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Blackboard vs Canvas vs Acorn: Which LMS Is Best For Your Organisation?

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There are seemingly endless options for learning management systems out there. How can you be sure which is right for you at face value?  

In this article, we’ve saved you the hassle of trawling through reviews and done it for you. Let’s explore the similarities and differences between three LMS softwares: Blackboard, Canvas and Acorn.     

An overview of Blackboard vs Canvas vs Acorn 

Blackboard Learn and Canvas aren’t so different at first glance. Acorn takes a different approach, though. 

Blackboard Learn 

Blackboard Learn began as Blackboard LMS, an open source learning management system. It is now available in both on premise and mobile-ready versions. 

Who is Blackboard for?

Blackboard Learn Original was designed for educational institutions. Their newer learning management system, Blackboard Learn Ultra, is ideal for corporate training.  

Canvas LMS 

Canvas is a Software-as-a-Service LMS from ed tech company Instructure.  

Who is Canvas for? 

Compared to Canvas Bridge, their corporate LMS, Canvas is geared more towards large educational institutions.  

Acorn LMS  

Acorn is also a Software-as-a-Service learning management system from Pursuit Technology.  

Who is Acorn for? 

Acorn leads the market in it’s multi-tenancy feature, meaning there are multiple use cases that Acorn enables from corporate training, compliance training, customer and partner training, to education providers and RTOs. 

In short: How is Blackboard and Canvas different from Acorn? 

Canvas and Blackboard Learn have the same roots and core use cases. Both are designed for educational institutions with sister products or medium to large businesses.  

There’s also the web-based, desktop and on premise options they do or don’t offer. Blackboard isn’t compatible with Windows desktop, Linux desktop or Mac desktop, though you can get Linux and Windows on premise versions. Canvas doesn’t offer an on-premise option—only web-based. 

Most reviews note that Blackboard is designed to simply transfer the physical classroom to an online learning environment, while Canvas offers more traditional LMS software functionality alongside learning management.  

  Blackboard  Canvas  Acorn 

Best for 
 

Higher education  


Schools & Universities 


Enterprise & Government 

Also good for  
Businesses (through Learn Ultra)  


Businesses (through Canvas Bridge)  


SMBs


Pricing  


Blackboard starts from a $9,000 flat fee per annum  


Annual fee starts from $299 per user, per annum  


$400 flat rate under 100 users 
$3.50 per user up to 500 
$3 per user up to 1500
 Custom quotes on request 


Key features  


Real-time collaboration 
Exam security 


Open source LMS 
Asynchronous learning 
Virtual classroom  


Capability learning pathways 
Proprietary real-time reporting & analytics 
Administrator managed multi-tenancy  



Support 

 


Phone, chat & email 
In-person training 

 

Phone, chat & email 
Knowledge base 
Community forum  


Dedicated account manager 
Phone, chat, ticket & email 
Help Centre 


Ease of use  


Requires training to use  


UX dependant on instructor’s
system knowledge  


Easy to navigate 
Training provided 

Acorn has an entirely different use case, focusing primarily on enterprise, small to medium sized businesses and government. The LMS utilises capability frameworks, learning analytics and HR technology to ensure the strategic impact of training can be accurately gleaned. 

Blackboard vs Canvas vs Acorn: Features 

With a few different applications, how much do Blackboard, Canvas and Acorn differ in features? 

Blackboard 

Blackboard isn’t known for a simple or easy to navigate interface. It’s also outdated in look, so lacking an intuitive interface that you’d expect from a user-friendly LMS. With a clunky UI comes a steep learning curve to use the system and customise the look. 

Blackboard offers a suite of features to help with course creation like: 

There are also many test-based features, like locking browsers to prevent cheating and assigning permitted attempts. Blackboard Learn also has more social learning features, like discussion boards, built-in web conferencing and real-time assignment collaboration. 

Canvas 

The user interface is cleaner in Canva but considered less intuitive than other LMSs. Canvas’s features are more focused on academic learning. That includes: 

However, some of Canvas’s best features are actually integrations or LTI tools you’ll have to elect to switch on; they aren’t included in the baseline system. For example, an institution must have the Profile feature enabled for users to view their enrolments. 

Acorn 

With system administrators in mind, the bulk of Acorn’s features focus on streamlining and automating many of the tasks HR, L&D and workforce planning leaders have to manage. 

On top of that, the Acorn interface is white-labelled so you can apply your own branding. Every user role has a dashboard related to their permissions. Learners can view their upcoming sessions, recommended content, progress and training history in My Capability while system admin have a customisable reporting dashboard that shows everything from the most popular content to program compliance. 

New features are realised every quarter based on Acorn’s 12-month roadmap. Clients are able to request features and updates along the way, too. 

Blackboard vs Canvas vs Acorn: Integrations 

Integrations are optional, additional capabilities in an LMS. They enable the LMS software to push and pull data from other systems, as well as enhancing the user experience and reducing manual burden for administrators. 

Blackboard 

Blackboard Learn doesn’t support as many integrations as you’d see in a standard learning management system. However, Blackboard integrates with: 

We’ll note here that analytics aren’t a standard feature for Blackboard—that’s an integration you’ll have to pay for. It’s also been noted in reviews that Blackboard doesn’t always migrate data between the learning management system and school information systems, which creates silos of learning and people data.  

The Blackboard mobile app is accessible on the standard Android mobile and iPhone mobile operating systems, as well as Windows and Linux mobile.  

Canvas 

Some of Canvas’s more noteworthy integrations are the proprietary LTI tools they’ve developed themselves. 

Then there’s the external options, like BigBlueButton, Google Apps and Microsoft Office. However, to access these integrations you have to enable a specific tool within Canvas.  

Canvas also uses an open application programming interface, which is predicated on a universal coding language. That’s what allows you to integrate the LMS with almost any software.  

There are three versions of the Canvas mobile application: Student, Teacher and Parent. Each has varying permissions—the Parent app, as an example, simply lets parents view assignments, grades and alerts.  

Acorn 

Acorn covers a range of integrations used in business, from HR technology to task management software. Though some are chosen to enhance the learning environment, many are meant to extend the accessibility of people and learning data between many of the systems admin are already using. 

There’s also an Acorn mobile app as well as a deep integration within the Microsoft Teams app. Of note is that Acorn carries unlimited integration opportunity due to the providers flexibility around integration types across xAPI, LTI, webhooks, SSO, and SFTP. As a learning management system built for business, Acorn has accrued a long list of integrations. Some highlights you may recognise are: 

Blackboard vs Canvas vs Acorn: Support 

This isn’t just how the vendor fields tickets—you’ll want to consider if an LMS provider offers training to help you learn how to use the system. 

Blackboard

Though it lacks a knowledge base, Blackboard does offer email, phone, chat and live support. System training includes live online webinars, documentation, videos and in-person support. 

Canvas 

While Canvas offers support via a community knowledge centre, tickets, phone, email and chat, training doesn’t appear to be part of their support offering. That limits you to navigating the system and any issues yourself, regardless of your technical capabilities. 

Acorn 

Acorn offers two training sessions as part of the implementation fee. The first is pre-launch and the second post-launch to answer any new questions. You’re also able to request for further training for an additional fee.  

Support isn’t tiered at Acorn. All clients have access to: 

Blackboard vs Canvas vs Acorn: Pricing 

There’s no real “Canvas vs Blackboard” here, as from what is publicly available it seems both companies only provide pricing information by quote. That’s industry lingo for them qualifying you as a lead and taking your information in the process. 

Blackboard

Blackboard offers a subscription-based fee. You can utilise their free trial, though they’ll charge you after 30 days based on your chosen subscription. Any further information is a little hard to find, as they don’t have a pricing page on their website.

Canvas 

Canvas functions as a Software-as-a-Service product, which means you pay an implementation fee and then an ongoing subscription. They’ve got an unlimited free trial, too.  

Acorn 

Acorn’s pricing can be viewed in full transparency here. A flat rate of $400 per month is charged for under 100 users. Up to 500 users from there comes in at $3.50 per user, per month and that rate is lowered to $3 per user, per month for between 501 and 1500 users. 

The Customer Success Enablement team will work to create a custom pricing plan for over 1500 users. 

Key takeaways: Which is right for your organisation? 

Ultimately, it comes down the features and functionality you’re after. Canvas has more proprietary features and integrations to enhance their system, while Blackboard Learn offers less integrations but is compatible with more operating systems and forms of hosting. Compared to Canvas, Blackboard offers more support but Acorn edges both out with support and training included in implementation.  

Neither Blackboard or Canvas is rated that well for small businesses, particularly Blackboard which can get rather costly. This may be because both systems are designed for large school cohorts. Acorn has more features and functionality designed for corporate L&D. It also has a lower learning curve than Blackboard and Canvas, with more technical customer support. 

Blackboard features a content import tool but no content authoring; Canvas offers an integrable learning object repository but you’ll have to rebuild a course in order to replicate it. Acorn includes a centralised activity bank with the standard LMS. There’s also a longer list of integrations with Acorn, including a content authoring tool, and more control of users, security and reporting. 

At the end of the day, Blackboard and Canvas are two good LMS platforms for higher education. If you’re looking for a system suited to small to medium sized businesses or large enterprises, these probably aren’t your best bet—Acorn’s strategic HR, L&D and workforce planning stack is likely the better choice. 

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