What is Open edX? 

Open edX is the world’s best open source e-learning software created in 2012 by scientists at MIT and Harvard University including Piotr Mitros and Anant Agarwal. Some people call it a learning management system (LMS) but that is just one of the many components that come standard with any installation of the Open edX software. As early adopters of the Open edX technology our company ABC Online Courses have built some of the world’s most successful Open edX platforms and today I will show you inside some of these custom Open edX installations so you can fully understand what Open edX is and how the Open edX platform could work for your organisation. So, if you want to know what Open edX is and how Open edX works, this blog post is definitely for you.

Who uses Open edX?

The first website to be powered by the Open edX software is edXfounded by Harvard and MIT. The edX website is home to more than 20 million learners, the majority of top-ranked universities in the world and industry-leading companies. In fact, the Open edX software is so good that 9 out of 10 of the world’s Top 10 ranked universities use Open edX including University of Oxford. It’s not only universities that use Open edX as their online training software but many of the world’s biggest and most valuable companies such as Microsoft, Indonesia Stock Exchange, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Norland College, Christies Care, UNESCO, Amnesty International, Google and many more. Governments also use Open edX to power their entire national online learning platforms, these include France, China, Mexico, Indonesia, and other nations around the world.


Why do the world’s best organisations and governments use Open edX?

This is an easy question to answer. I like to summarise it with these five undeniable facts:

• User Experience: The Open edX software is a modern software with responsive web design at its core, making for an incredibly user-friendly experience for learners as well as instructors/course teams on all device types such as laptops, personal computers, tablets, mobile phones, etc. The look and feel of an Open edX installation is world-class compared to other e-learning or “LMS” software. When we talk about open source e-learning software, Open edX for sure has the best user experience.

• ScalableOpen edX is scalable. You can install Open edX on one (1) server and it can serve hundreds of monthly active users learners. Add more servers and you can scale the system to serve millions of monthly active users. This means Open edX can be used by small, medium, and large organisations. It’s truly an e-learning system that can be used by any organisation regardless of size.

• Customisable: If you want to customise your Open edX instance you can. You can change the look and feel or even change the functionality or add/remove features from the system. Most of our clients customise the theme (the look and feel or brand of the site) and further customise their Open edX instance by extending the features, such as adding single sign-on, e-commerce or other features they require.

• Open Source

The open source licence that Open edX comes with means that you are allowed to own your own Open edX instance while still getting all the benefits of being part of the wider Open edX community. Open source means you do not have to pay anything to download and use Open edX. In fact, anyone can download Open edX here from GitHub for free. However, keep in mind that just like any other web application there are costs involved with running a website, so even if the software is free, running your Open edX website incurs costs. Those costs vary depending on who is hosting your site, where they are hosting your site and how many users are interacting with the site and using up your bandwidth.

• The Open edX Community: 

The Open edX community has grown to become the world’s largest open source education community. This means the Open edX software is continually improving in iterations from one version to the next. The Open edX community is a friendly community and is filled with brilliant web developers and web engineers who keep Open edX ahead of the curve. The team at the Open edX head office is remarkable, filled to the brim with world-class web engineers backed by Harvard and MIT knowledge.

How does Open edX work?

The Open edX system is comprised of many different web applications working together to provide the world-class Open edX learning experience. Supporting Open edX are collections of autonomous web services called independently deployed applications (IDAs). Without getting too technical, when you install Open edX it includes two main portals (or “views”):

(1) Learning Management System (LMS):

The LMS is used by learners (and instructors) to access their courses. It is made visible to the users and instructors, often publicly on the internet at a subdomain of our client’s existing web domain name, for example, learning.company-name.com or courses.company-name.com. This is where learners go to register their account, sign in and start enrolling in their courses. Instructors also login to the LMS to engage with learners and manage the learner experience. Inside the LMS is an instructor dashboard that is visible only to instructors. The instructor dashboard allows instructors to check learner progress and download data regarding the course such as student profile information and grades. Instructors can also moderate learner grades in the instructor dashboard.

(2) Course Management System (CMS):

The CMS (more popularly known as the Open edX Studio) is used by instructors (or whomever is building the courses). It is usually only made visible to the people building the courses, i.e. the course teams. The CMS must also be hosted online, typically at another subdomain of the client’s existing web domain, for example, studio.company-name.com or dev.company-name.com – it’s up to the client to decide. Studio comes with all the tools to upload your course content and create your courses. It has an easy-to-use interface that allows you to create course outlines, insert content like text, images, videos and tests (or “problem sets”) like multiple choice, true or false, text input, numerical input, drag and drop, and more. In fact there are over 15 different variations of problem sets that come default in Open edX Studio. Most of these problem sets are auto-graded with the help of a hidden component of Open edX name XQueue. You also use Studio to add discussion forum topics into your course (if discussion forums are enabled in your Open edX platform).

How to install Open edX?

As mentioned above, Open edX is a large set of web applications with many different working components. Open edX is mainly written in Python using the Django framework and uses more than 20 different programming languages and technologies including, but not limited to, MongoDB, MySQL, Mako, CoffeeScript, Backbone.js framework, Sass, Bourbon framework, XBlocks, LTI, CodeJail, OLX, Ruby using the Sinatra framework, iOS, Android, JSON, Hadoop, REST API, Celery, RabbitMQ, Amazon SES and Elasticsearch, and more! You can download and install the platform yourself using the development documentation here, or you can hire a professional Open edX service provider like ABC Online Courses to ensure your Open edX platform is setup and managed to a world-class standard.

 Image: Screenshot from the Open edX official documentation.

what is open edx lms


How much does it cost to hire a professional Open edX service provider like ABC Online Courses?

While Open edX is open source, in order to professionally install, customise, host, manage and update your Open edX instance you need one or more experienced full-stack web developers. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a fullstack developer in the United States is $87,665 per year, so that really puts the costs of an Open edX instance into perspective. If you hire a leading Open edX service provider like us, you will only pay a fraction of that cost and you will be able to gain the benefit of our expertise without having to hire your own internal web developers. Hiring an experienced team of Open edX developers like ABC Online Courses allows you to focus on your teaching and learning while we ensure your platform is running reliably and securely.

Contact us for a free Open edX demo today and take your online learning to new heights of excellence with your own custom Open edX installation.