Why Open edX (a Reminder)

Open edX is the open source educational software that powers MIT’s and Harvard’s edx.org platform and its 5M+ users. It is scalable, well-tested and fully featured in terms of its web application, iOS and Android platforms and learning analytics software.

new-ibl-web-mainOpen edX is used by the world’s top ten universities, either as a course publishing tool through edX or fully personalized instances such as Stanford’s and MIT’s. It is supported by a strong community of corporate, academic and government partners.

Moreover, since it is open source, users of the platform are able to fully control it, customize it and benefit from edX’s major upgrades and feature releases, which occur several times per year. This is very powerful for at least a couple of reasons:

Open edX allows organizations who are looking for custom-built solutions to literally stand on the shoulders of giants when building their education programs’ software. How much “shoulders of giants” are we talking about? Well, essentially, the software that runs edx.org and includes mobile apps, learning analytics and ecommerce. We can customize its user interface and backend-integrations as much as we need but, in 99% of the cases, we’re talking about days or weeks of development efforts, not months or years.

Another reason is that, when an organization deploys Open edX, it fully owns it. This includes full ownership of its learners’ data and analytics (proprietary datasets will only become more valuable) as well as an ability to scale without prohibitive costs.

Sure, at $5 to $20 per student per month, traditional cloud-based LMS’s are cheap for a small number of students, but costs can quickly skyrocket — a Fortune 500 company in the US recently disclosed to IBL that it is paying close to $1.5m for 60k learners every year (“but only $2.08 per student per month!”). It may have been necessary to pay sums like this a few years ago when Open edX did not exist and the existing open source solutions were neither appealing nor fully-featured, but that is fortunately no longer the case.

For more information, visit Open edX’s official website or read our founder’s article on its official blog, “What Makes Open edX Unique”And, of course, please reach out to our team if you’d like to see how your organization can implement Open edX.

EdX Launches Eucalyptus, the Fifth Release of the Open edX Platform



The latest Open edX software called “Eucalyptus” was officially released this weekend. It replaces “Dogwood” and it comes with new course navigation, bookmarks, CourseTalk for reviews, teams, student notes and badges for completing course events.

It also includes “Subsection prerequisites”, which require learners to achieve a certain score before they progress to the next subsection. Additionally, there are a number of new XBlocks, such as: Completion, Drag and Drop Problem and Peer Instruction.

The Release Notes detail all of these functionalities.

“Eucalyptus.1 is the first release on the Eucalyptus line”, explained Ned Batchelder, manager at edX . “We’re proud of all the work that went into producing Eucalyptus, we hope you get good use from it”.

Several features have been deprecated or deleted:

  • REST APIs (deprecated):
    • Mobile, course structure, and profile images REST web services
  • Tools & Problem Types (deprecated):
    • Randomize component (replaced by randomized content blocks
    • Original drag and drop problem type (replaced by mobile-friendly drag and drop problem
  • Tools & XModules (deleted):
    • The graphical slider tool
    • The crowdsource hinter XModule
    • Support for the always_recalculate_grades XBlock field
    • The ENABLE_JWT_AUTH feature flag



The next Open edX release, scheduled for early 2017, will be called “Ficus“. It will include notifications, downloadable audio files and several improvements on mobile, commerce, grading, discussion, SSO integration, etc. This will be the sixth official release, after Aspen (September 2014), Birch (January 2015), Cypress (August 2015), Dogwood (January 2016) and Eucalyptus (August 2016).


Key Resources:

New Features:


Harvard Hopes to Find a Way of Sustainability with its New Open edX Platform

“The additional revenue from HarvardXPlus will contribute to the sustainability of HarvardX and defray some of the costs of producing the online materials
,” Faculty director of HarvardX Robert A. Lue said for The Harvard Crimson about its new premium model on MOOCs.

The HarvardXPlus platform will charge between $200 and $500 for enrollments in four eight-week courses, starting on September. This, according to The Harvard Crimson, will signal a move towards more financially sustainable online learning models”, after the “fiscal sustainability of the HarvardX has come under question.”

“Charging a fee will provide financial incentive to finish the course,” said Lue. According to a recent report, 5 percent of non-paying HarvardX participants completed the course, while those who paid for certification had around a 59 percent completion rate.

Lue emphasized that HarvardXPlus is “experimental,” and more premium courses are currently in the works. According to Lue, HarvardX will evaluate the first iteration of the program after the courses are completed this fall.

HarvardXPlus promises students expanded content and a more intimate contact with peers, teaching fellows, and faculty. In addition, the program will also provide those who complete the course with a “branded credential,” a two-page document that describes in detail the learning objectives, outcomes, and skills acquired throughout the course. Enrollment will be capped in the hundreds, as opposed to the tens of thousands who enroll in HarvardX courses.

HarvardXPlus –with courses on biochemistry, business contracts, world and China literature– requires a fee for enrollment; HarvardX –the Harvard-specific branch of the edX platform– allows participants to purchase $50 to $150 verified certificates for otherwise free courses.

Numbers that Speak the Impact of Open Courses: the Scope of edX



Are MOOCs a failure?

Read this interesting thought from Dr. Joshua Kim, director of Digital Learning Initiatives al Dartmouth University, from Inside Higher Ed:

“Those of us participating in the open online education movement (…) never thought that MOOCs would disrupt higher ed.  We create open online courses because offering educational opportunities to the world’s learners is both aligned with our missions, and because we think that participating in this movement is a good way to learn about learning.”

And a good example of the success of the open education (or open courses) movement is edX. Dr. Joshua Kim is sharing these mind blowing numbers:

  • There are 8.3 million (unique) lifelong learners on the edX platform.
  • Between 2012, when edX started, and today – there have been 27 million course enrollments.
  • Over 1,000 courses have been offered.
  • There have been over 2,300 faculty and staff who have taught on edX.
  • Over 840,000 certificates have been earned by edX learners.
  • EdX has over 100 schools, institutes and organizations in the Consortium creating open online courses.

Who exactly are all these lifelong learners on the edX platform?

  • Seven-in-ten lifelong learners are 25 years old or older.
  • The median age of an edX learner is 29.
  • About 36 percent are women, and each year the proportion of women learners on the edX platform grows.  It will be interesting to see if the gender distribution for open online learning starts to match that for post-secondary education as a whole (~57%).
  • Over two-thirds have a bachelor degree or higher, with over a quarter having a masters. (And 4% having a PhD).

And where do edX’s lifelong learners come from?

  • There are lifelong learners in every country of the world (save North Korea).
  • A bit over a quarter (27%) of edX learners come from the U.S. The next biggest country is India (11%), the U.K. and Brazil (both 4%) and China, Canada, and Mexico (3% each).
  • Over four-in-ten edX learners live in emerging economy countries.

“Does Coursera, NovoEd, FutureLearn, Canvas.net, and other open online learning platforms report similar levels and trends?”,
wonders Dr. Kim.

Inside Higher Ed, July 21: The Scope of edX

Eucalyptus, the Open edX Platform's Next Version, Will Be Released on August (Updated)


The final version of Open edX “Eucalyptus” is scheduled to be released on August 10th.

This is the estimated release schedule, according to edX:

  • First release candidate (rc1): Wed, July 20th
  • Second release candidate (rc2): Wed, August 3rd
  • Finished Eucalyptus release: Wed, August 10th

Eucalyptus will be based on the edX.org code’s master branch of July 8, according to Ned Batchelder, an Open edX manager. The edX engineering team will put together Eucalyptus-related release notes, including the latest developments since Dogwood.

Update July 22: Eucalyptus RC1 has been finally released on Friday 22. See the announcement.

The University of Colorado Generates a Revenue of $250,000 per Year from MOOC Certificates

The University of Colorado has reported that the certificates on their MOOCs offered through Coursera.com have generated roughly $110,000 since September 2015. “Conservatively, we estimate to generate $250,000 a year from courses offered on Coursera,” said Deborah Keyek-Franssen, Associate Vice President for Digital Education for the CU system.

“That’s been somewhat a welcome surprise, as CU did not necessarily expect to make money when it began offering the courses three years ago,” she explained at the Denver Post.

  • “The courses help disseminate research funded by tax dollars and have the potential to introduce millions of people to CU”.
  • “The courses are helping professors teach students differently and, in the case of one faculty member on the Colorado Springs campus, crowdsource research functions”.

The CU system (coursera.org/boulder and coursera.org/cusystem) has produced more than a dozen high-quality, video-based courses for Coursera and is offering several specializations, or multi-course units on one topic. These specializations end with a capstone project –at a price around of $300– that can allow to earn some transfer credit towards Master’s degrees. Coursera keeps half of that revenue.

Dogwood.2: New Release of the Open edX Software

The edX engineering team has released Dogwood.2. “This release fixes a few installation problems, applies some security fixes, and lets learners audit courses without offering certificates,” said Ned Batchelder, an edX manager.

Occasionally, edX releases updates to Dogwood. The first of these was Dogwood.1. Then Dogwood.2 came this week.

The First Community College Who Launches a MOOC on a Major Platform



By Michael Amigot / IBL 

SUNY Broome has become the first community college offering a MOOC on a major platform. Located in Binghamton, N.Y., this institution, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, launched last year in Coursera the course Foundations for Assisting in Home Care, intended for learners who wanted to see if a career in home health care was right for them.

Broome Community College feels as though this 13-week course –that attracted 1,200 learners from 100 different countries– has succeeded as a way to spread its brand, reach new students and serve people in central New York.

In order to fund the effort, SUNY Broome applied for and received two SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grants worth about $46,000, earmarked for MOOC development. The first grant made it possible to hire a videographer and shoot a series of video lectures, while the second funded the creation of a free textbook in partnership with SUNY Geneseo.

Open edX's Dogwood Version Released Today


The Open edX Dogwood version was officially released today, on February 11, 2016.

This fourth Open edX release presents new features such as:

  • Partial Credit
  • Open edX Analytics Developer Stack
  • Initial Version of Comprehensive Theming
  • Additional File Types for Open Response Assessments
  • Timed Exams
  • LTI XBlock
  • Otto Ecommerce Service

Detailed information about Dogwood is included in the Open edX Release Notes site. To get this release, visit Dogwood Installation Instructions.

Upgrading from the existing Cypress version into Dogwood is a challenging task. Officially, edX says the following about it:

“In order to keep up with the latest security updates and patches, as well as enabling developers to benefit from new features, we have upgraded Django from 1.4 to 1.8.7 and our Python version to Python 2.7.10. If you are currently running Cypress, upgrading to Dogwood will be a more involved process. If you’re having trouble, read the Installation Guide and try the edx-code or openedx-ops archives.”

Additionally, Ned Batchelder, a leading Open edX engineer said:

“Everyone, please note that upgrading from Cypress to Dogwood is *complicated*.  You need to read the instructions: http://edx.readthedocs.org/projects/open-edx-icr/en/dogwood/dogwood.html .  One of the reasons it took a while to finalize Dogwood was the complexity of the upgrade script.  Use with care :).”

IBL engineers’ advice is to avoid the risk of running that upgrading script (since it might break the whole installation) and simply build a new instance manually, migrating all of the data.

The next Open edX release, named Eucalyptus, is scheduled for mid-2016.

Open edX's Dogwood Will Finally Be Released Next Week

Dogwood, the latest Open edX version, will be released this coming week, according to edX.

Dogwood RC3 has been available since January 22. Since then edX engineers have been mostly working on migration scripts.

Dogwood’s new features include XBlocks such as Oppia, Office Mix and LTI.

This LTI XBlock will replace the existing LTI XModule and will offer course teams the ability to configure the way LTI components open when learners use them: in a modal window, in a separate web browser window, or embedded in a course page.

Another interesting feature is Partial Credit. In Studio, course teams will be able to configure four problem types (checkbox, multiple choice, numerical input and write-your-own-grader) so learners can receive partial credit for a problem if they submit an answer that is partly correct.

The edX Release Notes contain a summary of changes that are deployed. Those changes are part of the master branch of the edX platform in GitHub.

A major characteristic of this Dogwood version was the upgrade from Django 1.4 to Django 1.8.7.