Learning Management System Initiative at Northwestern



The University deployed one of the first versions of the Blackboard Course Management System in 1999. Since that time, Blackboard has been adopted by thousands of Northwestern instructors, and the company has become the largest provider of enterprise software for teaching and learning activities to universities. More recently, startup companies (usually with venture capital funding and fresh approaches) have begun to offer new choices in educational technology services. The pace of innovation in the LMS space has quickened and cloud-based LMS systems offer advantages for the prompt introduction of functional improvements and new features that are harder to accomplish with Northwestern's current system.

In October 2012, the University's IT Governance Education Technology Advisory Committee (ETAC) identified the need for a comprehensive review PDF of the educational technology commitments in place for Northwestern's teaching and learning environments.

The Learning Management Systems (LMS) Review Group—an ETAC-sponsored work group of 25 faculty and staff—was created in January 2013 and began investigating the best educational technology options for supporting faculty’s growing interest in blended learning, “flipping the classroom,” and online education. The LMS Review Group, chaired by Greg Light (Director of the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching) hosted on-campus demonstrations of learning management systems during the winter and spring of 2013, created an initial ranking of the candidate LMS systems, and initiated a pilot of the Canvas LMS for the 2013-2014 academic year.

The LMS Review Group made a recommendation to ETAC in April 2014 for Canvas as the University’s new educational platform.




Sandbox accounts in Canvas, Desire2Learn, and New Blackboard were offered during the fall and winter quarters of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Sandbox accounts in Canvas are still available upon request. To personally experience the feature sets and user interface of Canvas, please submit a Canvas sandbox account request form.

Join a Pilot.

Courses were selected for pilot participation during the fall, winter, and spring quarters of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Learn More.

LMS briefing sessions were offered during the fall and winter quarters of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Canvas sessions for schools, departments, and other University groups are still available upon request. To request a session, please send an email to lmsreview@northwestern.edu.

Share Feedback.

Send comments and questions about the LMS Review to lmsreview@northwestern.edu.

Meet the Final Candidates for Northwestern's Next LMS

Canvas logo

Canvas, developed by Instructure and first released in 2011, is a cloud-based LMS service that emphasizes simplicity, ease-of-use, and modern design. The system offers good integration of features and easy integration of web services such as Google Docs, Google Calendar, Twitter, and RSS. Canvas provides excellent services for mobile devices, and the development team releases new features and fixes to the Canvas system every three weeks. Canvas has quickly gained significant adoption in higher-ed. It is now in use at 500 education institutions, has about 7 million users, and is being credited with giving more control to faculty and students for control of their preferred learning practices.

The media-friendly platform includes grading rubrics and SpeedGrader, a tablet app that allows teachers to quickly score, provide feedback, and engage in dialogue with students.

To learn more, visit instructure.com.

Desire2Learn logo

First released in 1999, Desire2Learn is an integrated suite of products that allows faculty and students to collaborate and connect around content and activities. The platform is a mature technology system, offering well-established features for interacting with digital libraries and e-portfolios and commercial textbook publishers. The system can be customized to different departments' needs for customized interfaces and presentation of features. Desire2Learn is in use at many large-scale, public universities, including five of Northwestern's peers in the Big Ten.

To lean more, visit Desire2Learn.

Blackboard logo

New Blackboard is an expanded suite of product offerings from Blackboard, designed to complement the core Blackboard Learn product that has been in use at Northwestern since 1999. The NU sandbox of New Blackboard will offer an integrated system consisting of Blackboard Learn, Community, Collaborate, and Mobile.

Blackboard Learn was first released in 1999 and has been in use at Northwestern since that date. By 2007, Blackboard Learn had captured over 70 percent of the LMS market in higher education, but Learn has been losing market share steadily in recent years and now stands at 40 to 45 percent. Blackboard is remaking itself as a diversified provider of various software solutions for higher education, and it no longer focuses solely upon Learn as its LMS solution. The company now also supports Moodle and Sakai learning management systems, but neither of these products proved to be final candidates with the Northwestern LMS Review Group.

Visit blackboard.com for more information about New Blackboard.


Learning Management System (LMS) Briefing Sessions were held for the Northwestern community to provide information about the LMS candidates, updates on the LMS Review, and hands-on opportunities to experience Canvas. LMS sessions for schools, departments, and other University groups were also available upon request.