Thanks to technology, everything is moving to the online world. You can order food online, watch a movie with friends online—and now, you can even get your education completely online. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 6 million students took online classes in 2019, and that number keeps increasing every year. And why wouldn’t you want to move your learning online? After all, these courses are often self-paced, and your home padded office chair is much more comfortable than those tiny desks.
There are dozens of different online platforms offering different courses—but which ones are actually legitimate? Are you simply wasting your time and money? Today we’re going to dive into the larger ones, edX. While you may not have seen ads and banners for this online site, this non-profit MOOC is a great opportunity for anyone wanting to further their education.
What Is edX?
EdX is a non-profit MOOC—massive open online course. It finds it’s roots in 2012, when Anat Agarwal, a MIT professor opened up an online course on circuits and electronics—an online course that over 155,000 people signed up for. EdX was founded with the partnership of Harvard and MIT, and their board of directors today is made up of provosts from MIT, Harvard, Berkley and other universities. Their goal is the “transforming traditional education, removing barriers of cost, location, and access…supporting learners in every stage, whether entering the job market, changing fields, seeking promotion, or exploring new interests. EdX delivers courses for curious minds.”
And those courses are many. They have over 3000 courses, with 257 programs, and 20 million learners currently using the platform. They offer classes such as computer science, language, business and management, engineering, and humanities form over 150 partnering universities. Their goal is to “increase access to high-quality learning for everyone everywhere.”
How edX Works
When you come to edX’s page, you can instantly begin by searching for a topic you’d like to learn. You are able to search in specific categories, (Arts & Culture, Computer Science, Design, Education & Teacher Training, Language, Law, and Philosophy & Ethics, among many others), specific partners who made the course, (Cornell University, Microsoft, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and hundreds of others), as well as the type of course, level of the course, and when it is available.
When you find a course you’re interested in, simply click on the course title to learn more. Once there, you can read a brief overview of the course, as well as watch a short introduction video. You’ll be able to learn more about the instructor, see which university or company is offering the course. You’ll also see an estimated length of time it takes to complete the course—but that’s merely an estimate. Because most courses are self-paced, you can feel free to pause your studies when work at the office gets hectic—or finish an entire course in a lazy weekend.
You’ll be able to see the price as well. While some courses cost extra as part of a larger program, you can take many for free, and upgrade for a certificate if you’d like. These certificates often cost anywhere from $49-$150.
To enroll, you must first create an account, using your email, google, or Facebook information. Once you do so, you’re given the option to purchase the verified track (and earn a certificate) or audit for free. Auditing allows you to go through the class—but you won’t have any graded assignments, and you’ll only have a limited time to go through the course before you will lose access and progress.
As you begin, you’re brought to the course homepage, where you can see the syllabus, your progress, any notes and resources, along with discussion forums. Here you can post any questions you may have about the material, and interact with the other students who are going through the course at the same time as you. In your syllabus, you’re able to see what each module and lesson goes over, as well as skip ahead to any lesson.
Each lesson is made up of text and video materials—though the majority of it is video-based. There are video transcripts that run throughout the video, along with the ability to rewind to any point, or play it at different speeds, if you want to speed up your learning. These videos use technology well—often there’s a speaker, but the best courses have graphics and moving examples that appear beside him as well, which is great for more visual learners. There are often additional readings along with the video, hidden down beneath the player. edX has an app as well, both for Android and iOS
At the end of each module is an activity, an opportunity for you to put into practice what you’ve learned, often by creating something. For the verified track, you’ll be able to receive grades and feedbacks on your activities, as well as take extra quizzes to cement your knowledge, and a final quiz to earn your certificate.
Which Level Of edX Is Right For You?
While most of edX’s courses are free to audit, you won’t earn any certificates that way—and you’ll constantly be bombarded by advertisements to upgrade to the next level. So let’s take a look at each level, and the different courses that edX offers.
These are edX’s individual courses, or verified track. Self-contained, easily completable within a month, they are the single courses on one topic. While you can audit these for free, edX pushes hard for you to upgrade, which costs anywhere from $49 to $150, but earns you a certificate which you can display on your resume or LinkedIn profile.
Next is their X-series—built by experts and universities, these are several courses combined together to give you a deep understanding in upcoming fields. You can earn a certificate in this class—but you can also begin without one, and choose within the first week whether or not you want to upgrade. Certificates for these courses start at $200, and while there may be serious courses like “Business Principles and Entrepreneurial Thought,” there’s also lighter ones such as “Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology.”
EdX’s Professional Certificates are designed by “industry leaders and top universities to build and enhance critical professional skills.” These combine several courses over a few months, and start at $220. These professional tracks include programs such as “Product Management” or “Intro to Java Programing.”
Executive Education Courses are designed for business leaders, helping them to know “the executive trends and knowledge needed to succeed in today’s businesses.” Only a few courses are offered at a time, running from 4-6 weeks, and allow learners to earn a certificate they can display on their resumes. These courses cost from $1,000 upward, and can often be unique, such as ones given by AfricaLive!, “Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies,” or more fundamental ones such as “Business Analytics Fundamentals for Leaders.”
On the more academic rather than business side of things, the Global Freshmen Academy allows students to access the same classes and instructors as on-campus students at Arizona State University. Just like the online side of any university, you are able to earn credit—but you only have to pay if you earn a high enough grade to pass. These credits are transferable—and you don’t have to fill out any length application to begin these courses. The two courses offered are “college Algebra” and “Pre-calculus,” and if you complete them, you can transfer the credits earned to any other university. Certificates for these courses only cost $50—however, to convert it into credit costs $600.
Then comes the Microbachelors program, which allows you to take courses that count for credit at many different colleges. Each credit hour costs $166, though you can audit the classes for free. You’ll be taking classes created by Rice University and Thomas Edison University along with others, in self-paced courses that allow you to earn 6 credits in 2-4 months. There is no formal application to go through—so there’s less paperwork to do!
MicroMasters are for those who are ready to go further, “to advance their career and help purse accelerated and less expensive Master’s program.” These are graduate-level courses that count as credit if you are admitted into a master’s program—though they carry no promise of admittance. With dozens of courses to choose from, you can begin your master’s education on your own time, with courses starting at $700.
Finally, edX offers full Master’s Degree Programs, where you can earn the exact same diploma as students from these top-rated universities. You are able to do live video sessions, have peer-to-peer communication, as well as work on projects together with your class. You can complete these courses as quickly as within a year, and can stack the credits earned in a MicroMaster’s degree. You do need to apply, just like a conventional university, and degrees cost anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000.
This many options can leave your head swirling—but we’re here to simplify it. If you’re interested simply in learning, focus on searching for a course on your topic, rather than deciding which program and then searching through all the topics. If you’re interested in earning college credit, then focus on what you want to learn within the academic tracks—you can always upgrade to certificates or credits after you have begun your course.
Is edX Accredited?
EdX is associated with many universities—but that doesn’t mean their courses are necessarily accredited. For many courses, you have to pay more to earn college credit, as well as pass a certain grade. Earning a certificate does not necessarily mean credit either—while some colleges do accept the certificates as credits, it’s often only the ones associated with that course that do.
Simply citing these certificates on a resume may not earn you much either. While it can indicate to an employer that you’re self-driven in this field, it’s not qualification for a specific job. However, there are ways to make those certificates hold more weight. When describing the certificates on your resume, don’t simply cite them as being “from edX”—your employer may have never heard of edX, and dismiss it out of hand. Instead, focus on the universities and companies facilitating the courses. A certificate from a MIT class sounds much more impressive than one from a random online course site.
Is edX Worth The Price?
Even something mediocre is worth the price of free—and edX’s courses are far from mediocre. Because of the partnership with universities, courses are college-level quality. Because you can audit many of these courses for free, that’s quite a bargain. Granted, the layout and quality of courses differs from university to university—but even then, the bulk of them still weigh heavily on the high-quality side.
If you are earning your certificate, the cost sits squarely in the middle of the pack for MOOC’s, about $49-$125. When earning your degree through their different tracks, the price tag sits slightly lower than some other online courses, and far below what a traditional university would cost you.
Is edX Legitimate?
Because edX is associated with reputable universities, colleges, and corporations; the answer is yes, it is legitimate. However, while they may not be a scam, there have been issues with customer service that many users have run into. Currently, their Contact Us page is not even available, though there are a help and FAQ page, along with Reddit threads. Getting refunded for courses is often difficult as well since there are several organizations involved.
edx Vs Coursera
Coursera is another MOOC, with as large of a selection as edX. Both allow you to audit courses for free, or purchase certificates at similar prices. However, Coursera also has a subscription-based upgrade, where you can have access to all of their courses for $399. Coursera is also a more user-comfortable platform—it feels less like an academic site, and more like a carefully created one that has user experience in mind.
However, Coursera degrees cost more than edX’s—and Coursera does not offer any Master’s programs. While there is overlap between the universities that have courses on both sites, Edx boasts over Coursera close partnership with Harvard and MIT.
edX Vs. PluralSight
Pluralsight is a professional online learning site as well—but focusing on the niche of tech and IT-related topics. PluralSight is more project-oriented than edX, and have a large customer service department—with over 1,700 employees ready to fix any problems. Pluralsight runs on a subscription basis to access all their courses, with their general courses costing $299 a year, and their Plus (premium-earning) subscription costing $499 a year.
However, there’s no option to audit courses for free on Pluralsight—and while they are skilled in their niche, they offer little for learners who want to branch out into other fields. PluralSight also has a large learner’s curve, while edX clearly marks beginner courses.
While edX may be a non-profit, it’s a serious company—created for those who truly want to learn, not just dip their toes in on a lazy Saturday afternoon. They offer world-class learning for free—learning you can earn credit for at a reasonable price. You can even earn your degree faster and cheaper—a deal when time is money too. While the pricing and tracks may be a little complicated, edX is still a great tool for dedicated learners.