Consistency and Variety

Published: 2023-03-15 08:08 |

Category: Teaching | Tags: LMS, canvas lms, online, instructional design

I got asked this week about our goals with using Canvas as a learning platform. I didn't know that question was coming and the answer I gave was "consistency and variety." I think that idea is worth digging into a little bit more.

It boils down to consistency in appearance and variety in experience. Consistency boils down to students knowing what to expect and where to go when it comes to navigating. In middle school, Canvas is the first learning platform they experience and it can be a large task in getting students where they need to be in the course. When all the batteries are included by default, the pages are filled with lists of links that may - or may not - take you where you want to go.

The consistency between course shells helps them orient in a digital space much more quickly. I think of it as doing a building tour before the first day of high school so your first minutes and days aren't filled with anxiety about where to go.

On the other side of the coin, the LMS makes it easy to have cookie-cutter (ahem, boring) experiences. I've got other thoughts on the lemon that is the LMS.

When everything is a PDF worksheet, a quiz, or a YouTube video, it's much more a Management System rather than a Learning system. The plugin architecture can be an argument for variety, but at the end of the day, if the platform isn't giving students unique opportunities to explore and demonstrate skill, then it's just another place to bubble in responses.

So, consistency for the user is a good thing. The pages are navigable and context switching from course to course (remember, middle- and high-school students can have 5-7 classed each day) is minimized. We should be taking advantage of sound page design principles to make sure material is always accessible and ready to be used. At the same time, we should be training staff in ways to use the web as a platform for learning rather than an access point. If they're in the LMS, let's use that as a starting point - a home base they can refer to for context or next steps. If we're living in the LMS at all times, we're missing out on the variety of experiences which are available when we look at the big picture.

Comments are always open. You can get in touch by sending me an email at