Rethinking Classroom Experience

Reflections on Value Proposition Canvas of Learning Management Systems

Over the past two decades, the use of technology has been dramatically changing the learning and teaching experience. Today, Learning Management Systems (LMS) have become an integral part of many educational institutions, allowing students and faculty alike to easily access and manage course work and ultimately improve their classroom experience.

One of the first experiences of any student at Harvard has been using Canvas — an open source LMS platform designed to facilitate learning and teaching in universities.

Canvas user dashboard of a Harvard University student

Canvas is a relatively recent addition to the resources available at Harvard. From among many LMS options, such as Blackboard and Moodle, Canvas was selected in 2016 as the most suitable LMS for Harvard based on the review of the university needs and the evaluation of outcomes of an earlier pilot launched in 2013.

“I know I’m just scratching the surface of what Canvas can do, but I’m already a Canvas Apostle and can’t wait to do more with it.” — Teo Nicolais, Harvard Extension School Professor

My own experience of using Canvas has brought me to some key insights about the value proposition of this tool in the context of enhancing the learning experience for students.

Key Insight #1: Enabling Positive Learning Experience

The present iteration of Canvas provides a positive learning experience for students, addressing most of the key ‘pains’ facing this particular segment. It grants easy access to learning materials and provides a shared space for continued learning and interaction both amongst students and with the teaching team. The messaging service provides an additional opportunity for connecting with peers and faculty in an academic environment and building on the in-class experience in an online space. Also, the system can be effectively utilized both on computers and phones, enabling users to easily access the content on Canvas at any time. More importantly, Canvas helps to significantly reduce the time and costs associated with acquiring learning materials, which can be a real gain for students considering their limited resources.

Key Insight #2: Enhancing Connectivity between Platforms

While Canvas addresses many of the issues facing the ‘customer’, i.e. the student, some of the ‘pains’ remain out of the remit of this tool. For example, the relievers of ‘pains’ closely (yet indirectly) associated with the learning experience, such as finding a job or seeking financial assistance, can be integrated in the LMS. Specifically, the services offered by the Office of the Career Advancement and the Student Financial Services, can be linked to Canvas. This would significantly enhance connectivity between the various platforms used by the school. While in an ideal world all of these services would be offered through a single platform, creating links between them may be a positive step forward.