online learning
International students Yaqing "Victoria" Yang and Ende Shen of China study together at a sidewalk table in the Silicon Valley city of Palo Alto on March 12, 2020 to break from the on-campus isolation at nearby Stanford University where classroom lectures have been replaced with virtual sessions. Source: Glenn Chapman/AFP

Edtech software, online tools and learning management systems (LMS) are what students need to know as universities around the world switch to online learning to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

The aim is clear: Minimise disruption so lecturers can continue to teach and students can keep learning.

It’s a good idea for students to familiarise themselves with the varied online tools that universities are using.

online learning

Students will be depending on online tools and learning management systems more than ever. Source: Tony Karumba/AFP

While China is currently reporting its lowest-ever cases since the outbreak first began, it’s still early days in many countries and the near future remains uncertain.

Here are the most popular online tools and LMS being used by universities.


Canvas is one of the hottest learning management systems that’s becoming widely adopted by universities as they transition to online learning.

According to Apple Insider, it’s being used by universities such as Penn State University, University of Maryland, University of Washington, University of Texas, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The LMS has an in-built messaging system facilitating communication between students and instructors, along with a variety of tools such as discussion forums, tests and quizzes, interactive presentations.

It’s also mobile-friendly, and both Android and iOS users can download the Canvas app.


Moodle is known as an open-source Learning Platform or course management system (CMS), and has been around for quite some time.

The platform is popular among universities like University of Louisiana, University of Massachusetts, Iowa State University, and University of California.

Moodle is known for its support and integration of third-party plugins like WordPress, and it’s easy-to-use interface. It’s also mobile-friendly and has an app that’s compatible with both Android and iOS devices.

Blackboard Learn

Blackboard Learn is one of the first LMS to break into the scene way back in the late 1990s, used by universities like North Dakota University, Northwest Florida State University, Bellevue University, and Texas A&M.

The LMS allows instructors to set up course content pages, collect assignments, upload learning modules, and utilise a built-in academic calendar tool.

There’s also a real-time activity stream so students can be easily updated of any new content or assignment grades uploaded by their instructor.


To facilitate online lectures, a number of professors are utilising Panopto – an easy-to-use platform where they can record, live stream, manage, and share videos.

Professors can also make their presentations and video lectures more interactive by adding live polls and quizzes.

No added software is needed as Panopto works directly from web browsers such as Google Chrome and Safari.

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