Moodle vs Canvas vs Acorn: Choosing the Right LMS for Your Business
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 differences and similarities between three popular LMS softwares (so you don’t have to): Canvas, Moodle and Acorn.
An overview of Moodle vs Canvas vs Acorn
At their core, Canvas and Moodle are similar learning management systems. When compared with Acorn, their use cases are where they start to diverge.
Moodle is a free, open source learning management system that essentially allows users to create a custom or modified LMS with interoperable plugins.
Who is Moodle best for?
Moodle works for any organisations with in-house technical capabilities. It’s not tied to any one industry.
Canvas is a Software-as-a-Service LMS platform created by Instructure (like Acorn LMS was created by Pursuit Technology).
Who is Canvas best for?
Canvas LMS is tailored to educational institutions. They’ve also got Canvas Bridge for enterprise and business training.
Acorn is a cloud-based learning management system that combines HR, L&D and workforce planning technology.
Who is Acorn best for?
Acorn leads the market in its 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 Moodle different from Canvas and Acorn?
Moodle is almost in a class of its own, in that many learning management systems out there are built from Moodle. It can be either paid and cloud-based (on their aptly named MoodleCloud) or local (installed onto your server).
MoodleCloud users get the added benefits of a relatively cost-effective and scalable product, though without the technical support of a vendor. Standard Moodle users can also utilise a number of custom plugins to improve and expand the look and functionality of the LMS.
The real difference between Canvas vs Moodle? While Moodle—even in its cloud form—is the user’s property and responsibility, Canvas is a Software-as-a-Service product that you’ll pay an annual subscription fee for. It’s also got a full suite of branded add-ons, such as Canvas Catalog, Canvas Studio and Canvas Credentials.
Enterprise & Government
Annual fee starts from
$299 per user, per annum
Starts at $150/year
$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
Inform teaching decisions
Capability learning pathways
Proprietary real-time reporting & analytics
Administrator managed multi-tenancy
Phone, chat & email
Some technical development
Dedicated account manager
Phone, chat, ticket & email
Ease of use
UX dependant on
Requires technical knowledge
Easy to navigate
Acorn goes beyond the standard learning management aspect of the LMS to include workforce planning, capability frameworks, learning experience and learning analytics in our technology stack. Our system is geared to help leaders prove the strategic impact of training alongside content creation and learning delivery functionality.
Moodle vs Canvas vs Acorn: Comparing Features
When comparing Moodle, Canvas, Acorn or truthfully any other learning management system’s features, remember to consider the industries and users they are serving.
Canvas services mainly teachers and students, while Moodle caters to both teaching and corporate use cases and Acorn is designed with HR, L&D and workforce planning leaders in mind.
Moodle’s default interface is plain, and while they offer free and paid themes, it’ll cost you to configure the core Moodle design elements like the page layout. It does work across all web browsers and devices.
However, one of the reasons users choose Moodle is because its modular design allows for plugins and integrations that can enhance the system.
When it comes to user and course management and assessment tools, Moodle offers:
- Content authoring tools
- Learning paths
- Self and manual enrolment
- Email, notification calendar settings
- Multi-language support
- Role permissions
- Content repository
- Competency-based marking for Moodle courses.
However, it lacks:
- Certification & compliance management
- A learning record store (LRS)
- Reporting dashboards.
Canvas’s UI centres around three components:
- Dashboard, a high-level overview of courses
- Global navigation, a static menu for key features
- Sidebar, essentially a list of account updates.
Other great features from Canvas include:
- Blueprint Courses, which enables admin to create course templates (handy for replicating courses en masse)
- Canvas Commons, a public learning object repository
- Canvas Studio, where students can comment in the timeline of a video
- Modules, quizzes and exams
- Social learning functionality
- Outcomes, which assesses proficiency
- Gradebook, an assessment grading feature
- SpeedGrader, which allows educators to leave in-line comments and annotations within assignments.
Both Gradebook and SpeedGrader can push grades through an integrated student information system, too.
On the flip side, the extent of their offline learning seems to be downloadable read-only materials. Canvas doesn’t offer certification or compliance management, either.
While you can build courses, Canvas doesn’t offer content creation functionality. There’s a distinction there—one means you can create specific training materials, the other allows you to use training materials to build interactive courses.
Acorn’s user interface is designed to mimic websites that users are likely already familiar with. It also has different views and dashboards depending on the user’s role permissions, so administrators can view and customise a detailed reporting dashboard, as an example.
Other features you’ll find in Acorn’s suite include:
- User management
- Course management
- Live Learning management
- Resources, videos, programs and pages
- Tenancy management
- Capability & competency management
- Payments / eCommerce
- Reporting & analytics
Many of these features are geared towards system administrators. Considering your admin as much as your end users is important when choosing features. Many of the features that end users access won’t or shouldn’t be hard to use, because they aren’t meant to notice the system in their learning experience.
But administrators, who are responsible for creating and managing courses, learning pathways, reports, alerts, tenancy branding—all the things that comprise the learning experience—should be at the forefront of LMS developers’ minds.
Moodle vs Canvas vs Acorn: Comparing Integrations
Here’s the thing about integrations: They are important for everything from creating a virtual classroom to importing courses from third party providers. Essentially, they make an LMS what it is.
Moodle is known for its plugins, considering its base functionality is limited. However, Moodle doesn’t use an API integration, which is considered the gold standard of integrations and is what enables most other integrations.
But while Moodle offers a vast number of useful plugins, there’s a difference between integrations and plugins.
Integrations act as a connection between the LMS and external software; a plugin is software that’s installed in the LMS. Those plugins may or may not receive future support, whereas integrations are often maintained as their own company.
Some of their certified integrations (i.e. those they guarantee work with their system) include:
- Content aggregator Go1
- Screen capturing software Camtasia
- Web conferencing solution BigBlueButton
- Reporting and analytics tool IntelliBoard.
Canvas’s list of certified integrations is short, though they support deep integrations wherein users can access the integrated service within Canvas. That includes:
- Google Apps
- Microsoft Office 365
- Microsoft Teams
- Edu App Center.
Both Moodle and Canvas support LTI standards too, which is important for verifying learning data pulled between learning tools.
Acorn carries unlimited integration opportunity due to the providers flexibility around integration types across xAPI
- G Suite
- Microsoft 365
- LinkedIn Learning
- Content authoring tool Adobe Captivate
- eCommerce tools Stripe and Square
Acorn’s also got a deep integration with the Microsoft Teams app, which enables employees to access learning in the flow of work. Any activities completed in the Acorn Teams app are automatically synced with the LMS.
Moodle vs Canvas vs Acorn: Comparing Support
Customer support determines how quickly issues are resolved and how the learning experience will be impacted. If there’s ever a time to read the reviews, it’s now.
No sugar coating it: Technical support falls on you. While you can utilise a Moodle Partner to handle technical issues, this is an additional and often expensive service.
Moodle developers work on user requests but it’s common for said requests to receive equal priority—which slows down development. You can receive support for plugins from the developers who made them, though you can access the Moodle community forums for collective advice.
Canvas markets phone, chat and email support, on top of a knowledge centre with DIY guides and a community site.
However, real customer reviews usually note that customer support can be slow and often unresponsive.
Alongside a dedicated Customer Success Manager for each client, Acorn offers a DIY Help Centre with community forum, system patch notes and FAQs, email, live chat and ticket support.
There’s also on-site training during implementation pre-launch and a second session post-launch to answer any questions. Clients can request and pay for further training as they need.
Moodle vs Canvas vs Acorn: Comparing Pricing
Moodle and Acorn are a little more upfront with pricing compared to Canvas.
Upfront, Moodle is free to download and install. From there, the cost of development and maintenance on your server of choice is on you. That’s things like:
- Custom themes
- Security audits
- Plugin installations (these take a developer and time).
Their MoodleCloud version costs AUD $150 annually but also offers a free 45-day trial. It’s worth noting you can’t install your own plugins on a MoodleCloud plan, and customisation on their end requires you to upgrade your plan to the next pay tier.
While there is a free, open source version of Canvas, it’s not geared for larger institutions. Those will need the paid option which has an additional one-time fee for implementation. The annual subscription is based on your total number of users. To get more detailed pricing information, you’ll have to contact Canvas, and some of their product suite is charged separately.
Acorn’s pricing is available on the website, with a calculator to get an exact quote on the spot with no added hassle.
- Under 100 users: $400 flat rate/per month
- 101 – 500 users: $3.50 per user/per month
- 501 – 1500 users: $3 per user/per month.
If you have over 1500 users, you can contact the Customer Success team to discuss a custom pricing plan.
So, which LMS is right for your business?
If you’re looking for a simple LMS, both Moodle and Canvas are solid options. There are multiple aspects of each that can elevate the learning experience for users—however we can’t truly compare Canvas vs Moodle as they serve different markets.
Canvas gatekeeps much of their information behind requests for your information. You’re likely to go through a qualification call before you get pricing information. Acorn makes all their pricing information public, so you can qualify us rather than the other way around.
You’ll also find their list of integrations short compared to other LMSs on the market. This comes down to the fact Canvas was designed for educational institutions who need only a few additional features. Some users have noted that Canvas’s other products don’t work across all web browsers and their support can be slow. If you’ve got an issue that impacts immediate learning, that’s time wasted.
Both Canvas and Acorn offer proprietary products to integrate with the LMS, though Canvas’s products only add fairly standard LMS functionality. Acorn’s Capability feature and Momentum workflows, as examples, are designed to embed organisational capability frameworks into learning pathways and automate paper workflows, respectively.
As for Moodle, if we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times. You need technical capabilities to make it look and work how you want it to. If you’re willing and able to shoulder some administrative burden in return for flexible customisation, Moodle is probably the open source LMS for you. But that burden can stack up to a full-time job, so it’s probably best for L&D teams with multiple roles and IT help.
Canvas is a great choice for schools, being geared towards educators and students. It offers more control of course creation with modular design, and interoperability with big-name integrations like Microsoft and Google.
Moodle is known for elements like free themes, multi-language support, its simple interface and minimal upfront costs. For that reason, it’s best for organisations with in-house technical support who can customise the platform.
Acorn is best for organisations and businesses looking for a system to manage and develop workforce capability, alongside learning management and analytics.
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