EdX Formulates Its Vision for Adaptive Learning

edX is working on a project in adaptive learning as a way to create a path to individualized education at scale. Nimisha Asthagiri, a principal software engineer at edX, has produced an interesting document that will be presented during the first Open edX Developer Summit, which will take place on June 1 after the Open edX 2018 conference.

edX’s approach starts with the Pearson definition of Adaptive Learning –”Education technologies that can respond to a student’s interactions in real-time by automatically providing the student with individual support”–, analyzes the requirements, interoperable standards and technologies, and ends up suggesting an adaptive framework to be implemented in the edX platform.

IBL Newsletter #5 about Open edX Adoption | May 2018: Jupyter Notebooks, Harvard, Microsoft, edX Inc…


Newsletter format  |  Click here to subscribe ]




• edX released the Hawthorn beta version of the Open edX platform

• GW and IBL open-sourced an XBlock to add graded problems based on Jupyter Notebooks

 An Open edX XBlock to load content from a Jupyter Notebook

• Harvard and Microsoft test adaptive learning for the Open edX platform


• These are some of the of most innovative sessions at the 2018 Open edX Conference

• Exponential growth on adoption of Open edX websites and courses

• “The growth of Open edX is strong, multi-vectored, and accelerating,” says author and edX engineer John Mark Walker

• edX’s code is 90 % open source and 10 % proprietary

• The Open edX Platform will adapt this month to European Data Protection Regulation

• MOOCs become a big business


• The majority of edX.org courses attract 1,000 to 5,000 enrollments

• Microsoft launched on edX.org an ethics course for artificial intelligence developers, Ethics and Law in Data and Analytics.

• Producing one hour of learning content requires over 100 hours and costs $18K

• Redis Labs launched an introductory course on an Open edX platform


• EdX.org will offer fewer courses for free

• Two Colombian universities join edX – edX revenues & expenses


The IBL Newsletter about Open edX is a topic-curated, monthly report compiled by Michael Amigot, Founder at IBL Education, a New York City-based company that builds data-driven learning ecosystems and courses with Open edX. If you enjoy what you read please consider forwarding it to spread the word. Click here to subscribe.

Newsletter #5 May 2018
Newsletter #4 April 2018
Newsletter #3 November 2017

Newsletter #2 Octubre 2017
Newsletter #1 Sept 2017

Read also the latest IBL Newsletter on Learning Innovation

GW and IBL Release an Open edX XBlock to Add Graded Problems Based on Jupyter Notebooks

Three weeks after the Jupyter Viewer XBlock for the Open edX platform was released, GW professor Lorena Barba and IBL Education’s engineering team announced the graded Jupyter Notebook integration.

This software extension, released as open source, will allow instructors to assign nbgrader-instrumented notebooks into the Open edX platform.  It will be officially presented by Lorena Barba and Miguel Amigot, CTO at IBL, during the upcoming Open edX conference in Montreal, Canada, on May 30.

This XBlock uses Docker and nbgrader to create a Python environment and auto-grade a Jupyter Notebook, and tracks the resulting score as a problem with an edX graded sub-section. It allows an instructor to upload the student’s version of an assignment created with nbgrader, upload a requirements.txt file to configure the environment, and set the maximum number of tries for the student. The student downloads the assignment file, answers the questions (executing all cells), and uploads the solution, which gets immediately auto-graded. The student gets a visual score report, and the score gets added to his/her progress in the Open edX gradebook.

Features and Support of the Jupyter EdX Graded XBlook:

  • Integrated into edX Grading System
  • Maximum point values are pulled from the instructor version of the notebook
  • A separate Python3 virtual environment is kept for each course
  • Each student’s notebook is run within its own Docker container
  • Several Other Configuration Options
  • Only supports auto-graded cells – Does not support manually graded cells.

This is the video demo:

• The  Jupyter EdX Graded XBlook on GitHub
• IBL, April 28: An Open edX XBlock to Load Content from a Jupyter Notebook

Two Colombian Universities Join edX – edX Revenues & Expenses

The edX Inc nonprofit organization has attracted The University of Rosario in Colombia to its consortium of universities. The first offering from this university will be a Spanish-language Professional Certificate program, Software Design for Organizational Decision-Making, which is currently open for enrollment.

Also, during this month of May, another Colombian institution, the Javeriana University, renewed its agreement with edX Inc. 2021.


Getting prominent universities is part of edX’s mission, as well as an important source of revenue. In 2016 membership dues provided $6.5 million, while certificates generated $12.8 million.

However, in terms of total revenues, contributions and grants – with $23.8 million – were the most relevant chapter. In the same year, the total revenue of edX Inc. was $42.8 million, while expenses reached $46 million.

In salaries, compensation, and employee benefits, the expenses were $24.3 million, with the first executive, CEO Anant Agarwal, making $715,000 that year.

PDF Document: Tax return document files by edX Inc.

Producing One Hour of Learning Content Requires Over 100 Hours and Costs $18K

Racoon Gang, an Ukraine-based Open edX provider, has collected on a blog post several insights regarding the cost of creating an online course. This is a summary:

    • study by Karl Kapp and Robyn Defelice (Kapp is the author of bestselling “The Gamification of eLearning and Instruction”) demonstrates the timeframes for producing one hour of distance learning materials and shows that it takes 90-240 hours on average. Another research by Chapman Alliance conducted back in 2010 states that one hour of e-learning costs around $10,000 to produce.


    • Hourly rates vary depending upon the team selection — composing the team on Upwork, SalaryExpert.comIndeed.com, hiring a contractor’s team to produce the content or working with individual experts.


    • Based on Racoon Gang’s research, one hour of e-learning content takes 100-160 hours to produce, and it costs $8,880-$28,640 ($18,760 on average) to produce.




The Majority of edX.org Courses Attract 1,000 to 5,000 Enrollments

The majority of the courses hosted at edx.org, specifically, 1761 courses, attract between 1,000 and 5,000 enrollments, according to the graphics, shown above and below, elaborated by the edX organization. A total of 1,250 courses have attracted between 10,000 and 50,000 enrollments. Only 39 courses hit the mark of 100k – 500k registrants, and just 2 surpassed the barrier of half a million enrollments.

Regarding enrollments by date, analytics show a descend in the last year to less than 4 million enrollments.

In terms of traffic at the portal, the number of active users every day is 425,793, with 75 % of them browsing through their desktops.

It is also interesting to examine the funnel of engagement, from registered learners to the ones who complete their courses.

Two Engineers Explain How the EdX Code Is Evolving

edX’s code is 90 % open source and 10 % proprietary, Ned Batchelder, an edX key engineer, explained in an interview for Pycharm Blog.

“Over 90% of what edX develops is open source. Most of the proprietary code concerns how edX markets and lists its courses, and Open edX includes an open source version used by our community members,” elaborated.

There are 206 repositories on Github, including Django packages and other libraries. The edX core team is comprised of 80 engineers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and another 70 considering contractors –most of them from Arbisoft, in Pakistan, and regular contributors to the community.


  • “Python is used for the vast majority of code for Open edX. We use Django for our web applications, including the Django REST framework.
  • On the front-end, we have a lot of legacy Backbone.js and Underscore.js, but are slowly moving more and more to React. We also use Sass and Bootstrap.
  • EdX.org is hosted on AWS. Some example technologies we host there include Memcached, ElasticSearch, MySQL, and Mongo. We use a mix of CloudFlare and CloudFront for CDN.
  • For development, Continuous Integration, and deployments we use a mix of Docker, GitHub, Jenkins, GoCD, Asgard, and Terraform, among others.
  • In addition to using Python with Django, we also use Python for various scripts, linters, testing frameworks, and data analysis. My colleague Cale tells me he used a combination of ipython notebooks, pandas, and ggplot for his analysis work.
  • Finally, like any undertaking this large, we’ve got our special snowflakes like our Ruby-based discussion service that no one wants to work on except to rewrite it in Python, which still hasn’t happened.”


More than 95% of the entire codebase of the edX platform is in Python. One of the reasons is that edX started as an MIT project, and MIT’s teaching language is Python.

“We are still using Python 2. We’ve been making some advances toward Python 3 where and when we can. As part of our Django upgrade process, we recently introduced tox in most of our repos to test against these various combinations. We’ll likely be switching to Python 3 with the rest of the Django community as they drop support for Python 2,” said Ned Batchelder.


“One of the main challenges is keeping track of such a large codebase. We are trying to introduce more and more best practices as we can, and move more and more of the codebase in the right direction, but we have a lot of legacy to work with at this point. Like many development efforts, we have a big monolith as one of the many components of our architecture, and we are trying to work towards an architecture that is split enough, but not too much. It is a balancing act that is difficult to get right,” explained Robert Raposa.


Regarding PyCharm, Robert Raposa said:

“We probably have about 40 developers using PyCharm. Many of the other developers end up using some combination of technologies like sublime, vim, and pdb.”

“Many people choose PyCharm for its debugging capabilities, as well as having an editor that understands Python. When you watch someone debug in a modern IDE, it is hard not to want to be able to do the same. For PyCharm users, we often use debugging, refactoring, autocompletion, version control, find definition or class, and PyCharm has great support for these technologies.”


On the development environment, “we’ve migrated our development environment from Vagrant to Docker. It was in tandem with PyCharm adding more and more Docker support. There have been some hiccups on this front, but it is nice to still be able to debug,” explained Mr. Raposa.




The Open edX Platform Will Adapt This Month to European Data Protection Regulation

The edX organization has implemented a package of improvements for course teams working on the Open edX version of the platform hosted at edX.org.

Additionally, edX has announced new technology, which will come into effect this month, to meet the new European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), including the possibility of deleting accounts, which is not feasible so far on the Open edX platform.

In terms of Studio, edX’s authoring tool or CMS, these are the novelties:

  • Add or Edit dialog for HTML component on images already added to the Files & Uploads page.
  • Add an image by drag and drop without uploading it via the Files & Uploads feature.
  • Text alignment in HTML components as a new formatting option
  • Redesigned Files & Uploads page, with drag and drop, multiple files upload, enhanced search, etc.


edX official announcement: May 2018 Open edX Product Update

“The growth of Open edX is strong, multi-vectored, and accelerating,” Says Author and edX Engineer John Mark Walker

The future of education is open source, elaborates in a remarkable article John Mark Walker, an edX engineer who previously worked for Dell EMC and Red Hat, and author of the ebook “Building a Business on Open Source”.

We’ve summarized his ideas in five paragraphs:

  • Open source is powered by longer-term economic trends. It provides a great way for companies in an ecosystem to compete by cooperating and collaborating on common technologies and then adding value to those collaborations.  It’s also a great way for competitors to challenge a market incumbent.
  • We haven’t seen a large open source collaborative effort in the educational technology ecosystem, but that appears to be changing, but more on that later.
  • Existing business models generally break down between selling services around a technology platform or selling content, and sometimes both. There are now thousands of companies vying for a position within this multi-billion dollar market. (…) Open edX is one of the few technology platforms in this space to spawn a viable multi-vendor commercial ecosystem.
  • Open source technology will win in the digital learning space. (…) In 2013, we began an open source transformation of the industry by unleashing Open edX on the world. This year, we are seeing that initial effort make the leap towards a collaborative, open source future. If ever there was a technology space tailor-made for open source collaboration and innovation, it’s education, where working collaboratively is a time-honored tradition.
  • The growth of Open edX is strong, multi-vectored, and accelerating. (…) The growth of sites running Open edX is nothing short of phenomenal. The number of contributing organizations to the code base shows that this community is much larger than just edX, the primary community sponsor. 

It’s worth mentioning that, though the majority of these websites and courses are located out of the United States, some big Open edX ecosystems have been released in the country: NVIDIA‘s Deep Learning Institute to train engineers, Global Knowledge‘s (largest private IT training company in the world) new platform or George Washington University‘s engineering initiative with courses using Jupyter technology.


EdX.org Will Offer Fewer Courses for Free

The edX organization will reduce the number of courses offered for free at edx.org as a way to generate more revenue and meet its financial goal of becoming self-sustaining, Anant Agarwal, CEO at edX, disclosed this week. Tests to implement small fees in some courses started on May 3.

“We need to move toward a financial model that allows edX and our partners to achieve sustainability and we acknowledge that means moving away from our current model of offering virtually everything for free,” wrote in the edX blog“As we acknowledge the need for change, we also reaffirm our commitment to maintaining a portion of our catalog as free,” he added.

On this month of May the edX non-profit organization marks six years since its foundation. During this time, edX has built an audience of 16 million learners on edX.org, as well as a community of another 18 million learners through independent Open edX websites, according to Mr. Agarwal.