What’s the difference between edX and Open edX?

Continuing with our “getting to know the Open edX platform” series, today we address a topic that can sometines generate confusion.

First let’s explain how they are related. edX and Open edX are related, but they are different things:

  • edX is a massive open online course (MOOC) platform, founded by Harvard, MIT & Stanford in 2012, that offers online courses and certification from a variety of universities and institutions. They have a vast online courses catalogue listed in edx.org and millon of users.
  • Open edX is an open-source version of the edX platform, which means that the source code is available to the public and can be used and modified by anyone. The Open edX platform allows organizations to host their own instances (or getting a fully managed alternative) using the same platform that edX uses (or almost the same), or create custom modifications to meet their specific needs.

When it was founded back in 2012, the edX platform was owned by a non-profit called edX Inc. founded by Harvard, MIT & Stanford. This non profit was recently bought by 2U Inc. who now owns edx.org and the edX brand.

An open distribution of the edX platform was released in 2013 under the name of “The Open edX platform”. This open source project was lead by the non-profit edX Inc. and a communitiy of users and service providers. When the original non-profit was purchased by 2U Inc, a new non-profit was created to continue the Open edX platform mission. This new non-profit is called The Center for Reimagining learning.

But now, let’s dig beyond the historical differences and ownerships and let`s talk about the practical differences of both.


edX is the online learning platform that manages hundreds of courses from world leading universities, NGOs and companies listed on edx.org. Most of this courses are MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) that are typically offered for free with an option of getting a validated paid certificate. Under this model, you access the course contents for free but if you want to get a certificate, you have to complete the tests and other grading requirements and a pay a fee. In many cases there’s a revenue share agreement between edX and the organizations that generate the contents. Also, you need to follow the terms and conditions definded by edX if you are approved to publish your course.

Can anyone publish its courses on edx.org?

No, only the organizations (Universities, NGOs, Companies, Governments) that edX decides that meet their curation criteria. They are usually renowed Universities with high performance in the international rankings, big corporations with a leading edge technology or agreements with governmental agencies.

All courses go through a curation process to guarantee a consistent quality both in terms of pedagogical approach and content production.

Open edX

As metioned above, the Open edX platform is an open source software. This means that it is public and available to everyone that wants to download it and install it. Being an open platform means that it you can “own” the platform. You can install it, modify it and integrate it with other platforms or resources without asking for permission.

Can anyone publish its courses using the Open edX platform?

YES! In the Open edX platform YOU are the curator of you courses. You have complete control on all the details and dynamics of your courses. You can decide the course extension, the contents to be included (videos, texts, images, pdfs… or non of these!). You define how many tests do students need to get a certificate. You can also create custom certificates and modify the look and feel of the platform to match you organization brand guidelines.

You also are in control to decide the terms and conditions of the courses. You can sell your courses via an upfront payment or you can offer all courses for free. You can use the learning platform to train your employees, or your suppliers. Or both of them!

All you will need to define is how your organization will manage the hosting and the operation of the platform. For this there are basically two alternatives:

  • Self-hosted: your technical team can download and install the Open edX platform in your servers.
  • Fully-managed: you can subscribe to a service provider like Aulasneo and get the platform and the support to focus your efforts in the contents and the learning goals.

There are many factors to take into account when evaluating which alternative is the most appropriate for your organization. We will address them in a future article.

Stay tuned!