Course Platforms / edX
edX was founded in 2012 by Havard and MIT. So even though it is relatively new it comes with a very high pedigree. They continue to be governed by higher education institutions and remain an open-source, non-profit organisation.
So is this a marketing stunt by elitist institutions or the real deal for getting high-quality learning on the cheap?
Read our review to find out.
Since its inception edX has expanded rapidly and now has a global network of over 130 partners. They partner with "top universities, non-profits and institutions" to provide you with over 2500 courses.
Unlike some other online course providers we have reviewed, edX kept their focus on quality whilst driving this growth.
There are two things are important to note about edX
Firstly, "institutions" is a very vague and vaguely ominous sounding word. In reality, it just means organisations that are not universities but still have something of value to offer.
Examples include: The International Monetary Fund (IMF), Microsoft, The Smithsonian, Amnesty International and Amazon. Because someone needs to deliver all the books and pencils. You can see the whole list here.
The second thing is that they call these partner institutions "members" which means that Harvard and MIT have not yet fully lost their elitist tendencies.
That being said the platform is open source and is genuinely committed to providing you with a slice of the education pie for free. So perhaps we shouldn´t judge them too harshly if they struggle to leave their ivory towers.
Who is edX for
edX sprang from minds of two venerable universities one glorious evening. Therefore it is not surprising that the platform does not aim to replace the traditional university model.
Their aim is to give you a good grounding in a subject without being too demanding on your time or wallet.
That being said they are rising with the online learning tide and are slowly but surely turning the platform into a force to be reckoned with. They now offer a lot more than pre-recorded online video classes.
The platform is slick, the setup will be familiar to anyone with experience in any sort of education. Their more recent forays into offering in-depth courses and catering to the business market have left their header and offerings a little crowded and confusing at times.
Online learning is not yet a replacement for everything traditional learning offers
edX is built on the imaginatively titled Open edX.
The Open edX initiative is one of the big plus points of edX. As it is open-source, Open edX has advanced quickly and through real people solving their own problems.
Over 18 million people have learnt new skills online through an Open edX powered course. That is in addition to the 18 million who have learnt through the edX platform.
So that is 36 million better are a little smarter thanks so some free software that is constantly evolving to better serve the next 36 million.
Open edX is a very valuable gift to the world of elearning and one we should all applaud.
It is definitely worth having a look at the platform if you are interested in the science behind elearning. Open edX shows just how much goes into an elearning platform.
As you will see below a course with edX is much more than watching self-paced videos and working through some preset questions.
Classes and courses
edX courses tend to focus on University style subjects. In recent years, their partnerships with real-world companies have led them to offer more practically focused courses.
As you can see from the list above edX is not stingy with the number of topics covered by its courses. With just over 2500 courses at last count, it is somewhere in the middle in terms of the number of courses offered.
Some of the course subjects are easy to understand but there are a couple of ones that are slightly too vague to comprehend on the first pass.
Examples include: Communication, Electronics, Music & Science. When you dig deeper into these topics you realise the broad names are because the course subject matter is very broad.
Here are some of the courses on offer from the Music Category on edX
• Introduction to Music Theory
• Introduction to the Music Business
• Music for Wellness
• First Nights - Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera
• Religion and Hip Hop Culture
• Jazz Appreciation
You get the idea.
These categories are a fun place to while away a few hours if you have decided to deepen your knowledge of music to impress at your next soriée, dinner party or rave.
The more "traditional" subjects like Chemistry, Mathematics or History are more clearly defined and ordered. They are broken down into 10-20 sub-sections so it easy to dig into one specific area.
However, one issue that seems to plague edX, is that they are trying to cram too much into one spot. The menu is cluttered. The "All Courses" page is a long trawl through course after courses. There does not seem to be much logic to how the courses are ordered.
The filter options on the side are slow and annoying since you have to open them up and apply them one by one.
Another, very important point, is that edX is a non-profit organisation. Unlike many other course providers and even, the seemingly free YouTube, edX does not exist to make money.
This means that even though pay for courses and the education you get the platform and CEO re commited to providing value to you, not to the shareholders.
As discussed above edX wants to help anyone who wants to learn. And anyone who has an internet connection.
"Verified Track" a Course should you wish to be graded and receive a certificate of achievement you will have to pay. These tend to come in one of 3 brackets: $49 | $99 | $149.
"Audit Track" a course You can take all of their courses and classes for free.
"Programmes & Degrees" is the third option. It covers all the longer and definitely not free Company created structured courses and University diplomas you can take.
• Company created programmes are from $200-$1000
• An Online Masters from a top university can be $20,000+
The Audit track is obviously great value, but so is the Verified track when you consider that you are being certified from places like MIT and IBM.
If, like Chandler from Friends, you aren't ready to commit do not be alarmed. edX delivers millions of classes a year, the vast majority of students do not pay a thing for their new found skills and knowledge.
Stick with it as we review Open edX, the marvellous man behind the curtain.
How to take a course
edX follows the tried an trusted route to provide online courses.
They provide a series of videos broken down into weeks. Each video lasts around 20 minutes.
There are 5 categories to a course.
• Key Terms
The videos themselves run on the standard Youtube playlist format. You can make notes and see the transcript on the right-hand side.
The transcript can be distracting at times but you can remove it in the options.
The one issue is that is not very easy to see where you are in the options.
The whole page seems a little spartan, this may be due to trying to keep the focus on learning but it can be a bit of learning curve to try and figure out where everything is.
You may often find yourself going back into the course overview page. But try and remember to use the menu and the little next button at the bottom of the video.
Navigating the site
In the screenshot below you can see the "Introduce to Python: Absolute Beginner" course.
As you can see from the screenshot. The course overview pages at edX are not as detail oriented as we have come to expect from some of the other Online Course Providers we have reviewed.
The two big omissions that stick out are the lack of:
a detailed course syllabus
course ratings and reviews
It has become very much de rigueur to provide a complete breakdown of what is going to be on a course.
This is with good reason, few people want to commit weeks or months of their life without knowing what they are committing to or what they will get out of it.
Harvard & MIT might not want their reputations to be tarnished by having their courses ranked lower than everyone else´s.
Coursera, which runs on a similar principle, has ratings and reviews and the platform is much better for it.
That being said all the course providers have a great reputation. All the courses we have taken have been useful and the courses are free to try so you are not losing anything by signing up to a few and sticking with the best ones.
Also, you can get the full course syllabus and a great intro from the educators once you enrol in a course.
It is also worth noting that when are expected to pay for a longer programme, like a MicroMasters. There are ratings and reviews, so perhaps I can row back my criticism just a little bit.
Also whilst, this review and all the screenshots are in English there are courses in over 15 languages. That being said over 75% of the courses are only available in English and the rest are mainly European. edX still has a long way to go before it can call itself a global course provider. They are working on it and getting better every year so watch this space.
The edX My Courses page is not as functionally rich as some of the others that we have seen.
It is basically just a list of all your Courses and Programs. There are no filter or search options which means that you will have some scrolling to do once you have taken a few courses.
There is also a lot more monetisation and upselling than we have seen elsewhere. Since most people start with edX by 'Auditing' a course for free it is no surprise that they are trying to get some money back.
This does not make it any less annoying when you are trying to find a specific source when you know you have an exam deadline.
If you are looking for inspiration on which courses to try, check out our Noticeboard full of elearning courses and tips.