New open online course network includes schools of any size

Anyone with internet access will be able to enroll in online courses through the Canvas Network.

The open online course movement has taken off in a big way this year, but until now it has been limited mainly to elite universities that have struck partnerships with open-course platforms such as Coursera or edX.

That could change, however, with the launch of a new open online course network from Instructure, maker of the open-source, cloud-based learning management system (LMS) Canvas.

The Canvas Network, which allows institutions of any size to offer their online courses built with the Canvas LMS to students worldwide free of charge, will debut in January 2013 with more than 20 free courses offered by a dozen schools across America—including two community colleges.

“We believe the people who know best how to transform learning are teachers and students, so through the Canvas Network we’re enabling them to experiment with new teaching methodologies with more flexibility and [fewer] constraints,” said Brian Whitmer, co-founder and chief product officer at Instructure.

Most educators recognize that online courses are the way of the future; however, many express concerns about preserving the quality of their coursework while simultaneously increasing efficiency and reaching a larger audience. As a result, the Canvas Network purposely offers educators several structural course formats.

While some educators embrace a more intimate online course setup, others offer a massive open online course plan, commonly referred to as MOOC. Instructure reps said the company believes that the key to customer satisfaction is to give educators as much free rein as possible.

The courses can be taught on the same platform the institution uses to teach its tuition-based courses, which means students have a seamless experience.

“Canvas Network enables us and other participating institutions to decide the way we want to structure our courses,” said Joel Hartman, vice provost and chief information officer at the University of Central Florida. “We value the ability to leverage … the Canvas platform, as well as all we have learned about online teaching and learning over the past 17 years.”

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