The Open edX Guide: Release of the Second Edition and HTML Format

Open edX ebook

The second edition of our guide to Open edX was released this week. Most of the sections have been updated with new information.

In addition, we have launched an HTML version, which is far more convenient than the PDF edition when it comes to following URLs to key pages.

No registration or password access is required for either of the formats. The work, written by Michael Amigot, is self-funded and released under the least restrictive Creative Commons license.

This free eBook –the first guide related to this technology– explores the most engaging and innovative learning and teaching platform in the world.

“It is useful for someone trying to get up-to-speed on the Open edX ecosystem”, according to Piotr Mitros, Chief Scientist at edX.

“The eBook itself is a quick read, and looks like a good overview of Open edX. Part 1 is an index of major Open edX adopters. Then there are pointers to key points of documentation (e.g. demo courses demonstrating Open edX functionality). Next, there’s a high level overview of what the components of Open edX are, and what the extension points are. Finally, there are pointers to the major resources about Open edX,” described Mr. Mitros on Google’s Open edX discussion board.

YouTube Videos on edX Will Have Hidden URLs


The newest version of the edX platform, released on September 18th, includes a very useful feature, although it might go in the opposite direction of the open education trend: it hides YouTube and non-YouTube videos’ URLs. However, the author of the course can allow students to download them.


Another important announcement came from Google Education, who added the ability to use over 60 external third-party authentication systems on the Open edX platform, with support for everything from open standards like OpenID or OAuth 2.0, to custom single sign-on systems. The authentication module is extensible and its features are completely configurable.

[Update: OpenID 2.0 for Google accounts is going away on April 20. OpenID 2.0 has been superseded by OpenID Connect.]



On the other hand, there is a new version of the edX demo course, which is interesting for new students and course designers.



 Portal Allows Students to Sign In With Google or Facebook Accounts


EdX has just released a new version of its platform that allows students to sign into the educational portal with their existing Google or Facebook accounts.

In addition, edX has decided to highlight the importance of LTI cloud-based apps by including a more stylish way in the LMS (or users’ view interface) to show external components. See what it looks like:


Big Analysis at EdX Finds That 6 to 9 minutes Is the Ideal Length for an Educational Video


With 2.7 million users around the world and 3 billion records of data related to student activity, the edX platform is “a particle accelerator for learning”. That is what the president of edX, Anant Agarwal, said during the LinuxCon conference in Chicago.

“We can learn how students learn by mining the big data of learning”. For instance, the big data analysis found that between 6 and 9 minutes is the ideal length of time for an educational video. Anything longer and students begin to drop off.


Best Open edX Samples


We like to say that Open edX is the most visually engaging learning platform in the world. But what are the best Open edX graphic layouts?

In an ebook we are about to launch –“The Ultimate Guide to Open edX”– we review what we consider to be the best user interfaces built with Open edX software.

Here is a preview of the list –although we avoid ranking the platforms.




GW Online, Another Great Open edX Initiative


Another great initiative by the Open edX community. George Washington University has launched GW Online Open edX.

This platform, sponsored by Amazon and Nvidia, has been designed and built with IBL Studios Education’s technical support.

The first course, titled “Practical Numerical Methods with Python”, offers an innovative experience based on distributed knowledge and open education. The on-campus course at George Washington will be connected with three other simultaneous courses, at Southampton University (UK), King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Saudi Arabia), and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Hybrid Learning Is The New Driving Force In Education


Hybrid learning –the one that blends face-to-face and online courses and uses technology to modify lessons based on the students’ progress– is forcing to rethink the model of teaching and learning. Its positive impact is even higher than MOOCs’.

In fact, an increasing number of experts are putting hybrid courses at the top of the list of innovations.

Examine, for example, this research: “The Innovative University: What College Presidents Think About Change in American Higher Education“. 81 percent of 349 presidents of public and private not-for-profit colleges and universities interviewed feel enthusiastic about mentioned blended learning experiences.

This report, sponsored by Blackboard and The Chronicle of Higher Education, “emphasizes that schools of all types and leaders at all levels are being forced to reevaluate what it means to be relevant. We need a re-imagined educational experience that directly connects learners to success,” said Jay Bhatt, CEO of Blackboard.

Open edX's Hidden Weapon to Become Dominant: the XBlock Architecture


One of the largest successes of Open edX technology is the XBlock architecture. Designed by third-party developers and used to create new courseware components –such as a video player, Javascript interactive feature or discussion forum, XBlocks can be reused across courses and shared with the community.

In other words, an XBlock is an extensible system that allows to store data (content, students’ states, etc.), present data (through HTML, CSS, Javascript), run Python code, process user input (record grades, modify states…), etc.

In our opinion, these are the five best, newly developed XBlocks:

  • Staff Graded Assignment. Students are invited to upload documents as a way to encapsulate their work on their assignments. Instructors download the files and grade them.
  • Mentoring. It automates the workflow of real-life mentoring within an edX course. It supports free-form answers, multiple choice and response questions, rating scales and progression tracking.
  • Ooyala Video Player. It places Ooyala videos into edX courses. It supports transcripts, overlays –to place raw text or HTML content at a specific moment in your video– and player tokens –to secure your video content using a token with an expiration time.
  • Drag and Drop. Students are required to drag and drop texts or images into different sections as specified by the assignment.
  • Image Explorer. It allows display tool tips of an image within the course content.

See a more complete list here. The official explanation of XBlock architecture is at this URL.

EdX Consortium Launches a Second Portal in Arabic – Partnering This Time with Saudi Arabia


The edX Consortium has announced this week a partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor to start in September a MOOC portal in Arabic, intended for women, youth, disabled people and citizens in rural areas.

The courseware will combine originally produced content with existing courses licensed by edX university members and translated into Arabic. This portal, empowered by Open edX technology, “will deliver vocational and employability skills to historically underserved learners in the region,” explained  Anant Agarwal, CEO at the edX Consortium.

The initiative follows edX’s adoption model as implemented in countries like France (, China (,  Jordan (, Mexico and Rwanda, and it comes at a time wherein the private sector is growing rapidly and business opportunities are expanding in Saudi Arabia –a country wherein the public sector accounts for two-thirds of employment and about 30 percent of young people and women are unemployed, according to the IMF.

Saudi Arabia will make a “significant investment in Open edX and edX’s services”, according to edX. It will be a multi-year collaboration that includes “a research component focused on learning through innovative technologies and R&D”.

A MOOC competitor in the region is Queen Rania Foundation’s, a portal launched in May 2014 as the first not-for-profit Arab platform for MOOCs. The initiative was born also as a result of a partnership with the edX Consortium.

Back then pretty much the same enthusiastic comments were officially released. “We are honored to be a part of Edraak that will open up a world of possibility for intellectually hungry Arab youth and Arab-speaking students worldwide,” said edX Consortium in May. In its latest PR release there was no mention of’s project.

Infographic: How To Extend Open edX's Capabilities, Installations and Social Reach


Open edX’s technology possibilities are endless; this software can become the dominant, ubiquitous solution of the educational world, specially now that we know that it is used by the 31 member universities of the edX Consortium and Google is about to launch its, a YouTube-style portal for courses.

However, we are still far from that.  What do we need, then, to guarantee the ultimate success of Open edX?

See this infographic created by It highlights Stanford University’s recommendations in a paper commissioned by its Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning (we referred to this report recently at IBL Studios).

Basically, the xConsortium who runs Open edX must involve the open-source community with further conviction.

As developers and contributors to the Open edX community, and having worked for six universities, here at IBL we think that one of the most urgent recommendations is to set up a public bug tracking. Otherwise, there is no way to know if a bug has been identified and someone is addressing and fixing it.

Another practical suggestion is to attach some documentation to the frequent –almost weekly– software updates at GitHub.

Stanford advises to move to only 2-4 stable releases per year with notes, upgraded scripts, and improved packaging and clear version numbering. And that is fine too.

Open edX is amazing, disruptive technology. It is worth the effort!


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