School Administration

5 Best Free LMS Software Systems for Online Teaching

Published by in School Administration

These software systems can help you quickly transition to an online teaching environment at no cost.

header image shows icons depicting an online class

Whether you want to lead a live class online, add a self-paced eLearning course to your curriculum, or simply want to digitize your gradebook, a learning management system (LMS) is a great way to bring your classroom into the 21st century.

There’s just one problem: With the average LMS buyer in K-12 or higher education spending more than $10,000 a year on their system, the cost of going digital isn’t exactly cheap. Unless you can find room in the budget, a premium LMS may be out of reach.

But all hope is not lost. Sharing many of the same features as their more expensive brethren (albeit with some limitations), free software is more than just a band-aid LMS option. Whether you’re a teacher looking for a LMS platform for your classroom or an IT leader seeking a solution for an entire district, free LMS software may have exactly what you’re looking for at no cost.

If you’re considering a free LMS for your class, school, or district, we’re here to help. Below are the five top-rated free LMS software systems for online teaching, according to data from real user reviews.

This article looks at five highly rated free LMS software options. See the full list of free LMS software solutions here.

5 top-rated free LMS software systems for online teaching

Product (click to jump to that section) Average overall rating (out of 5)
TalentLMS 4.7
Google Classroom 4.6
Thinkific 4.6
CANVAS 4.5
Schoology 4.4

Products are ordered from highest overall rating to lowest. To learn more about our methodology, click here.

1. TalentLMS

TalentLMS logo
Average overall user rating: 4.7
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.6
Average customer service rating: 4.6

About TalentLMS

TalentLMS is built to support blended learning curriculums that mix self-paced eLearning and instructor-led online learning. On the self-paced learning experience side, teachers can import existing courses, or create whole new courses from scratch using an included authoring tool, then set customized learner paths to dictate how and when learners can consume them. Features such as discussion forums and personal messaging enhance class interactions.

Instructors can schedule real-time webinars to teach students face-to-face. Automated grading eases the burden of assigning homework, while detailed reports and student analytics allow teachers to uncover which students need help and which courses need to be improved.

Limits and the cost to upgrade

Though the free version of TalentLMS has no storage limit, it only supports up to five users and 10 courses, making it an option for only very small classes. The “Starter” package, which allows up to 40 users, starts at $59 per month.

The course creation screen in TalentLMS.
Creating an eLearning course in TalentLMS (Source)



2. Google Classroom

Google Classroom logo
Average overall user rating: 4.6
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.6
Average customer service rating: 4.5

About Google Classroom

Completely free for schools, Google Classroom allows teachers to create classes, distribute and grade assignments, and send feedback to students. Permissions for students, guardians, and co-teachers are customizable, as are the options teachers have to share their screen, share a student’s screen, or lock everything down for something such as a pop quiz.

Teachers can augment digital learning through free apps that integrate with Google Classroom. Different apps can support specific areas of knowledge, add more flair to online courses and presentations, or foster better learner engagement. You can also push grades to your student information system (SIS) if you sign up for a beta program and have a compatible system.

Limits and the cost to upgrade

Google Classroom, along with the rest of the G Suite for Education, is completely free with 100GB of storage and no limits on the number of users. G Suite Enterprise for Education, which includes extra features, starts at $48 per user, per year.

A screenshot of the home screen in Google Classroom.
The home screen in Google Classroom (Source)



3. Thinkific

Thinkific logo
Average overall user rating: 4.6
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.5
Average customer service rating: 4.5

About Thinkific

Billed primarily as a platform for e-learning entrepreneurs to sell their courses, Thinkific is nonetheless a LMS option for teachers who want to set up online courses for their students. Teachers can create and brand their own lessons as they see fit using a drag-and-drop course authoring tool.

Thinkific courses support a variety of different content types (text, video, quizzes, downloads, discussions), and teachers can customize their courses to fit their curriculum needs by setting prerequisite lessons, hiding courses from certain students, or creating a drip schedule for courses to become available.

Limits and cost to upgrade

Thinkific is free for up to three courses and unlimited students. For unlimited courses and additional features, Thinkific’s “Basic” package starts at $49 per month.

An online course example in Thinkific.
Previewing a designed online course in Thinkific (Source)



3. CANVAS

CANVAS logo
Average overall user rating: 4.5
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.3
Average customer service rating: 4.3

About CANVAS

CANVAS LMS, from Instructure, is an open source LMS solution built to accommodate both K-12 and higher ed institutions. If you can’t afford a school- or district-wide plan, CANVAS offers a Free-for-Teacher option that has all of the course level features you’d expect, including assessments, grading, online learning discussions, and a class syllabus.

In addition to getting access to CANVAS Commons Resources, where you can import a bunch of premade assets from other users into your own learning content, the Free-for-Teacher plan supports third-party user authentication, notifications via SMS or email, and basic learner analytics.

Limits and cost to upgrade

The Free-for-Teacher plan only gets you 500MB of storage per course. Support is also limited, as Instructure will only help with deleting accounts, restoring deleted courses, resetting passwords, or making courses public. Pricing for paid plans in CANVAS is not made public.

The dashboard view in CANVAS
The dashboard view in CANVAS (Source)



5. Schoology

Schoology logo
Average overall user rating: 4.4
Average ease-of-use rating: 4.3
Average customer service rating: 4.4

About Schoology

Schoology combines instructional tools, assessments, collaboration features, and advanced analytics into one comprehensive LMS platform. Within the system, teachers can develop and distribute course materials, facilitate discussions, assign tests and quizzes, and even give parents visibility into their child’s progress.

Teachers can browse community groups to leverage free resources provided by other instructors and integrate external tools and games into their learning content using Schoology’s app center. A dedicated mobile app allows for anytime access for instructors and students alike.

Limits and cost to upgrade

The “Basic” package of Schoology is free for instructors and learners. The “Enterprise” package, targeted at whole schools and institutions, has more functionality and customized pricing.

A list of course materials in Schoology.
A list of course materials in Schoology (Source)



You get what you (don’t) pay for

A free learning management system will work great for some, but they’re not for everyone. Severe limits on storage or number of students hinder who can use these systems, and even then, a free system may not have all of the functionality your class, your school, or your district needs.

Luckily, there are a number of affordable paid options that can fill the void. Head to our learning management software directory to compare your options, learn pricing details, and see how users rate each system’s value for money.


Methodology and disclaimer

To be considered for this report, products first had to meet our LMS software market definition, our definition of free, and our review count minimum.

  • LMS software market definition: In order to be considered an LMS software system, products must have course management and learner tracking functionality. Any LMS systems that don’t cater to schools were removed from consideration.

  • Free products: For the purpose of this article, we classified a product as “free” if it offers a free, stand-alone version of the software—it isn’t a trial version of the software where you must purchase a paid version after a limited amount of time.

  • Review count minimum: Products had to have 20 or more unique reviews over the past year, between April 12, 2020 and April 12, 2021.

From there, the five products with the highest average overall user rating at time of writing were selected for inclusion.

NOTE: The content in this piece provides opinions and points of view expressed by users. It does not represent the views of Capterra.


Looking for Learning Management System software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Learning Management System software solutions.

About the Author

Brian Westfall

Brian Westfall

Principal Analyst @ Capterra, covering the latest in HR and recruiting software. BS in Marketing and Economics, Trinity University. Published in Forbes, SHRM, and TechRepublic. Based in Austin. I love corgis, baking, and rooting for my hometown San Antonio Spurs (Go Spurs Go!).

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