Blog post:

Open edX: What is it, and Why You Should Switch Your LMS

What is Open edX?

Many of you may be familiar with edX, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider developed by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2012.

Many of their online courses are free and are designed to help you advance your career and improve your life.

You may be less familiar with the Open edX platform. Released in June 2013, Open edX is a free and open-sourced course management system (CMS) originally developed by edX. 

Features on the edX learning platform include self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, assessment of learning as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories and other interactive learning tools.

Open edX is used worldwide and allows anyone, including for-profit companies, to offer online learning material to their learners. Rather than using to create and submit your own courses, companies can create their own instance of edX within their company tailored specifically to them.

Who uses Open edX

Open edX is trusted worldwide by some of the world’s largest organizations including McKinsey, Microsoft, Johnson and Johnson, Stanford University, and more to create courses that educate their customers, employees, partners and students.

Open edX provides companies and higher education institutions with a powerful platform to scale their education and training efforts. This is shown through the 10M+ registered learners who have already used the platform to educate themselves.

For example, MongoDB, an open source database, could previously only train 1,800 people per year with their in-person training. However, with their Open edX site, they were able to train 14,000 during the same timeframe and MongoDB University now serves as its largest source for lead generation.

Not only can you create courses for your own company, but you can also create a catalog of courses consisting of your own internal courses and useful licensed courses from other corporations.

A game-changer for global corporations

In-person training is dying out, slowly. As we see a shift from the physical classroom to anytime, anywhere learning, learning management systems (LMS) are growing quickly across many industries.

Whilst traditional LMS’s have to rely on their ability to update their proprietary software as and when the market calls for it, the open-source nature of Open edX means the platform is constantly iterating and improving with contributions from the open source community.

Open edX benefits from a large number of major corporations currently using the software – such as Google and Microsoft who contribute new features others can benefit from.

It’s now possible to see an updated list of sites that are powered by the Open edX platform.

What’s brilliant about the platform is the range of different things companies are using it for. Some are creating mini-MOOCs within their own internal content strategy, while others are using the platform to improve the skills of their workers.

How Open edX works

Open edX is split into two different parts of software. There is Studio, which allows users to create and design their own courses. There is also the LMS which allows users to actually complete the online courses.

The collaborative effort supports video, HTML text, and discussion elements. Course authors are also able to include their own wiki, or textbook style element that can be uploaded as a PDF file.

The sixth and latest release of Open edX has been named “Ficus” which promises improvements within the LMS and reporting. Changes can be seen here.

Like with any new software, there’s a barrier to entry with the terms used. Luckily, there’s a handy glossary you can use to familiarize yourself with anything you don’t understand.

Why Open edX?

Open edX’s modern web user interface pushes the focus on usability making it a great platform for instructors and great learning environment for students.

It is a cutting-edge, powerful online learning platform and it’s open-sourced, which means it is constantly innovating with contributions from the world’s most brilliant minds. It is extensible, versatile, and can be modified and customized for your needs.

Open edX instructors maintain full intellectual property of their course as well as their learner data.

Open edX encourages active learning which is a modular approach to learning through interaction. This approach uses sequences, videos and interactive exercises and allows instructors to teach by asking questions. And unlike traditional teaching, Open edX supports self-paced learning so learners can pause, rewind or even mute the instructor at any time.

When courses attract hundreds of thousands of students, grading work becomes a problem. Open edX supports instant feedback where the computer grades the exercises and students immediately receive their marks after answering each question.

Throughout their time on the course, learners are able to see a progress bar with their final scores and how much more of the course they need to complete before they finish.

Improving Open edX

For open-sourced projects to flourish there needs to be a strong element of community of contributors, all working together to improve and make the software the best version it can be.

Open edX has a Slack group and Google forums for people to discuss problems, ideas and future iterations. Open edX also has a blog and a Twitter account to keep followers updated.  

Many people ponder why they should contribute in the first place? The answer is simple and is best addressed by Adolfo Brandes who suggests:

“If you create a patch to solve a problem that’s beautiful and you will want to share it with the world.” Non-technical users shouldn’t feel like there is no way to contribute. has put together a guide detailing how non-technical users can still make a positive impact on open source projects.

Contributing solutions and improvements helps solve your own problems, but also problems for other people using the software who may have run into the same roadblocks as you.

The more you and others contribute, the stronger the community becomes. The stronger the community becomes, the better a platform you create, together.

Have questions or want to learn more about how Open edX can work for your online learning needs? Get in touch or try out our 30-day free trial of Tahoe, which let’s you build a branded Open edX site in minutes.


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