Blackboard vs Canvas vs Acorn: Which LMS Is Best For Your Organisation?
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 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 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 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.
Schools & Universities
Enterprise & Government
|Also good for|
Businesses (through Learn Ultra)
Businesses (through Canvas Bridge)
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
Open source LMS
Capability learning pathways
Proprietary real-time reporting & analytics
Administrator managed multi-tenancy
Phone, chat & email
Phone, chat & email
Dedicated account manager
Phone, chat, ticket & email
Ease of use
Requires training to use
UX dependant on instructor’s
Easy to navigate
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 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:
- Learning portals
- Learning paths
- User management
- Role permissions
- Course authoring
- Content uploads
- Multi-language support
- Course prerequisites.
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.
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:
- Course authoring
- Assessment and grading schema
- Social learning
- Learning paths (opt-in only)
- ePortfolios and learning history
- Forum discussions
- User management
- Web conferencing.
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.
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.
- User management
- Course management
- Live Learning management
- Resources, videos, programs and pages
- Tenancy management
- Capability & competency management
- Payments / eCommerce
- Reporting & analytics
- Self registration.
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 Learn doesn’t support as many integrations as you’d see in a standard learning management system. However, Blackboard integrates with:
- Plagiarism detection tool SafeAssign
- Microsoft OneDrive
- Sakai Collaborative
- Pearson LearningStudio.
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.
Some of Canvas’s more noteworthy integrations are the proprietary LTI tools they’ve developed themselves.
- Canvas Studio: Allows learners and admin to add time-stamped notes in video and audio.
- Canvas Commons: A digital library of course content.
- GradeBook: A dashboard for grading and viewing grading history.
- SpeedGrader: Hosts assignments alongside rubrics so instructors can leave feedback.
- Canvas Analytics: Their data analytics plug-in.
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 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:
- Microsoft 365
- LinkedIn Learning
- Higher Logic
- Pearson MyLab
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.
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.
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 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:
- A dedicated account manager
- Help Centre, community forum, patch notes and FAQs
- Email, phone, live chat and ticket support.
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 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 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’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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