Open edX is an online platform for creating, delivering, and analyzing online courses. It is the open source platform that powers the edx.org initiative, created by founding partners MIT and Harvard University, joined by over a hundred leading global institutions and used by millions of engaged online learners worldwide.
You can find out more about Open edX at https://open.edx.org or experience it first hand by taking one of the great courses available for free at edx.org.
If you are interested in learning more about this technology to deliver your own online courses or MOOCs, this article will provide you with a lot of valuable information to get started.
The Open edX platform is far from a monolithic application, it has a number of different applications that are generally referred to under the umbrella name “Open edX”, than can or not be integrated into an online learning initiative.
At the bare minimum, in order to build and run online courses, you’ll need the two basic applications:
This is the Learning Management System, where learners sign up for the site and log in to enroll and access their courses. Instructors also use the Open edX LMS in order to access some management tools such as course stats, manual enrollments, gradebook management, course reports, certificates configuration, email and more.
A Content management system or authoring platform for creating and configuring Courses and course libraries. This is the place where you’d go to author your course, add and organize courseware, add and configure activities, upload course files and configure course policies and settings. Studio uses the same authentication as the LMS (same email and password), but only course authors (users with specific permissions for one or more course) need to log in to studio. If a learner accidentally logs in to STUDIO, he’ll reach the STUDIO home page, but nothing more.
As mentioned above, the LMS and STUDIO have the basic functionality to get going, but as the online learning initiative gets more complex, some additional or complementary applications can come into play, notably:
Beyond the main basic functionalities, the Open edX platform has some advanced features that can be toggled on and off, and which rely on specific services that are deployed and configured independently only when needed. We’ll described below the most important ones.
Finally, there are certain components that create some confusion, because they are used at edx.org, but are not actually part of Open edX, either because they are very specific to the edX.org initiative, are not open sourced or are provided by external commercial partners. These include:
The technology stack used in Open edX is somewhat complex. At a high level, the technologies involved in the different layers are:
As part of the Discovery of Open edX, eduNEXT provides some tools to get everyone to experience the Open edX platform first hand without any previous knowledge or technical effort required.
The Open edX demo site provided by eduNEXT features most of the basic functionality in Open edX LMS and e-commerce from the learner’s perspective. In includes a few dummy courses built to demonstrate the different features and configurations available.
The Author’s lab is a Sandbox environment powered by the Open edX platform and maintained by eduNEXT. It’s a place to experiment as an author or instructor and play around with lots of powerful features. It’s not meant to hold actual courses and data, at it’s access is open to everyone and its data is wiped clean periodically.
Once you are all familiar with the Open edX platform and need to provision it for your online learning initiative, you can get the help of experts to do it for you better, safer and faster, or you can proceed on your own following the technical documents listed at the end of this article.
Open edX is a fast moving technology and platform. The engineering and product teams at edX and the open source teams at edX and elsewhere are always working towards evolving and improving the existing functionality and to adding new and exciting features to the platform. This means that the code base and associated documentation can change literally everyday and some time and effort is required to keep track, specially for newcomers to this community.
In order to keep innovating, and still have a common ground to operate, support and collaborate from, there is and a system of releases in place and the work is organized around each of those, which in average come out every 4-6 months. Each new release is named after a tree species and follows the alphabet. There have been nine stable releases so far, which makes Open edX “Juniper” the latest of them all, and Koa the next one to come. If you care about the past, you can take a look at the history of the Open edX “forest” here.
Every time a new release comes out, the open source team at edX publishes a release notes document highlighting the most important changes, and a new set of the full platform documentation for course Authors and for system administrators. Further below in the article, you’ll find the links for all those documents related to the current Juniper release.
Also, a team of senior reviewers at eduNEXT usually spend some time working and learning on each new version and produce an article with the most interesting findings from our perspective.
The latest one, corresponding to the Juniper release can be found here: Discover Open edX Juniper
The Open edX platform and all related documentation are released in English only, but it is always built with high internationalization standards, which allow it to be localized in many other languages. The translations of thousands of strings into each language are done by and reviewed by volunteers from the Open edX community in a collaboration platform called transifex.
The availability, completeness and accuracy of the translation may vary from one language to another. Some long time contributors such as eduNEXT take care of maintaining one or more languages to ensure they are up to date, complete and well translated.
For other languages, translators are always welcome and this is a simple to do and very valuable contribution to the project. To signup to be a translator for a particular language or to download the language packs, visit The Open edX project in Transifex.
Open edX has a growing and active community of enthusiasts, developers, learning experts, service providers, translators and more, that contribute in different ways their time and efforts to this open source project.
The community is always active via email groups in google, online platforms such as Jira, Confluence and Github, group messages on slack, and scheduled online video calls.
eduNEXT has been a very proud member of this community since the very beginning and welcome everyone who wants to join this great challenge to help build the best open online education platform. Below you’ll find the links for all the Open edX community platforms and channels.
The Open edX community also meets in regional and international events at least once a year. The Open edX conference is hosted by one of the educational institutions that support this project and gathers developers, contributors, service providers, organizations and individuals from all corners of the world that are interested and engaged with the
open edX project. eduNEXT takes pride in participating in every event as part of our long term commitment with this initiative. Take a walk through all the international gatherings by visiting the open edX event gallery.
While a lot of efforts are put by edX in maintaining the user and the technical documentation, keeping up with the fast development and evolution of the platform and services is always a challenge, and the wide variety of options and configurations also implies there is a wide variety of documents out there.
The most reliable sources of information are the official documents to be found on https://docs.edx.org/openedx.html. Please note that the docs.edx.org page publishes both the documentation for edX.org and that of Open edX which are slightly different and also maintains a set of working documents from one release to the next called the “latest” documentation. Whenever possible, you should base your explorations in the documentation for the specific release you will be using.
Here are the links to the main documents for each role for the Open edX Juniper release.
This is a key and complex part of the process, so we have a full post with all the details on how to provision the Open edX platform for your own initiative.
In fact, at eduNEXT we believe that adopters of this technology need, resources and more along their journey, so we have made it our main commitment to be there a provide a full range of tools, applications and services to simplify and shorten the process. We call it the Journey to online learning with Open edX and it involves 4 well defined, although sometimes overlapping stages:
Explore the Universe of possibilities powered by Open edX®
Get your own Open edX® and STUDIO environment up and running to start creating your online courses
Adjust the configurations to your needs. Build and publish your courses and start delivering online learning experiences
Get the most out of the Open edX® and STUDIO platforms
Besides all the information you’ll find in this website, the communication channels and the online platforms mentioned above for the Open edX community, there a few more resources to get more information: