Additionally, all course participants can use the Canvas Inbox to send and receive messages.
  • Instructors and admins can gain greater insight into student success and make informed instructional decisions using data provided in Canvas Analytics. Admins can also access SQL data about their Canvas user and usage details form Canvas Data Services
  • Canvas also includes the Canvas App Center, where admins, designers, and instructors can enable a variety of External Apps (LTI Tools) and services. The ever-growing app library offers a wide array of interactive resources, content repositories, assessment tools, social media integrations, and other digital learning and teaching resources. 

Learn more about all Canvas features, review the Canvas Guides, and compare Canvas Free for Teacher features with features included in a paid account

Additional Canvas Features

Institutions may choose to include additional Canvas features specifically designed to meet a variety of institutional, educational, and learning needs. 

Canvas Catalog is a digital marketplace where students can register, enroll, and pay for courses. 

Canvas Studio is an interactive video management platform that enhances student engagement and collaboration.  

Canvas Commons is a learning object repository where teachers can store course content for their own use and for collaboration with colleagues both within and outside of their institution. 

Canvas Credentials provides features for going beyond the badges/credentials within Canvas.

Mastery Connect allows designers and teachers to build, deploy, and manage standards-based formative and summative assessments across an institution. It provides schools with actionable data to improve teaching and learning.

Canvas Student ePortfolios is an academic ePortfolio platform that allows you to showcase your education and work accomplishments and connect with other professionals. Although it that integrates directly inside of Canvas, students will always have access to their Canvas Student ePortfolios outside of Canvas even after they lose access to Canvas.

Canvas Student Pathways gives instructors more advanced features for guiding students through defined activities, milestones, and achievements.

Canvas Users

Canvas includes the following six standard user roles: Admins, Designers, Teachers/Instructors, Teacher Assistants, Students, and Observers. However, institutions may create any number of custom course-level or account-level user roles with varied Canvas access. 

A user’s assigned role permissions determines their Canvas access and interactions. For example, Canvas administrators may have access to create user accounts, add course enrollments, and manage institutional grading periods. Instructional designers may use Canvas to create and manage course content and review course analytics to identify areas for improvement in teaching and learning. School counselors may use Canvas to review student course progress and assess student achievement. Parents and guardians may use Canvas to review and communicate with instructors about student course progress, including assignment submissions and grades.

Using Canvas

Anyone can use Canvas! Are you just getting started?

To try a free version of Canvas called Free-for-Teacher, sign up for a free Canvas account.

You can find more information about using Canvas in the Canvas Community, including how-to guides, question and answer forums, and special interest groups.