Coach Emeritus

Separate Version of Canvas for K12

In reading through all of the hundreds of feature requests, it is quickly becoming apparent to me, and perhaps to Instructure also, that a separate version of Canvas specifically for K12 should be developed.

Many of the use-cases being described in feature requests do not pertain to Higher Ed in any way, shape, or form. One obvious example would be parent observers - in Higher Ed, FERPA regulations do not permit parent observers of the child's educational activities without express written permission of the adult student. Another might be hiding grades in all the variations asked for. Many many more examples abound. I am concerned that as the K12 use grows, Higher Ed customers are going to be overwhelmed with features that simply do not apply, making the UI much more complicated and difficult to support.

No, I don't see this happening tomorrow, and I don't particularly see this as a "feature request", but I would like the raise this point for discussion by the community.

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18 Replies
New Member

Yes, I agree. One of the things that's becoming apparent is that the whole assignments situation is different in K12 than it is in higher ed. For example, many secondary classes have bell work everyday. That's an assignment everyday in addition to the regular assignments. I might have 10 or more things due in a week for a class. The assignments list takes forever to load, as does the grades screen. In higher ed you just don't have this many assignments you have to organize.

That's just one, small example. I run into things every day where my friends who teach in higher ed (our local university uses Canvas) think it works fine but it drives everyone at my (middle school) level nuts.

New Member

I also agree that a separate version of Canvas K-12 would be extremely beneficial.  It was mentioned there is a concern that as the K-12 use grows, Higher Ed customers will be overwhelmed with features that do not apply to them.  I have to say as a K-12 user there are many Higher Ed features that I can not use, they do not apply and at times these features can be overwhelming for K-12 users also.  There is also a big difference between elementary and high school users within K-12.

New Member

I would be reticent to suggest a completely separate K-12 system because some of the features might be quite useful to K-12 teachers.  I teach seniors, so many of my assignments are college-like.  However, I think that a lot could be done at the permissions level and the feature level to create separate options.  Each permission, for instance, could have options that are designed to appeal to your various audiences--K-6, 7-8, 9-12, and College.  Institutions or separate grade level accounts could then choose which settings work best for their particular audience and community.  Furthermore, at the course level, teachers could be presented with options for each feature that appeal to these various audiences, whether it is grading or assignment generation.  The "gear icons" often have remarkably few settings that would allow us to customize the feature we are using for our specific students.

Whatever you do, don't "dumb" Canvas down for a K-12 audience.  A lot of us have chosen Canvas because other LMS systems were too simple or restrictive for us to properly use technology to teach or communicate with our students.  However, you could certainly make it more flexible, less restrictive by exploring the settings possibilities at the account and course feature level.  Canvas's appeal is its customization.  Let us customize it more.


Our company is a heavy user of the Canvas API and we serve Canvas schools that are in both the K-12 and Higher Ed categories.  Two separate versions of the software could lead to two different sets of APIs and much heavier costs for both Instructure (to maintain two separate code bases) and for partners like us (to do QA on different sets of API calls.

I would think that there is so much crossover in feature-function that everyone would want potential access to all features.  As long as the software is configurable, then it becomes an issue of really focusing on setting it up properly for each school.

I totally agree with  @Chris_Munzo ​. Yes, there are times when I can tell something is much more suited/important to K12 and other times when I know something focused on Higher Ed. The same could be said for some of the features that are being added to make Canvas more friendly to our global friends (ex: double blind marking). Yet, the cost and time (which is also $$) of separating out everything seems like a waste when it could just come down to properly adjusting settings and training faculty on how to effectively use the tools for their specific situation.  In addition, I think we all grow and expand our thinking when we get the chance to consider how other Institutions (completely different from us) are using features and why they find something important. Instead of focusing on differences, let's see how we might be able to improve ourselves (and how we do things at our Institution) by looking at how others do things and reflecting on our own practices.

I have learned a lot from the K12 postings, questions and feature requests and so would continue to follow the K12 group. However, I am constantly worried about Canvas developing a truly bloated and error prone UI.

And, quite frankly, just wanted to see what folks had to say.

Community Champion

Its interesting, I hear a lot of people in this discussion saying that K12 features would not be of interest, and would bloat Canvas for Higher Ed users.  I am a K12 user and I feel the same.  There is a lot of higher ed functionality that doesn't make sense for k12. Its really no knock on either community, it just shows that as this product matures, the only way it can grow and serve both audiences is to split into two products.  Canvas, if you are listening, let's get that going sooner rather than later.

Community Contributor

I don't think two separate versions is the right path, it will just raise costs for everyone.  Not to mention you want high schoolers to be able to flow right into using Canvas in college and not have a learning curve in my opinion.

However I did put in a feature request when this new board was launched that was quickly shot down.   It was to have separate voting for K12 and Higher Ed.  Why?  Because higher has more vocal people in the community and it's features that don't always pertain to K12 float to the top while ours get next to no votes and fall off the list.

Hi Brandon,

I thought you might like to know that because we can pull voting activity data and import it into a data warehouse we are able to cross reference it with other data sources.  This lets us analyze feature idea voting by institution type, region, age of account and size, user role, etc.

New Member

The more I think about it, the more I'm rethinking two separate products. Many of the things I would change about the Canvas UI would not negatively impact higher ed users and would, in fact, be positives. Many of my friends who use Canvas in higher ed are really only scratching the surface of what it can do. Most of my technophile K12 colleagues are pushing to see what else we can make it do. I think K12 users are in a good position to push Canvas to be even better than it is.

That said, those positives won't happen if we in K12 don't make some noise (in a polite way, of course).

Community Participant

The below post is actually a copy/paste of a reply I recently made in a Canvas feature idea that has been sent to Canvas Purgatory, er, I mean "Product Radar" - wink, wink....

    I think that a large part of the issue is also the natural division of LMS needs and requirements that Higher Ed and K-12 have. In my conversations with people from Higher Ed institutions, I've learned that they usually have "course designers" who do all of the course-building work for the instructors. Course designers have the skills and TIME to navigate around the Canvas environment as it is, learning how to work around its idiosyncrasies and pinch points via HTML, CSS, etc.

     Almost all classroom teachers in K-12 have no such person to depend upon; all but the largest and/or wealthiest school systems simply cannot afford to hire course designers. K-12 teachers simply don't have the time in their ridiculously busy schedules to become Canvas and HTML/CSS coding experts.

     As an instructional technology coach to those teachers, I see their frustration and exhaustion every day, and it pains me deeply. Then I come to this Ideas area, and I see that many of the ideas being shelved are ones that our K-12 teachers desperately need in order to build effective course material.

     My take on all of this, after many conversations/observations with other Canvas users across the spectrum of K-12 and Higher Ed? I believe that Canvas needs to have 2 separate LMS products. Why?

  1. K-12 LMS needs are so different from Higher Ed's needs. I don't think anyone will argue with that. A separate LMS would free design teams at Instructure to focus on a narrower user set and to provide a more robust product for said users.
  2. I believe that a division is necessary because the higher ed community's needs naturally tend to take priority at Instructure due to their greater economic clout. This is not a criticism of the Instructure company in particular; this is just a reality in the world of business.
  3. I believe that a division is necessary because the higher ed community's needs naturally tend to take priority at Instructure due to their Instructional Designers' generally stronger understanding of the "back end" of software engineering, which makes them more eloquent  and competent-sounding in their interactions with Canvas design teams. Also, their similar educational and experiential backgrounds contribute to a natural affinity for them because it's a normal human tendency to gravitate to people with whom you have more in common. Again, this is not a criticism specifically of Instructure employees; this is just a reality in the workings of the human brain and psyche.

     Until this division of LMS products occurs, I don't think the Canvas LMS will be able to reach many - even most - of K-12 Canvas teachers. And Canvas isn't alone in this disconnect with teachers; I think this is a problem across the LMS product spectrum.

Hi Deborah, and thank you for your reply!

Actually, I think you might be mistaken about the use of instructional designers in higher ed. I work in a state-wide community and technical college system where IDs are rare even though gaining some ground at some of our schools. At my school, while I am an ID, it is just one hat that I wear among many and I seldom get to just design courses for my faculty. Almost all faculty build their own courses, just as in K12. I think you will find that this is probably more likely across the HEd spectrum than you might believe. Also, with the growth of K12 schools now using Canvas, I think K12 membership in the Community is fast approaching 40% and will likely overtake HEd soon.

While I was the original proposer of this idea a year ago, I have since rethought my opinion. In reading all the great discussions, postings and ideas that have come out of the K12 Community, I don't think we are all that far apart. Students, really are just students regardless of their ages, and for the most part online pedagogy remains very similar. And teaching is still teaching, for the most part, regardless of the level of the students. I read the literature about andragogy and the "vast" differences in pedagogical approaches to adult students, and while the differences do need to be considered, they are not as vast as some might imagine. Quite frankly, I think too many theorists are too quick to assume that children do not have lives that also impact their learning and the instructional approaches that must be used for them. Something I think K12 faculty better understand.

I think that an LMS designed to support a good online pedagogy, will support delivery of quality instruction to students of all levels - something I think Canvas does a great job of. Is Canvas perfect? Oh heck no, but of all the rivals out there, Canvas invests the most resources in improving its product based on the feedback of its user - all its users, and what is good for K12, will ultimately be good for HEd. And this is especially true, if Instructure only has to focus on that one great product instead of trying to divide its attention and resources between two.


Community Participant

It was interesting to hear that ID's possibly are not as ubiquitous as I had come to believe. And it's also good to hear that K-12 is becoming a much larger user base for Canvas. I do agree with you that good instructional design is good instructional design, whether it's for a second grader or a second year college student. However, there are still some really tough sticking points for me that still lead me in the direction of separate LMS's.

One point is the overall look and feel of crucial parts of the Canvas environment. Just two items in particular are the Modules and the Calendar. They are crowded, small-fonted, and not set up for young eyes, young eye-hand coordination, and young minds. Modules' mini-sized mono-color environment is very tough for kids younger than 3rd or 4th grade to navigate. Yes, teachers could use Pages to create the large-buttoned, colorful environment that kids are accustomed to using with their other educational software ... but then they'd be losing all of the wonderful functionality that Modules provide. And again, as I mentioned in the previous post, teachers would have to know some HTML magic to even make those lovely Pages.

Then there are the "silly" little things - like a default font size of 11 (which is, I know, better than it used to be!) that can't be changed by the teacher...why not? That should be part of the course settings. Any K-6 teacher would tell you that it's a huge annoyance to have to constantly adjust the font to a larger size. This is only one example of pain points that are not being addressed for K-12 users.

With the limited time they have for developing course materials during their 60+ hour work weeks, K-12 teachers desperately need Canvas to have a robust plug-and-play environment for course material creation. I see Canvas evolving in good ways toward that end, but I fear it's not happening fast enough because there is still the mindset of "you can do that - just click here, and here, and here" or worse, it takes going into CSS/HTML. Nope, not gonna happen. I and my co-coaches can stumble through some HTML but none of us have even touched CSS. There's not a single person in my school district who is competent at CSS or HTML, and I would venture to guess that this is true of most K-12 systems of moderate or small size. The reason? No other software we use requires it.

Another sticking point - as I work with my teachers in creating their courses, I find that I frequently have to say "Just ignore that part/area; it isn't useful to us at k-12." There is a fair amount of HEd "bloat" in Canvas that needs to not be there at the K-12 level - it is confusing and sometimes even a stumbling block to teachers and students alike.

Perhaps if there was a lot more "turn this off/on" functionality at the Admin or Course level in Canvas, maybe we could get around the need for 2 LMS's. A selection of interfaces (like button-type Modules instead of vertical lists) could also be a way around some of the problems.

Now that Canvas' K-12 community is 40% and growing, maybe our peculiar ideas and needs won't be as marginalized as I feel they have been in the past. Frankly, I've been really put off by some of the patronizing and downright negative attitudes that I've experienced from HEd people in the Community Ideas forum. Unfortunately, there's generally precious little feedback and voting coming in from K-12 because, again, teachers' time is so overbooked and focused on student needs that the Canvas Community takes a distant back seat to other priorities. But over time, I guess the sheer numbers of K-12 users will eventually compensate for that problem. So maybe a single-LMS future could be brighter than I have been envisioning!

In my conversations with people from Higher Ed institutions, I've learned that they usually have "course designers" who do all of the course-building work for the instructors.

From my experience in Higher Ed (almost 15 years) I'd have to disagree with this. There are Higher Ed schools that have Instructional Designers (ID's) but from my experience they are there more as support and help with building courses, not to totally build them for them for the faculty. ID's whose job is to 100% build courses for faculty aren't the norm and probably happens more with for-profit schools or some of the larger schools (who have more $$). At my specific College we have an office of 2 that support almost 150 faculty and around 3000 students. That means that we do everything from helping faculty build their courses to general tech support and everything in between; and technically no one in my office has had formal training in Instructional Design, we've just taken a couple of classes and learned what we could on the job.

Community Participant

 @kmeeusen  mentioned this as well. I stand corrected on this point. I apparently have overgeneralized from a few conversations with IDs, who were mainly doing the course building at their institutions.

But I also did not take into consideration that, at many institutions, the instructors may already have had some online coursework built, in another LMS. That adds a new perspective on this discussion. Thanks to  @Chris_Munzo  for bringing this up.


I work with Canvas schools from both sides of the aisle -- higher ed and K-12.  My observation is that in the higher ed world, just about every school moved to Canvas from another LMS.  So these schools have a pretty good idea of how an LMS works and how Canvas compares to at least one other similar software package.  And even though schools inevitably lose a feature or two -- even the worst LMS will have a couple of features lacking in the best LMS -- most schools are wildly happy with the move to Canvas.

However, most K-12s that are adopting Canvas are buying their first LMS.  The learning curve is significantly different.  And school users are comparing Canvas to their notion of perfection, rather than to a previous LMS.

Ultimately, I believe that all Canvas users will benefit from common development done on a single platform.  I ignore plenty of features available in Word or Excel, and it's no big deal.  All of the key players -- Blackboard, D2L, Moodle, Schoology -- offer the same platform to higher ed and K-12 schools.  Good user groups and client communication remain the key, in my opinion.

Community Participant

What a great observation about many HEd schools being in a very different place (i.e. already using an LMS, now moving to a new one) from K-12 (first experience with an LMS). That throws a whole new light on the experiences we are discussing. Thank you for that insight.

Community Contributor

Interesting points being made for both cases here!!  I think that just points to the power that Canvas has as an LMS, having too many features!! 

As a newer user of Canvas and working in a technical school which has students from 10th - 12th grade, we sort of play on both sides of the fence.  In some cases, we are similar to higher ed, however our students are in the K-12 grouping.  We are training our students to be work force ready when they graduate!  I think Canvas has many features that can benefit both sides and agree that good user groups, robust client communications, and a reliable product are all keys to success!  Also, having the option to enable or to not enable could solve some of the major issues (not all of the issues, however).  With those options, users have a method to customize the environment to their needs/requirements.  Now will that work for everyone?  Of course not, however, it can work for many!!  Just a thought!!  Great discussion though!!