University of Minnesota Learning Management System (LMS) Evaluation Spring 2017

The University is evaluating future possibilities and potential changes for our current onsite learning management system, Moodle. Learn about why we’re proposing a change, what LMS options we’re reviewing, how we’ll decide, and our plan to support the transition.

UMN is officially evaluating two Software as a Service (SaaS) options:

1. Moodle, represented by Moodlerooms


2. Canvas by Instructure

The components of the evaluation:

UMN is in the assessment phase of the LMS evaluation.

Assessing the LMS Options

How Moodle is delivered to the University today:

  • A total of 93 self-hosted servers at the University are running right now to deliver Moodle to 90,000 users across each campus every day.
  • Each year, a new version of Moodle is created, tested, and deployed while maintaining the previous five years. This process is causing a growing set of challenges and complexity with the coming of each academic year.
  • As the complexity of managing/hosting onsite Moodle increases, so does concern about future stability and reliability due to design limitations and technical constraints.
  • The majority of resources are spent keeping the system running instead of focusing on enhancing integrations and extending the functionality.

UMN needs to move to a Software as a Service hosted LMS

Software as a Service means the software and infrastructure is hosted and delivered by a vendor instead of onsite resources. That vendor would be responsible for the software, service, maintenance, and upgrades.

SaaS hosted learning management systems are a growing trend in higher education:

LMS Market Dynamics, Fall 2016 edition, p. 15 © 2016, MindWIres LLC. Unauthorized reproduction or sharing is strictly prohibited.
“One of the clearest trends of the last several years has been a move away from self-­hosting by institutions toward either vendor-­hosting or a cloud­ based solution. Figure 9 above presents the clearest evidence we’ve seen for this trend. The inflection point came in 2012 when vendor hosted and cloud based platforms first represented more than 50% of new implementations. Just five years earlier, in 2007, 90% of LMS platforms were self ­hosted by institutions. Now 85% are vendor­ hosted or cloud based and only 15% are self ­hosted by institutions.”

Benefits of moving to a SaaS hosted LMS

1) 99.9% uptime

That calculates to about 1-3 hours of downtime each year. The current onsite Moodle had nearly 38 hours of downtime in 2016.

2) One instance

Right now UMN maintains five instances of Moodle, needing new hardware and storage with each instance. With a SaaS solution, UMN moves to one. That means that courses created going forward would all be on the same version and would work for years to come without having to configure them to to fit a new instance each year.

3) Better monitoring and 24x7 response for technical help

Around the clock support from response team for technical issues and questions.

How does the use of Canvas compare to Moodle?

Since 2015, the University has been piloting Canvas as a potential replacement for Moodle. Canvas has been a growing LMS option in higher education and has been adopted by many of UMN's peer institutions.

Total Responses from fall 2016 Canvas Pilot

43 Faculty / 1,163 Students

Key Findings

Instructor* preference after pilot:

Canvas (59%)

Moodle (12%)

No Preference (29%)

79% think the University should switch to Canvas

*Half of pilot instructors were new to Canvas in fall 2016. No fall 2016 instructors were given a financial stipend to participate.

In general, instructors held higher opinions of Canvas than Moodle in terms of the tool’s efficiency, effectiveness, usefulness in teaching and learning, and instructors’ enjoyment.

Student preference after pilot:

Canvas (50%)

Moodle (27%)

No preference (23%)

60% think the University should switch to Canvas

“The look and feel of canvas is much nicer and only glancing at a page you can tell what visual elements are the focus and you have a clue of what interactions with each of the elements might perform, but with Moodle not always.”

Whichever path is chosen for the LMS, it has the potential to affect the options UMN will be able to offer to students and faculty as their demands and expectations change in the coming years. As applications outside the LMS also continue to advance, UMN needs to consider an LMS that is capable of integrating easily in a growing digital ecosystem.

Creating a next generation digital ecosystem is a growing interest at the University

The next generation digital learning environment, or NGDLE, is a key influencer when considering potential paths towards the future of higher education. The NGDLE is a framework outlined in a research report by EDUCAUSE that describes how the future will focus on creating an environment or ecosystem of interconnected learning tools built on open-standards.

Adhering to a set of standards allows users and colleges to choose applications that work best for their needs; rather than relying on an LMS as the singular piece of technology for teaching functions. The components in this ecosystem also can interact with each other making the data gathered and exchanged between them more powerful and offer better learning analytics.

The usefulness of the NGDLE framework when evaluating an LMS is that it accounts for more than just a 1-for-1 feature comparison, and instead, addresses how each LMS can improve higher-order teaching, learning, and administrative needs.


Unizin's role in the LMS evaluation

When the University joined the consortium in 2014, it was driven by the opportunity to create and influence solutions that focused on improving the future of higher education. Unizin has created the opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded institutions working towards the same goals.

In addition to the collaborative benefits, Unizin provides access to new digital learning technologies and services (highlighted in orange on the graphic to the right) which are already being piloted at UMN. As part of the LMS evaluation, Unizin is also being evaluated by its potential (with the use of Canvas) to move the University closer to where the future of digital education is going and create a next generation digital learning environment.

Based on trends in higher education technology and work done at UMN peer institutions, the tools and services the Unizin consortium is developing will be needed, and expected, by UMN faculty and staff within the next 1-5 years. These tools, when implemented through Unizin, also provide substantial cost savings over acquiring them through an assortment of third-party vendors.

Either direction the University goes, a transition of course sites will still be needed. The complexity varies though.

If we move to Moodlerooms it will be a very similar experience to what users are currently used to.

The tools and features currently available in Moodle will be available in Moodlerooms, and function the same way. The navigation will only offer slight differences.


Our current Moodle user interface is becoming outdated and lacks the modern interface that the majority of software applications are currently at or headed to.

This means that if Moodlerooms rooms is chosen, UMN will be moving to their new modernized theme in the near future. This theme will offer similar usability, navigation, accessibility, responsive design, and mobile delivery that Canvas has already achieved. The transition of courses to this new theme will be similar to the transition experience that would need to occur in Canvas.

Moving to Canvas

If Canvas is chosen, Instructure provides a converter facilitating the import of Moodle content and activities into a Canvas course site. In practice, this process proved efficient and relatively problem-free, requiring only that instructors or course designers re-organize and contextualize the imported course content.

Transition Effort Estimate

Costs for individual units are still being determined. The transition cost vs. benefit will be considered in the final decision. Check back for the official Cost to Migrate Report. Regardless of LMS choice, Academic Technology - Office of Information Technology (AT-OIT) is committed to providing support throughout the transition.

A decision is expected in spring of 2017

As the end of the evaluation period nears, the faculty of the University Learning Technology Advisors (ULTA) have been reviewing the proposal, data, and reports needed to provide a recommendation to inform a decision between Moodle and Canvas/Unizin. Their recommendation, in addition to input from other faculty members and college leadership, will be important in the final decision.

What role does ULTA have in this?

ULTA serves as a voice of the faculty and consists of 28 faculty members representing each college and campus in the University system. They are reviewing the reports as part of the assessment and will offer their advisory recommendation.

Ensuring a Smooth Transition

Whichever LMS is chosen, a transition team will need to be assembled before an official implementation plan can be created. It is assumed that the new LMS and the onsite instance of Moodle will run in parallel for 18-24 months.

Transition Resources

Supporting faculty and colleges will be the main priority for the Office of Information Technology during this transition. Depending on college need, and LMS choice, customized transition plans will be developed. As of right now, support resources to be expected are:

  • Online resources
  • Drop-in sessions
  • Online and face-to-face workshops
  • Temporary staff assistance

Have questions or comments about the transition?

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