Guest blog post by: Warren Hawkins, Student, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Beth Porter, VP of Product Management at edX, hosted a class for the LearnLaunch community on April 14, 2015 at the edX offices in Kendall Square, Cambridge. Beth presented an update on edX as well as laying out the opportunity for developers and educators to build on Open edX. Furqan Nazeeri of Extension Engine reviewed how his organization is building a business extending Open edX.

How are higher education institutions using MOOCs?

According to Porter, there are four main ways higher education institutions are utilizing MOOCs to advance their missions. Many universities are now reaching out to new audiences with the courses their faculty hosts on edX. Universities like Harvard and MIT are leading research efforts to better understand the impact MOOCs have on learning. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Indiana University are offering for-credit, distance learning that provides them a scalable source of revenue. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and The University of Pennsylvania are exploring post-graduation course offerings to cultivate alumni engagement and provide continuing education for specific fields. Lastly, universities are leveraging MOOCs as a method of student recruitment, placement, and preparation. The University of Pennsylvania even offers a MOOC entitled “Applying to U.S. Universities.”

How should edX be extended?

Porter sees opportunities for innovation on the edX MOOC platform, including

  • building online learning communities,
  • providing personalized learning,
  • automating assessment of short answers, and
  • Making sense out of the tremendous wealth of data and analytics captured by the platform.

How do companies use MOOCs?

Corporate education is now using MOOCs.   Many companies are transitioning more of their training content online as a way to reduce the cost of learning time per hour while maintaining or improving employee outcomes and retention. Lastly, some companies are exploring online courses as a way to educate customers about new products or markets.

What is Open edX?

Open edX is the open source platform that powers edX courses and allows anyone to freely access edX code. This access allows individuals, companies, and institutions to customize content on the edX platform and build extending applications.

What can Open edX allow a developer to do?

Any part of the platform can be modified creating a myriad of opportunities for course authors to develop custom content and developers to build complementary applications. Institutions can host their own instances of Open edX and offer their own classes. Educators can extend the platform to customize existing content and build learning tools that precisely meet their needs. Developers can contribute new features and applications to the Open edX platform.

How widely adopted is Open edX?

Open edX has been adopted by over 94 countries in 13 languages resulting in over 1,100 courses to date.

What are some sites/platforms built from Open edX?

Open Online University is a New York based organization for online education in design and the related fields. It offers education that can help people at every stage of their studies and career.

Croatopica was created as the meeting point of the Croatian academic community and wider audience, especially the Croatian diaspora, with interest in the Croatian society, culture and heritage. Relying on new technologies and methodological possibilities, Croatopica represents the most recent scientific achievements of Croatian scientists and experts, available in the form of lectures.

UPV [X] is the MOOC platform of the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Through the platform, the university offers different courses developed by the faculty, whose specialties encompass many areas. The course structure is essentially a series of scaffolded videos of basic concepts, a series of exercises for students to consolidate learning, and some tests after each unit to check the student’s progression.

Here is a full list of sites powered by Open edX.

What is the value of the Open edX community?

Institutions, organizations, and individuals can contribute various free and open elements to advance Open edX community. For example Harvard developed annotation functionality, Stanford constructed a bulk email feature, and Google enabled third-party authorization, which are now freely available to the community. Moreover, the over 950 merged pull requests from community members is available to all, saving the community time and effort on tasks that have already been completed.

What’s next?

Many advancements are expected over the next 6-9 months for Open edX as it enters just its second year of existence. The team is working on:

  • Theming improvements, more APIs (especially for xBlocks, LTI, SSO and OLX)
  • Contribution process improvements
  • Packaged releases
  • More and better documentation
  • Clearer governance


Can I build a business idea around Open edX?

Open edX encourages individuals and companies to explore and pursue business initiatives by using their platform. Whether it’s creating course content to address a specific problem (ex: Common Core teaching guide for parents) or an application that collects and reports data on courseware, the Open edX platform has the resources and community to bring your idea to reality. For example, Degology is an operational analytics service for organizations offering online courses. The company provides actionable data tools, allowing better operation of running courses and ability to understand whether the business objectives of these courses are met. Johnson & Johnson has also developed an extension through Open edx to better assess the efficacy of medical device training and garner insights around user habits.