MOOCs’ offer is growing exponentially, as shown in this graphic by Class Central. In addition, there are more providers –the main ones being Coursera, edX, Udacity, and CourseSites in the U.S.; FutureLearn in the UK; Iversity in Europe; Open2Study in Australia; MiriadaX in Latin America and Spain– and many more MOOC finders.

Here is a list of the top 5:

  • It tracks more than 50,000 courses. It has a great feature called “Mooc tracker”, which allows you to build your own catalog of courses and get notified.
  • It tracks free and paid video courses from the nine best course providers. It highlights the idea of collecting certificates and getting references.
  • It includes MOOC providers such as Academy, India’s NPTEL and the OpenCourseWare consortium, that aren’t well represented by other aggregators.
  • It covers an extensive offering of video-based courses, both free and paid. So far, RedHoop has collected over 21,400 courses, of which 3,600 are free. It features an interesting top 100 list.
  • It ranks courses in terms of popularity.


If you have taken a course at you have an idea of what this platform offers (this free demo course allows you better understand the edX learning experience; another overview for a newbie is offered by Stanford University at this address, inside the Courseware tab). There are engaging lessons containing interactive tools, videos, readings, quizzes, questions, grading techniques and progress reports.

However, building and running an edX course is not an easy task. The edX Studio authoring tool is the CMS (Content Management System) for course creators.  Multiple instructors can work on a course together.

  • There is also a great self-paced course designed to walk you through the process of planning, building and running your own online course. This course is a hidden gem that cannot be found through Google and other search engines. You must register on a private site within called Your account won’t work here.


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 tooltips of an image within the course content.

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

open-edx boston

The edX Consortium has taken into consideration Stanford Universitys recommendations regarding how to properly run the Open edX community and the platform, and has committed to implement many of those ideas on the 2014-2015 road map.

Beth Porter, VP of Product at edX, has announced this week that the edX product development team will perform these tasks by the end of 2014.

1. Create public bug list and active backlog
2. Create and update public road map on a quarterly basis
3. Develop named releases and publish them on a quarterly basis
4. Publish our API and make the interfaces public  [this API will provide another avenue for integration]
5. Designate full-time community manager
6. Clarify and welcome dialog about the Open edX mission
7. Define KPIs for success of Open edX (including phone home feature with opt out)
8. Sponsor Open edX conference (Nov 19, 2014)
9. Publish our XML format (edXML)
10. Launch a Platform Adopter Web site (+Developer area)

Beyond its own developments, edX Consortium makes a call for external code contributions and indicates the features that would become part of the supported Open edX platform:

1. Support site styling (subset of theming)
2. Support Open Stack
3. Support LTI 2.0
4. Support OLI courses on edX
5. Support Mozilla Open Badges integration
6. Support Shibboleth integration [no community partner]

Finally, edX acknowledges that there are “features that we don’t anticipate having the capacity or interest in developing in the near term.” These items are:

    • Full installation scripts and supporting documentation for non-AWS deployments
    • Full SIS, LMS, and other campus system integration projects
    • Investment in on-call or full service support engineering team for adopters and developers


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.

There are many ways to film and produce MOOCs and instructional videos. It seems that a fully scripted video seems to be the preferred approach by many educators. But there are other ways to gain subject-related knowledge.

Meet the University of Hong Kong, an edX Consortium university, and its latest filming experiment. They have adopted three different approaches when recording MOOCs.

Far beyond creating a nice and engaging input, there is always the possibility of creating –or at least trying to create– viral MOOC videos.

Watch above, for example, George Mason University’s Professor Donald J. Boudreaux’s five-minute video lecture on the evolution of human prosperity: killer graphics, slick animation, studio lighting, multiple takes… A professional film studio in San Francisco spent two full days filming the four lectures that compose the course “Everyday Economics”. The video has gotten over 130,000 views.


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!


How does Stanford use Open edX?

An engineer from this University, Sef Kloninger, has shared a snapshot of the features Stanford has built on its own Open edX’s instance.

So far we knew that those contributions included “real-time chat, bulk email, new installation scripts, operations tools and integration with external survey tools”,  according to Stanford’s website.

The all-new features Stanford has built on Open edX are:

  1. Shibboleth integration
  2. Chat for on-campus courses
  3. Shopping cart / Cybersource payment for paid courses
  4. Bulk email
  5. Authoring tool improvements (e.g. view this unit in Studio, check all captions)
  6. Basic analytics (metrics tab)
  7. Theming
  8. Targeted feedback
  9. Option shuffling
  10. LTI 2.0 (multiple submissions)
  11. Send anonymized user_id to external tools (e.g. Qualtrics)
  12. Time delay between problem set attempts
  13. Assist with new peer assessment system
  14. Incremental cert generation
  15. Unauthenticated, deep linking
  16. Stanford-specific checklist

Beyond this description, Mr. Kloninger’s talk at the University of Zurich, on June 3, focused on the process behind Stanford Open edx’s instance: servers, code management and developing features.  Click here to download the slides from Mr. Kloninger’s talk.

The Stanford Open edX platform is being developed by a team of engineers as way to support research and experimentation in interactive instructional learning. This platform is being used for residential education and MOOCs.

Recently a report from Stanford University examined the use of online technology and methods for delivering education to improve course material for on-campus students, distance learners in professional education programs and lifelong learners around the world.

This “Stanford Online: 2013 in Review is a key document to understand how technology is advancing teaching and learning.


Instructure, the maker of the Canvas LMS and operator of the MOOC platform, has launched a new service called Canvas Catalog, that allows to create edX and Coursera-style public course collections online.

Canvas Catalog (pictured above) also supports customized landing pages, payment for courses, discounts and promotion codes, credentials and certificates for completion.

In other words, by building a marketplace or storefront for their course offerings, students will have a one-stop shop where they can register, enroll, pay and take courses.

The goal is to help Canvas LMS’ customers produce, host and market their own branded distance courses.

The first two organizations that will use this service are Pasco County Schools in Florida and Academic Partnership.


Even if the hype on MOOCs is decreasing, higher education institutions need to follow a strategy regarding open online courses in order to stay relevant. One possibility is to join the not-for-profit edX Consortium (or xConsortium; the creator of the Open edX software). The problem is the high price of the ticket.

EdX university partners have to invest an estimated $2 to $4 million to be part of the xConsortium. Another possibility is to negotiate a fee per course. An East Cost university was asked recently to pay around $250K per course plus 70 percent of revenue earned from it.