MIT transitions to Canvas from Stellar and Learning Modules

The transition is a collaborative effort among the Canvas core team, staff in each academic department, and around 45 student learning technologists

MIT is transitioning from Stellar and Learning Modules (Stellar/LMOD) to the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS), a popular course management system that supports online learning and teaching, for the fall semester. Stellar/LMOD will remain available to those who wish to continue using it.

Dean for Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal announced the transition to Canvas in an email to academic administrators May 4. 

Rajagopal wrote that “when Stellar and LMOD were developed, the overarching approach in systems/application design was largely monolithic.” MIT has used Stellar since 2001, and LMOD was incorporated in 2013.

However, “integrating a dynamic mix of technologies such as Zoom, Gradescope, Piazza, Residential MITx, CAT-SOOP and more into a seamless learner experience… requires a modern LMS at its core,” Rajagopal wrote, adding that Canvas “opens possibilities for leveraging a rich technology ecosystem of products/platforms to meet future needs.”

“A modern LMS allows instructors and students to engage in ways that are difficult, or impossible, in Stellar,” Rajagopal wrote, citing examples such as embedding videos, accessing course materials on phones and tablets, syncing with calendars, grading assignments within the LMS, and student content sharing and collaboration.

Rajagopal wrote that in the 2018-2019 academic year, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz created an ad hoc committee, headed by Professor Gareth McKinley PhD ’91, to conduct a “lengthy needs assessment” and start the process of implementing a more modern LMS by 2021 or 2022.

After COVID-19 forced classroom instruction to move online, it became necessary to modernize the LMS by Fall 2020, Rajagopal wrote. A newly created LMS group chaired by Sheryl Barnes, director of digital learning in residential education, in the Office of Open Learning is leading the implementation of Canvas across MIT. The LMS Advisory Committee, chaired by McKinley, will advise Barnes.

Rajagopal wrote that the Sloan School of Management implemented Canvas two years ago, and the Global Languages section has also piloted Canvas in their classes.

Interphase EDGE, an enrichment program for first years and sophomores housed in the Office of Minority Education, is also piloting Canvas in their Communications, Writing, and Identity class this summer.

Interphase EDGE instructor Joaquín Terrones ’99 wrote in an email to The Tech that Interphase chose to participate in the Canvas pilot to “acclimate” students to the platform before the fall semester. Terrones also wrote that unlike Stellar/LMOD, “Canvas is a widely used platform — many incoming students will already know how to navigate it, as will others joining our academic community from elsewhere.”

Dean for Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal, Vice President of Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) Mark Silis, and Barnes wrote in an email to The Tech that although Canvas does not resolve the limitations of remote learning, it “better enables faculty and students to engage in a relatively seamless manner via a dynamic online platform.” 

Relative to Stellar/LMOD, Canvas provides “power and flexibility” from its “ability to quickly integrate key tools such as Zoom, Gradescope, Piazza, and Dropbox which are available in the Canvas system now,” Rajagopal, Silis, and Barnes wrote.

They also wrote that the transition is a collaborative effort among staff in each academic department, around 45 student learning technologists, and the Canvas core team, composed of staff from IS&T and Open Learning. 

Rajagopal wrote in a letter to MIT instructors June 8 that the learning technologists are undergraduate and graduate students hired during the summer to help instructors build Canvas sites for Fall 2020 subjects, migrate content to Canvas, and “create engaging and effective learning experiences.” Additionally, each department has a point person who will “help coordinate remote teaching, including the transition to Canvas,” Rajagopal wrote.

Terrones wrote that the student learning technologist assigned to Interphase EDGE “not only made the shift from Stellar to Canvas seamless but also helped us explore new possibilities on the platform.”

Rajagopal, Silis, and Barnes wrote that Barnes is leading the core team’s collaboration efforts with representatives from Canvas. Her goal is to ensure that any issues are being effectively dealt with and that quick progress is being made “to roll out this system MIT wide” by the fall term.

Resources for MIT instructors are available on the MIT Canvas site. Members of the MIT community can send questions or requests to

Update 6/29/2020: This article was corrected to state that Barnes is the director of digital learning in residential education, in the Office of Open Learning. A previous version stated that Barnes was the director of the Office of Open Learning.