This month marks the third birthday of edX, the online learning platform developed jointly by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In that short time, usage of the edx.org site has exploded. Over 4 million students have taken one of the hundreds of free online courses provided by dozens of prominent universities. Individual courses have had tens of thousands of enrollees in a session.

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Above: Source: Google Trends

And usage of the term “MOOC” (Massively Open Online Course) has gone through the roof, too, as this Google Trends chart illustrates.

Less well known, though, is that in 2013 edX released its open source software to the world, allowing anyone, including for-profit companies, to use it. Rather than contributing courses to edx.org, others can now create their own instance of edX. Within the same instance of Open edX, they can launch SPOCs (Small, Private Online Courses) or EPICs (Enterprise Private Internet-enabled Courses, essentially a MOOC within their company).

And launch those courses they have. Companies such as McKinsey, Johnson & Johnson, InterSystems and medical device manufacturer Ethicon are using edX to educate employees, customers, partners, and prospects, as well as in their recruiting.

MongoDB was one of the first companies to adopt Open edX as a corporate MOOC, and invested in university.mongodb.com where it offers free online courses and certifications in its core product.

Whereas before MongoDB could only train 1,800 people per year with in-person training, with its Open edX-powered site, the company had 14,000 persons take its online courses in the same time period.

And MongoDB University is no longer a cost center; it’s a revenue generation machine because it is now the #1 sales lead generator for the company.


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And Open edX enables an even greater possibility. We know of at least one major, global corporation that is working on creating an online course catalog for its worldwide workforce consisting of courses it has developed — plus licensed courses from other corporations using Open edX and major universities on edx.org. That kind of curated “best of the best” courseware offering was not possible before Open edX came along.

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Above: Photo credit: Louis Gudema

Image Credit: Louis Gudema

The majority of corporate training is now delivered as either an online course or a blended course with both online and classroom sessions; solely instructor led courses are a declining share of training. Learning management systems (LMS) alone are a $2 billion industry. LinkedIn recently paid $1.5 billion to acquire online training site lynda.com.

Open edX is a worthy competitor to more established LMSs such as SumTotal (a part of Skillsoft), Saba, and academic LMSs such as Blackboard and Moodle for a number of reasons.

First, with those millions of students, edX has shown that it can scale to the needs of even the largest companies.

As a new platform it provides a fresh and intuitive UI for building courses with. Let’s face it: almost all software ages and, if it doesn’t die, it usually seems increasingly clunky to use. It’s just too difficult for most software companies to radically update their software and overturn the expectations of their existing user base.

And as an open source platform, Open edX benefits from the software contributions of dozens of universities and major companies including Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm. They’re constantly contributing new features related to course management, problem assessments, analytics, mobile and other areas.

The Open edX software is far from perfect, of course. Accessibility, responsive design and interoperability are just three areas that the Open edX community is currently focused on improving.

However, for any company or non-profit interested in online training and education, Open edX is an online courseware platform that’s worth a serious look.


nate-auneNate Aune is founder and CEO of Appsembler which provides Open edX customization, implementation and hosting services.