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edX

edX Review

By: edX Inc.

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Detailed Review

Marian Wright Edelman was an American child rights activist. She once said, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” People have valued education since time immemorial. However, it remained stagnant over a long period.

The emergence of computers and the internet (technology) has probably brought about the biggest revolution in the field of education. The online learning dissipated several restrictions and provided thousands of people the valuable knowledge that they were seeking. edX is one such MOOC platform that offers various courses online.

Pros

  • They offer an extensive course catalog, due to edX’s partnership with various prestige universities and institutes. The student can enroll in numerous courses and achieve proficiency.
  • Moreover, edX targets to improve the learning experience on campus, too, apart from their website. They analyze user data and conduct research activities to enhance the delivery of their service.
  • Their open edX is an exemplary LMS which is open to any learning organization. It is open-source hence no licensing required. We can recognize their nonprofit role in such ventures.
  • A student can follow the audited track and learn a course for free. They aimed to offer accessible learning to anyone interested in learning.
  • Their video lectures have transcripts that run alongside on the right panel of the screen. It is a unique layout as most reviewed platforms offer that below the video classes.
  • The student is free to choose the type of courses regarding self-paced or instructor-led.
  • They offer various programs such as MicroMaster, Xseries, master’s degree, which are eligible for earning credits. The credits can then be used to pursue further education in universities.

Cons

  • It is among the popular MOOC platforms. However, their free courses have restricted learning experience. It is because the student is unable to earn certificates. Moreover, the student cannot access the graded assessments and can access the content for a limited time only.
  • The catalog may be massive, but it is faces scarcity of content under some subjects. Currently, computer science, science, social science, have the majority of courses. While ethics has only 16 courses at its disposal, thus displaying a gap.

Introduction

Illiteracy rates have reduced ever since governments of several countries implemented compulsory education. Such learning can take place either in schools or homeschooling.

The authorities recognized that people were able to master physical skills through apprenticeship. These skills made a person capable of earning to feed himself.

However, other vital soft skills, such as communication, values, and ethical practices, were lacking in their personality.

The schools, colleges, and the universities provided a classroom setting to enlighten the masses. Through it country’s economy grew, new careers sprouted and overall an education system came into being.

The system remained the same over time, with the traditional book and pen approach. In recent times, technology turned the tables.

Now than ever before we have students enrolling more in online courses rather than opting for the physical classroom certificates.

edX is a collaborative idea of the scientist from Harvard and MIT. It came into being in May 2012, and it started as an open-source and nonprofit organization.

Later, many private universities and corporations from various countries adopted the edX MOOC platform.

They currently have over 120 institutional partners, and more than 20 million learners have access to their learning content.

Their mission statement stresses on education and research. It has removed barriers of cost, availability, and geographical restriction by providing quality online courses.

As a free course provider, they faced challenges with running the operations of their organization. As such, they designed paid courses that comes along with certifications.

They currently have audit (free) and verified (paid) courses. The verified courses earn the student a certificate.

They offer different types of programs for online learners. It includes the master’s degree and their unique creation of MicroMasters.

They provide the courses in a variety of languages including Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Arabic, Tibetan, and Portuguese.

Their LMS called Open edX is responsible for managing the massive content of edX. Let us start with understanding their LMS.

Open edX

As mentioned earlier, edX is a MOOC platform. It runs on open-source software, Open edX. The system is used by the community members, which include users, developers, partners, and research teams.

It is an open-source learning software which can be adopted by other organizations of higher education, enterprises, and the government institutes or NGOs.

Since it is an open-source LMS, it runs on Ubuntu’s operating system. Various options for technological integration is available. These include the likes of Docker, Django, and React.

Docker is a tool that allows architects, developers, and IT personnel to build, share, and run applications in an environment called containers.

Django is a Python-based software for creating and designing website whereas, React is to create user interfaces without much hassle.

It can use various cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, or OpenStack. Alternatively, on-premise hosting is available, which is more of a traditional approach.

Open edX system can have portions of an administrative portal, LMS, learner portal, and studio. It promotes multi-media, adoptive, group, and project-based learning.

It delivers online and hybrid programs and allows courses to be self-paced or instructor-led. Thus, Open edX is the software behind edX.

Schools and partners that form edX community

The learning content comes from various recognized universities, colleges, polytechnics, or research institutions.

They also have organizations from national governments, NGOs, multinational corporations, or nonprofit ventures.

They have edX charter members such as MIT, Harvard, Boston University, IIT Bombay, Caltech, The University of Tokyo, Wellesley college, among others.

There are edX members like ACCA, The Linux Foundation, Amazon Web services, IBM, Microsoft, Osaka University, etc.

They provide online education but apart from that, they engage in research activities. It is through the data collected from their learners.

The data is analyzed and used to improve the learning environment, both online and traditional campus-based.

They also offer blended learning, whereby the students attend a regular classroom. They learn from interactive videos instead of teachers.

The student undergoes an assessment to test whatever they learned from the class.

Thus, various efforts are made to create a conducive learning environment for students; be it online or on campus.

A vast collection of subjects

There are various online learning platforms which provide courses on a broad range of topics. We can confirm that the edX platform is also among them.

It is famous for its enormous collection of courses in the subject of humanities and natural sciences.

The subject further involves courses and programs. They also offer verified certificate courses, professional certificates, MicroMasters, and master’s degree program.

Their subjects include Business & Management, Computer Science, Data Analysis & Statistics, Humanities, Language, Architecture, Art & Culture, Biology & Life Sciences, Design, Engineering, Law, Literature, Music, Communication and much more.

It is a glimpse into their already vast content. Their collection keeps expanding as they frequently add various kinds of learning topics.

The task of searching for the appropriate course

We have established that edX has massive content. Searching for a particular course from such a vast collection can be distressing.

The homepage of edX provides a search bar from which a student can look for a particular course. Moreover, it displays the universities and institutes that have a partnership with them.

They also list popular subjects and provide the user with a chance to browse online courses. The online courses page holds all the content of the MOOC platform.

Honestly, the page can confuse a new user as so many things are intertwined. We see the courses occupying most of the page.

The left side panel provides us access to various sections to refine our search. The courses also have multiple titles which can further annoy any new user.

Well, majorly the names are regarding their certification. Thus, navigating the platform can be a tricky part until the user is familiar with its content and layout.

That is why we have options to conduct our search. One can use the search bar if you are aware of the content that you want.

Another way is to use the availability of the course to downsize our search results. It could be in the status of current, starting soon, upcoming, self-paced, or archived.

All the names of the subject offered displayed for the student. One has to browse through it and select the most appropriate course.

The courses and programs provide access to all courses, all programs, credit-eligible, master’s degree, MicroMasters degree, professional certificate, professional education, verified and Xseries.

One can set the level, and the courses under it can be taken up by the student (introductory, intermediate, and advanced). One can also select the language of choice and pursue a class from its content.

Getting accustomed to the site may take a while. However, once the layout is clear, the student can start to enroll in various courses.

Types of courses

All the content within the edX framework is either instructor-paced or self-paced. To know which of the two is your course, one has to check the course catalog for details.

An instructor-paced course is one that is limited in time, meaning the team sets a fixed schedule for the program, e.g., 8-12 weeks. It has a beginning date, deadlines for exams, and assessment.

The learner can earn certificates after completing the course according to the time frame. Meanwhile, self-paced lack scheduled time features.

All the learning material is available once the course starts. The student then conducts the sessions according to his/her speed. They are open for 3-12 months.

They provide the course end date, and the student can also get a certificate if she/get achieves the passing grades.

The courses edX offer can be verified, audit, or archived. The verified tracks are the paid courses and are eligible for certification, and online assessment marking.

The audit course is free of charge. EdX aimed to provide education to all. And their free programs are a way to achieve that.

The student can access the learning content for the time given in the enrollment page.  If the period expires, and one wishes to continue, then the course can be upgraded to verified.

There could be instances when one cannot upgrade the course. As such one is required to enroll in the future as edX keeps repeating the programs.

The courses that have already ended make up the archive. One can access the course material but cannot be graded or given a certificate. It may lack features such as discussions and assignments.

Program certificates and degrees

Earning a certification is essential for students. It shows the results of their hard work. It is also an addition to their resume.

EdX currently issues two types of certificates. The first one is the verified and the second is the program certificate.

All the courses under the verified track are eligible for a verified certificate after completion. The graded assessment ensures the student gets the required passing marks.

A program is a collection of courses. Thus, the student has to receive a verified certificate from all the courses to receive the program certificate.

They also award students undergoing professional education which are part of verified tracks. They receive a professional certificate. These courses are industry-specific and can earn credits too.

There are various types of program in the curriculum. There is a master’s degree program. It is from prestigious universities, and it is online learning.

They are conducive for students who would not prefer to attend campus. Each master’s program has some specific requirement, and the student is expected to meet them.

If a person is not sure if they want to pursue a master’s degree or not, then the edX MicroMaster program is the solution.

MicroMaster program is open to all, and needs no requirement, though there may be some courses with pre-requisites. It is a creation of edX and its partners to provide graduate-level courses.

It may require the student to undergo capstone exams or projects. This information is available in the program detail page.

The student can also earn credit and use them in the master’s degree. Some of these courses also require a capstone exam or projects.

There are Xseries programs which are a series of courses designed to provide in-depth knowledge of a particular subject.

The partner institutes provide the certificates and have their name appear on them. The student earns the Xseries certificate after completing all the verified tracks.

All the different courses and programs may be subject to uncertainty. However, the student should understand the kind of program he/she is pursuing and its outcomes before commencing.

Starting a course at edX

After getting details on the types of subjects, courses, and certificates edX has to offer, we now see what entails in a classroom environment.

The user has to identify if they are interested in pursuing individual courses (either audit or verified track) or programs.

The programs are made up of various courses, and they can be master’s, MicroMaster, or Xseries. All the courses the students take reflects on the student's dashboard.

The first page is the course overview, whereby the option to start or resume a course is available. To resume meaning to pick up from where one left previously.

The title of the course comes along with course tools such as bookmarks, updates and upgrade to verified (if its audited path.)

The critical course dates appear on the right side of the panel. It includes details on date and time, such as course end.

The display of the course content is in terms of the title of the modules and lessons within it. Before starting the modules, there are usually additional sections of orientation, assessment, and others.

The modules follow thereby, and it usually concludes with a final exam.

Hence, the first few pages of the course introduce the student to the course. More details on the team of the instructors, assessment requirement, among other aspects of the course, are available here.

The classes have a navigation bar at the top that can be used to find the way around the learning sequence. They have a series of module 1, lesson 1, along with other content of it.

The content may be videos, texts, or interactive questions or labs (units of the lesson.) They have been given unique icons to enable easy maneuvering in the course.

The student can choose to skip a part of the lesson if it is familiar by clicking the next button on the navigation bar.

However, it depends if the course is self-paced or instructor-led. The instructors usually release modules weekly along with discussion forums and deadlines for assessments in instructor-led classes.

The edX video player delivers the learning content so that the student can grasp the concept in an ideal way.

The video has control buttons and toggles used by a student to understand the learning material efficiently.

They display the transcript of the video alongside the video. The control button includes play/pause, speed adjusting, volume, fill browser toggle, closed caption, and an option for transcripts.

The other section of its lesson may be pop quizzes or multiple-choice question among others. They can be re-attempted, and the student has to click the submit button to see if the answer is correct.

It is worth noting that some assessment doesn’t have a grading system, especially in the audited track.

There may be questions that require the student to fill in the blanks. Others may need math’s numerical answers, for that calculator are available.

There is a code grader which reviews codes in Python and Matlab. There may be places where a student has to provide an open response assessment, and it includes typing out the reply.

Unfortunately, the graded assessments are only available for the students who are under the verified track learning and not for the free courses.

Every module has a couple of quiz questions or exercise. At the end of the module, they usually provide a homework section.

At the end of the course is the final exam. It can be proctored exam whereby the student has to install a proctoring software.

These are timed exams, and the data is sent for review by the proctoring services. They receive the results within 5 days.

The marks of the graded assessment appear in the progress tab of the course. The grading policy is usually available in the course syllabus, and the discussion forum is also a place to get such information.

The learning experience of the students plays a vital role in establishing a sound platform. The video player offers room for immersive learning for the student.

The use of subtitles and caption makes it easy for the student to grasp the content. They also provide the transcript next to the video; hence, it is easily visible by the learner.

Their courses are quite comprehensive and have supplementary aspects of exercises, quizzes, filmed lecture, knowledge base, and others.

If a student is pursuing a verified track and scores the passing grades, then he/she is eligible for the verified certificate. The courses can also be shared in the social media platforms by the learners.

Tools to support learning at edX

The student exposed to interactive learning will respond better compared to the traditional lectures where the tutor is the only active participant.

Online learning website has unique features which enable the student to gain knowledge proficiently.

To understand the content of the course, the student can access the course syllabus. It provides details of modules, lessons, the assessments, and the final exam.

The grading of the assessments is available along with the deadlines. It also provides the course schedule, which is essential if the course is instructor-led.

Any online learning is incomplete without discussion forums and other sources of social activities. The logic behind setting up forums is that a learner will learn more from fellow students.

The reason is that both of them are facing similar situations and probably have the same capability. Thus, they can understand each other better.

The discussion section of edX is also an active place where learners of a particular course engage in conversation. They post questions and doubts and also attend to other people’s queries.

A lot happens in this section which increases the student's involvement, and active participation can do wonders to a student.

Another useful tool is the wiki section. Some courses have this feature, and it is used by the students and the course team to participate in a public forum.

The forum can be used to carry out various activities by the course team. It includes answering to the existing FAQs and collecting new ones.

They can discuss errors in the course content and can rectify through the wiki page. Resources can be shared among the learners, hence improving knowledge.

Suggestions from the users can also be collected, and such feedback is critical in creating new courses.

Humans memory is prone to be short-lived. We tend to forget so many essential concepts and things. That is why edX provides students with the ability to create notes.

While pursuing a class, you may find some concepts of importance. The students highlight such content and save it as notes, after adding a comment on it.

One can add a tag to the note so that its easier to locate. Moreover, the user can edit or delete the notes.

Unfortunately, one cannot save notes from parts form the video lectures, exercise, or PDF textbooks.

Every course has a section dedicated to monitoring the progress of the student. Students face assessment which may be open or closed.

The closed question provides the student to choose from the options available.

We have mentioned earlier that all the quizzes, exercises, and other types of assessments are in the process section.

The Open Resource Assessment software grades the assignments automatically using rubrics and algorithms.

The grading chart shows the scoring in the sequence of the lessons in the syllabus. Below the chart, there is a list of all the modules within the course.

The section shows the grading details under each module, in the video lectures, exercises, or homework, among others.

We can have the grading details into 3 types, and one is problem score which consists of points earned from graded assignments. Then there are practice scores which include the ungraded tests.

Then there are no problem scores in this section which points out to parts without any assessments.

The progress in the course work is shown via green ticks too. These ticks may appear in the course outline or on the navigation bar on top of the lesson page.

Each course is attached to a passing grade, which the student must obtain in a verified track to earn the certificate.

Apart from these sections, some courses also include FAQs, which are questions that are asked by many students. The team provides the appropriate solution, and other users can utilize it to solve their query.

Some additional segments can be available in a few selected courses such as how to enroll in our master’s program, instructor, Starlog, and discussion guidelines, among others.

Conclusion

Evolution calls for transformation, and change is inevitable. With years passing by, we let go of many unnecessary techniques and adopt the most prudent ones.

Online learning scenario is similar; they are laying off the unwanted substance and introducing a fresh and innovative way to immerse students in engaging content.

With a vast collection of subjects, edX covers almost all most all the fields that a university-level institute provides. The courses are on diverse topics and are delivered adeptly via video lectures.

Supportive material such as discussion, progress, course syllabus along with the vital assessments provides a comprehensive learning experience.

The verified track students earn certificates. They offer several programs which are eligible for credits.

The credits allow the student to pursue a master’s degree from a university. For example, a student who earns credits in the MicroMaster program can continue with a master’s degree.

Supporting education is a noble act. The open edX MOOC platform offers any college/university or institute to adopt it and create their learning website.

The Global Freshman Academy is an initiation of edX and Arizona State University. It offers ASU courses on the edX platform, and the students are eligible for credits. They can later progress to master’s degrees.

Since its partnership with various institutes is the mechanism to create learning content, very often it may fail to have enough courses in a particular subject.

According to us, IT-related courses may be relatively limited if compared to science and humanities. The course catalog may thus have gaps.

One can audit the course (free); however, no certification, lack of grading system, or restrictions on accessing the content, later on, can be its drawbacks.

Their UI is also a subject of discussion as it is not one of the most user-friendly online learning websites that we have reviewed.

Improvement in their interface to be of minimalistic design can be an ideal suggestion. The current site is relatively challenging to navigate.

Live training sessions are missing out from their offerings. The certificates are from different universities, and such instances may occur when there is a delay in awarding the students.

With open source and nonprofit approach, edX is worth recommending to the people who are looking for university-level courses. More so if they are interested in the field of science, humanities or social science.

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