• Introduction
  • User interface
  • Ease of use
  • Features
  • Cost
  • Summary

NEO vs. Canvas


NEO is a world-class, award-winning LMS for use by schools and universities. The platform is known for its easy-to-use and beautiful user interface, comprehensive set of innovative features, and pricing that provides great value for money. With NEO it's easy to create great classes that students will enjoy anytime, everywhere.

NEO is a product of CYPHER LEARNING, which also provides a similar LMS for use by businesses called MATRIX. Both NEO and MATRIX are used by over 20,000 organizations, support 40+ languages, and have millions of users.

Canvas is an open source LMS with a comprehensive feature set. You can pay Instructure to host it for you in the cloud, or you can download the source code and host it on your own servers.

NEO School portal

User interface

The NEO interface is a modern, responsive design that looks sharp and automatically adjusts based on the type of device. It provides attractive tile-based dashboards for students, teachers and administrators, a graphical class catalog, as well as simple pop-out navigation. Many features can be enabled or disabled to suit young children through to college students. It provides rich content authoring as well as a visually attractive way to create and organize lesson material.

The Canvas interface is a little on the "dry" side, with mostly text and only a few graphical flourishes. For example, there is no tile-based dashboard, no graphical class catalog, and no customizable portal. The Canvas UI is not responsive, so you have to download their mobile app to use their site from a mobile device.

NEO Student dashboard

Ease of use

Both NEO is very intuitive and easy to use. In addition, it includes an online help center, with videos, getting started guides, and searchable help content. NEO also has a rapid response support forum where staff members typically respond to questions within 15-30 minutes during business hours.

Canvas is fairly easy to understand and use.

NEO Help center


NEO provides the range of functionality you'd expect in a modern LMS, such as support for classes (instructor led, blended, and self-paced), twelve kinds of assignments, full-featured gradebook, content authoring, beautiful lesson layouts, gamification, rules engine, learning paths, drip content, curricula and proficiencies (including US common core standards and Next Generation Science Standards), question banks, class templates, rubrics, chat rooms, resources catalog, blogs, wikis, a customizable portal, e-portfolios, and more.

NEO supports many important industry standards such as SCORM, Common Cartridge Format, LTI, QTI and LDAP. We also integrate with a wide variety of systems, including Google Drive, G Suite, Single sign-on with Office 365, OneDrive, Calendars (iCal), PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net, Turnitin, Zapier, GoToMeeting, Zoom, WebEx, SIS, Equella, and SMTP/POP3.

Canvas provides a similar feature set, with the main difference being that the features are not as visually attractive, and a little harder to configure and use. Canvas is missing some key features that NEO provides such as:

  • Graphical dashboards for students, teachers, admins, and parents
  • Graphical catalog with categories, subcategories, cross-listings, and more
  • Gamification
  • Rules engine
  • Drip content
  • Learning paths
  • Support for 40+ languages
  • E-commerce integration
  • Customizable portal
  • Student help desk
  • Curriculum coverage analysis
  • Click to chat
  • GoToMeeting integration
  • Integration with your own email server
  • Comprehensive set of built-in reports
  • Automatic language translation for messages and forums

NEO Class catalog


NEO has a free plan and costs about $6 per student per year for its Small school plan and $7 per student per year for its Enterprise plan. There are no setup fees, cancellation fees, storage fees, bandwidth fees, support fees, or other hidden costs.

Canvas can be downloaded and self-hosted, or hosted and supported by Instructure. Here is an analysis of the cost of each option:

Self-hosted for small schools

You can run a few hundred students on a single server and single database, as long as you don't mind the possibility of outages if the server fails or occurs outside of normal school hours. A small-school configuration can often be installed and administered by an IT enthusiast, so the cost is based on the price of the server, backups, and the IT person's hours.

The self-hosted option for small schools clearly costs more than the NEO free plan, and usually costs more than the NEO Small school plan, which is $50/month for a school of 100 students.

Self-hosted for large schools

To run Canvas reliably (99.9% uptime) for a lot of students, you need a more sophisticated setup than just a single server. Specifically, we recommend:

  • 1 hardware load balancer
  • 2 servers or more, depending on the number of students
  • 2 copies of your SQL database in a master/slave setup with failover
  • 2 memcached servers for fault-tolerant caching
  • 1 high capacity RAID disk system for file storage and backups
  • 1 search engine
  • Professional monitoring software

It also requires an IT specialist with knowledge of how to setup, configure, maintain a complex cluster environment, and who is available 24/7 to deal with performance issues and outages. This self-hosted Canvas option usually costs more than the NEO Enterprise plan, which is $600/month for a school of 1,000 students.

Commercially hosted

We have heard anecdotally that Canvas hosted by Instructure is about twice the price of NEO, and also requires a significant setup payment, about $25,000. The 24/7 support comes with a fee of $45,000 per year and only covers 20% of the users. NEO includes a built-in learner help desk feature that allows you to respond to internal requests from your learners, as well as the ability to override the help button so that help requests are forwarded to an external help desk if required, and it's totally free.

NEO Class page


NEO is a more attractive, easier-to-use LMS than Canvas, at a lower cost for both small and large schools / universities.

Schools that don't need LMS "power" features can choose the NEO free plan, which is beautiful, easy-to-use, and includes most of the functionality of Canvas with several features that Canvas does not support.

Schools that want LMS "power" features can upgrade from the NEO free plan to a NEO premium plan at any time, which includes a similar set of features to Canvas at a significantly lower price point.

This was a comparison of the most important features of NEO and Canvas. If you require additional information on NEO, please contact us.


This comparison paper was written in March 2016 based on publicly available documentation on both vendor's sites. It was prepared as a guide and is not intended to be exhaustive. The comparison information is for guidance only and does not constitute any contractual representation, warranty or obligation on our part. Liability for errors, omissions or consequential loss is expressly disclaimed.

Since pricing and features can change rapidly, we do not represent that this information is up-to-date, and we encourage you to get the latest information directly from the vendor's web site. If you find any information in this comparison guide to be inaccurate, please contact us with details and we will correct the information within 72hrs.