What Makes the Open edX Platform Unique? See These Cases

Guest Post: Michael Amigot, Founder at IBL Studios Education

This article originally ran on the Open edX Universities Symposium’s website on September 8, 2015


It’s a Global Success

The Open edX software is open-source technology that makes learning easier and studying faster.

It was created by MIT and Harvard University, and was quickly supported by universities such as UC Berkeley, Georgetown, and Stanford, and companies such as Google and Microsoft.

This software platform is designed to engage students and teachers in an interactive, modular way. It promotes active learning by using video snippets, interactive components and game-like experiences.

The Open edX project is a global success. It powers major MOOC initiatives, hosting blended and online courses, all around the world.


Top Ten Uses

These are the top ten examples of the ways in which the Open edX platform is used:

  1. It powers edx.org’s MOOC portal with more than 5 million users, 500 available courses and 50 involved international universities and business organizations.
  2. Stanford University uses it at lagunita.stanford.edu for both on-campus students and distance learners.
  3. MIT has made its private installation of the Open edX platform its central on campus LMS, with nearly 200 courses and 80 percent of students using it.
  4. Harvard University uses it for online teaching and learning.
  5. Top universities in China, the Middle East, Indonesia, Japan, France, India and Spain, among other countries, have embraced it for MOOCs.
  6. Innovative universities such as The George Washington University (GW), NYU, and Duke University are using it to launch MOOCs, SPOCs and professional education-related initiatives. GW was the second American university after Stanford to deploy an Open edX-based online learning website.
  7. McKinsey & Co has adopted the Open edX system to create McKinsey Academy, which serves over one hundred of its clients.
  8. Johnson and Johnson, Microsoft, Amnesty International, International Monetary Fund, MongoDB and other top international companies are creating Open edX-based courses.
  9. Davidson College, the College Board, and edX have launched AP courses on edx.org intended for high-schoolers. EdX’s High School Initiative highlights this focus, too.
  10. Arizona State University is offering the first freshman in college through edX-based courses on edx.org.


Superior Pedagogy

Open edX technology allows instructors to create engaging learning sequences, which promote active participation as students alternate between learning concepts and solving simple exercises to check their understanding.

The course content is presented through learning sequences: a set of interwoven videos, readings, discussions, wikis, collaborative and social media tools, exercises and materials with automatic assessments and instant feedback.

Students can move at their own pace following a self-regulating learning process. They complete interactive assessments and receive instant feedback.

Results on both student learning outcomes and student satisfaction from the use of the Open edX technology are compelling.

The Open edX system provides superior pedagogy.


Tech Features

The Open edX software includes two main applications: one for taking courses – the LMS or Learning Management System – and another one for creating them – “Studio,” the CMS or Content Management System.

An Open edX course organizes course content through a three-level hierarchy of sections, subsections and units. Sections and subsections appear on a vertical navigation bar on the left and units appear sequentially on a horizontal navigation toolbar. This navigational structure is effective, engaging, and results in a great learning experience.

Units contain components such as discussions, HTML, problems and video.

One of the most powerful technologies native to the Open edX platform is the multiple ways in which course staff can express problems. It allows for multiple-choice questions, checkboxes, dropdowns, textual, numerical and mathematical inputs as well as many other types of advanced problems, using custom Python and JavaScript to evaluate answers and display the results.

The Open edX video player, which is based around YouTube’s embeddable video player, is excellent: custom extensions to this player allow students to follow click-on transcripts to move along the video, adjust video speeds, download both the video and the transcripts, and even view transcripts in other languages.

A course can have cohorts, HTML pages, textbooks, wikis.

There are endless ways to structure course materials within an Open edX course.

“What makes Open edX unique is that it is the only last-generation, full-featured, open-source platform for online learning,” explains Lorena Barba, Professor at GW and one the most prestigious voices in the Open edX community.


Sites powered by Open edX

In our view, these are the best platforms built with Open edX-based code.

An extensive list, organized by Open edX community members, is on GitHub.


Michael Amigot is the founder at IBL Studios Education, a leading Open edX provider for higher-ed. IBL works for MIT Sloan, George Washington, NYU, Duke University, edX, Cooper Union, ETS and over 10 universities in Europe, Asia and Latin America

The First Open edX Platform Built on the Latest Cypress Software


University 4 Industry
is the first Open edX platform built on the latest Cypress software.

Developed by IBL Studios Education, University 4 Industry is an Open edX platform, created by German entrepreneurs, that intends to close capability and skills gaps in the workplace by educating industry practitioners and students.

The first course, “Internet of Things – Opportunities and challenges for the semiconductor industry”, will become available to the general public within a few days.

EdX Releases "Cypress" (with 188,500 new lines of code) and Announces that it Won't Support "Birch"

“After a lot of work hammering out the last few issues, Cypress is ready to go!”

With this revealing announcement on the General Open edX discussion forum on Google Groups, David Baumgold, edX’s engineer in charge of the release, broke the news.

An official blog post on the Open edX portal, written by Sarina Canelake, explained that this third release of Open edX is “absolutely jam packed with new features and improvements” (see below) and “strongly encouraged everyone in the Open edX community to begin their upgrade to Cypress immediately, revealing that “Cypress is now the only supported Open edX release” and “security patches will no longer be released for Birch”.

This Cypress-named release added around 188,500 lines of code and removed around 46,000 lines, touching nearly 2,500 files in the process. Seventy individuals, along with many other contributors, have been involved in writing the code of the edX platform since the release of Birch in February 2015. In total, over 3,150 commits.

Among the new features:

A full list of features has been posted here, along with instructions to migrate to Cypress.

The next Open edX release, Dogwood, is expected for the end of November 2015.

Cypress' Open edX Will Be Released Next Week – The Fourth Version, "Dogwood", Will Come in November

EdX’s engineers added today another release candidate to Open edX’s Cypress version, the RC4, given the need of more fixes.

The final Cypress release is expected to be released “early next week”, as long as more issues are not found, according to edX.

  • Cypress will be the third named version of the Open edX platform. So far, we’ve seen “Aspen” and “Birch”.
  • The fourth release has been named “Dogwood“, continuing with the tree-naming traditionIt will include the “Student Notes” feature as well as a Django upgrade from 1.4 to 1.8. It is expected for November 2015.
  • The fifth one, “Eucalyptus, will come in March, 2016.


Open edX's Cypress Release Will Include At Least 21 New Features, From Learner Profiles to Badges

Open edX’s Cypress release has been unexpectedly delayed because of a security vulnerability and problems with the update script, according to David Baumbold, the edX engineer in charge of the launch. “We don’t want to release Cypress in a state where some people would be unable to update their software,” he explained.

So far there is no release date, although the expectation is that it will happen soon, within days, considering that Cypress Release Candidate 3 is being run with positive feedback from the community. In this regard, Mr. Baumbold advised: “when the final Cypress release does come out, upgrading from RC3 to the final version should be pretty easy.”

The Cypress version will contain at least 21 new features:

The whole documentation, for now as a draft, has been posted at this URL:


On the other hand, a couple of patches have been released for the Birch version.


A Patch Release for Open edX-Based "Birch" that Administrators Must Install Urgently to Make YouTube Videos Display

EdX announced today Birch.1, the first patch for the Open edX “Birch” named release.

This patch allows to switch from the deprecated version 2 of YouTube Data API to version 3, in order to make YouTube videos display.

Before applying this fix, administrators of Birch-based Open edX platforms will need to sign up for an API key from YouTube and put that key into their installation. This is the documentation site for this process.

Open edX administrators running versions prior to Birch –which was released in March 2015– will be forced to upgrade to the Cypress version, which is expected by the end of this week. EdX is no longer supporting Aspen, the first named version, released in October 2014.

“EdX is providing this patch in order to assist people currently running Birch in production, but we recommend that everyone migrate to Cypress when it comes out”, explained David Baumgold, edX engineer.

In addition, the Birch.1 patch addresses a security vulnerability involving a malicious course import as well as other smaller changes.

> Original post with the announcement (July 28): Announcing Birch.1, patch release for Birch.
> Past news report (July 17): YouTube Videos Won’t Be Displayed on Open edX Platforms Until a Fix Is Developed – edX Engineering Team Is Working Against the Clock

"Cypress" Open edX Will Be Released in Mid-July

The next Open edX software version, called Cypress, will be released between July 15th and 20th. This release will contain changes in social profile, 3rd party auth and single sign on, among other features.

The first Release Candidate version will appear on June 26th. EdX plans for two weeks for testing and documentation.

Sarina Canelake, Open Source Manager at edX, has explained the process on a post on Google’s edX forum.

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