Lilac was announced in July 2021 to be the twelfth Open edX release, no longer after Koa, which was announced in December 2020. Both releases brought important technology updates and also a few improvements to the platform’s functionality.  This article aims to highlight the most significant changes from both releases, in preparation for the upgrade of eduNEXT cloud-based subscriptions to the Lilac release.

As usual, the changes and improvements will be organized by the type of user experiencing the platform and in some cases, the visual example of how the platform worked in Juniper will be displayed and compared with the way it works in Lilac.

Learner Experience

Open Response Assessments

This key component of the Open edX platform has received a number of improvements in the last 2 releases, as described below.

Rich text submissions

Learners are now able to send rich responses with a more variety of text editor options that include the submission of images, text styles, apostrophes, text numbering, among others. Please note that this feature requires the previous configuration in STUDIO to be enabled.

Peer review step no longer blocking the ORA process

Sometimes, the self-assessment is configured after peer assessment, and learners were blocked from completing this step until the peer assessment step was completed. Now, learners can proceed to the next assessment step when reaching a peer assessment step. This change makes all peer-related steps non-blocking, though they will still be required to complete the problem. 

Grading Status Message

Learners can now see their grading status throughout all the ORA steps to determine the staging process of the assignment’s grade.

Course dates and milestones

New tab for Course Dates

There is now a new tab that lists the course’s important dates. This particular feature provides learners with a more detailed outline of all the assignment’s deadlines, as a tool to help learners stay on track with their schedule, and it’s completely adjustable and flexible for self-paced courses.

In self-paced courses, learners are presented with a suggested schedule for assignment due dates based on their enrollment date and the expected course duration. Learners are able to adjust the schedule if they fall behind and miss an assignment.

Content Search Result Page

Course Content Search Updates

Visual updates to the course content search results page now clarify the result location and type for learners.

Course creator experience

Changes to the course outline interface

In-Context Unit Naming

Authors are now able to rename units directly from the course outline interface.

Changes and improvements to ORA components

New settings added

There are new settings available, to allow for rich texts, some of these include the submission of images, apostrophes, text numbering in the text editor and to allow learners to see the rubric when submitting a response.

ORA Problems as Component Category

The Open Response components were elevated as a category in the Studio Unit page so that they are easier to drop into a unit page with pre-configured templates. You can now easily add some of the most commonly configured ORA problems.

New tabs for ORA’s configuration

Brand-new option tabs have been added to simplify the ORA configurations, some of these include a rubric, assessments steps, schedule, and settings.

Authors are now able to set up deadlines for courses and peer assessments when it comes to responses and grading, as well as to enable or disable ORA steps according to the pedagogical needs.

Toggle rubric visibility for learners

Course staff can now choose to show learners the rubric for an ORA as they complete their ORA submission, more easily allowing learners to understand how they will be evaluated.

Support Flexible Peer Grading Averaging for Learners delayed / in Peer Grading step

As part of reducing the number of students delayed in the peer grading step, the “Enable Flexible Peer Grading Averaging’’ has been introduced, a new grading setting for ORA peer reviews. If enabled, the effect is that fewer learners will be waiting for additional peer reviews, requiring less manual staff intervention for this edge case.

Ability to limit file uploads

Course staff now have the ability in ORA settings to limit students to one file upload or to allow multiple files as part of their ORA submission, if file uploads are set to optional or required.

LTI 1.3 and LTI Advantage Support

The Open edX platform has supported version 1.1 of learning tools interoperability (LTI 1.1) for many years now. As the new version of LTI was introduced, the Open edX platform adds support to this upgrade, bringing it up to date with the most capable LTI standard, that is currently available on Lilac. To read more about the advantages and improvements of the new standard, visit the following link on Why Platforms and Tools Should Adopt LTI 1.3.

The implementation of the LTI Advantage services, has allowed the Open edX platform to be formally certified as LTI Advantage Complete, read more details on Open edX platform earns LTI® Advantage Certification.

Python Evaluated Input Components Upgrade

 The Python Evaluated Input problem type, which allows course creators to write their own python code to evaluate learners input used to work in Python 2.7. It has now been upgraded to work in Python 3.6, which is a major upgrade that will likely need course authors to control their code and make sure it runs properly in the new Python version.


Course Instructor Experience

Changes and improvements to ORA components

Added problem name and location to ORA report download

Course authors’ are now able to identify the problem name in the ORA report Excel sheet, which would help them to easily identify to which unit the ORA belongs, as well as the student name and the date of response in order to have a proper evaluation of the assignment.

Included ORA zipped file download for submission text + attached files

Generating and downloading different reports report types can now be done all-in-one with a submission file archive that not only contains a variety of reports attached but also all submissions texts necessary to a more comprehensive analysis.

Developer experience

Dependency updates

  • Mongo was upgraded from 3.0 to 4.0.
  • Switched from Elasticsearch 1 to Elasticsearch 7 across Open edX. This may require some syntax changes for custom scripts that used search APIs.

xModule to block Conversions

edX hascontinued the migration away from the legacy module format in support of its eventual deprecation. The Conditional, Library Content Descriptor, Randomize Descriptor, Split Test Descriptor, Annotatable Descriptor, and Word Cloud Descriptor have all been converted to XBlocks as part of this work.


Platform experience

For the first time, the Lilac is involving Tutor, an installation method that is completely developed and maintenance outside edX that aims to provide a simpler maintenance deployment.

Other changes

Not yet supported by edunext

Some of the changes added to the platform in the last 2 releases, are closely tied to the New Micro-frontends framework for the platform User interface. This framework doens’t yet have enough theming capabilities that can be configured by the administrators, and for this reason it is still not being used by eduNEXT cloud subscriptions. This means that the functionality listed below will not yet be available although it is technically part of the Koa and Lilac releases.  In the near future, microfrontends or MFE will completely replace the previous framework, so at that point all the functionality that relies on MFE will be added. 

New Micro - Frontends

Some additional pages have been implemented in the new microfrontend Frameword, including the user Account page, the ecommerce Checkout page, and the course navigation pages.

Course Milestones

When learners reach the end of the course, a new navigation button will show up directing them to “Complete the course” in case they’ve completed an audit course. The new Course Completion page also provides clarity for common learner questions. 

Progress Milestones

These are in-course celebrations that mark key achievements in the learner’s course journey. When a learner achieves one of these milestones, they see a celebration modal with a congratulatory message and links to share the achievement with friends on social media. 

Are you ready to update your Open edX instance?

As experts of the Open edX platform, we understand that each upgrade involves a significant amount of development and configuration. In case you are running your own Open edX platform and would like to request assistance with the installation or migration of lilac, feel free to contact us at

If you are looking to upgrade your Open edX platform with a full manage installation, we invite you to consider our cloud-based subscriptions.

For more detailed information about the list of updates on the functionalities, including the previously mentioned ones, please don’t hesitate to visit the Open edX Lilac Release Notes.

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