About edX

Founded in 2012 by scientists from Harvard University and MIT with a “mission to provide quality education to everyone around the world,” edX offers hundreds of rigorous courses spanning dozens of subjects, all of which feature real classes, from real universities, taught by real professors. In addition to these top-tier universities, edX has partnered with 90 other global institutions, such as Berkeley, Arizona State University, and more.

As a MOOC (massive open online courses) provider, edX features more than 650 courses, 1,700+ faculty and staff, 580,000+ certificates awarded, along with 7 million+ learners around the world. Here, you’ll gain access to a virtual classroom that’s available on your schedule, the latest in peer-to-peer social learning tools, along with cool learning tools, videos, and game-like labs.

To become an edX student, the process works over four steps:

  1. Browse through the course list (or search for a specific topic, subject, start time, or class type).
  2. Learn what to expect by reading through the descriptions and prerequisites.
  3. Click “Register Now” to become an edX student. After registration, the course should be reflected on your personal dashboard.
  4. Start studying and connecting with others online.

Even if you’re familiar with more traditional online learning environments, such as distance education courses and online universities, the concept (and benefits) of a massive open online course provider like edX might seem confusing. In this review, we’ll help you clear up any confusion, answer some of your most important questions, and help you decide if an edX course is worth the time and effort.

To begin, let’s look at edX’s different courses.

EdX’s Courses

Overall, edX offers their students five different types of courses:

EdX Verified Courses

Verified courses are ideal for those looking to receive a certificate of completion to satisfy the requirements of an employer, school, or other institution. As the name implies, verified courses require you to verify your identity. How? According to edX, “You will be asked to submit your photo and a photo of an official ID through the use of a webcam. As your course progresses, you may be asked to re-verify your identity.”

edX CertificateAn example of edX’s Verified completion certificates.

XSeries Programs

XSeries programs implement a series of courses that are also verified, and students who successfully complete them will receive a certificate. These courses feature easy enrollment, expert instruction, and high-level classwork from “world-renowned experts and top universities” like MIT, Harvard, and more.

High School Courses

Still in high school but looking to get “college ready”? If so, edX’s high school courses feature introductory classes and test prep in subjects ranging from English to biology. In addition, teachers will be able to integrate much of this content into their classroom.

Credit Eligible Courses

As the name implies, these courses partner with a variety of institutions to help you earn college credits at your own pace.

Professional Education Courses

With an emphasis on hands-on learning scenarios, these courses are geared toward working professionals looking to learn a new skill set or add to their resume. All students will receive a personalized Professional Certificate of Achievement, and some courses may also be eligible for continuing education units.

Who Can Enroll In an EdX Course? How Do You Enroll?

Each edX course will have its own unique set of prerequisites, requirements, and expectations.

To locate your next edX course, simply visit the Courses section of their website and click on the subject you’re interested in. Alternately, you can use the search bar to manually search for a specific term.

Once you find an appropriate course, click on it and you’ll be taken to the home page. There, you’ll find out which institution it’s offered through, the start date, amount of effort required (time range), level, an overview of what you’ll learn, instructors, and more.

edX Homepage Course InformationAn example of what you’ll see after landing on a course’s home page, including start date, length, required time commitment, price, and more.

Ready to sign up? Just click the green “Enroll Now” button in the upper right-hand corner and follow the prompts.

As you can see in the image above, this course is free. Is this the case with all edX courses, though?

How Much Do EdX Courses Cost?

Most non-Verified edX courses are completely free of charge, although you might be asked to donate whatever you see fit on a couple occasions (read: advertising). On the other hand, Verified courses start at $50 and come with a two-week refund policy. In order to request a refund, you’ll need to send an email to billing@edx.org.

If you need to take a Verified course and can prove that paying for it would cause an undue financial burden, you may qualify for financial assistance equal to a 90% discount.

Want to test out the edX system without committing to a course? Be sure to check out a demo course.

How does edX’s price—and coursework—compare to other MOOCs?

Are There Other MOOCs Out There?

Although they’re big, MOOCs (or, massive open online courses) have only been around since 2008 and didn’t become a popular learning option until roughly four years later. Despite this relatively short timeframe though, you’ll find a lot of other popular MOOCs to satisfy just about any of your learning needs, such as Coursera, Udacity, NovoEd, Kadenze, and more.

How do these compare to edX? Just like online universities, each of these MOOCs features their own flavor of coursework (different professors from different universities with different teaching styles ), unique learning environments, requirements and fees, and so on. In short, which of these is right for you depends on a wide variety of factors and personal preferences, which we’ll talk more about in the final section. What are edX’s students saying about their experience?

What’s Everyone Saying About edX?

PC Mag gave edX an excellent rating of 4.5 stars based on their broad catalog, although they noted that courses are science-heavy, so if you’re not interested in science, your options might be more limited. They also appreciated Open edX, the open source platform that allows others to build and share assessment modules, as well as “specialized [learning] tools such as circuit simulators and chemical bond simulators.”

One Quora user provided an in-depth review about their experience with an edX course, and claimed that while they learned a ton during the process, the amount of time required was the biggest issue (20 hours per week for the material alone, plus several more hours for assignments). Perhaps because of this, they wrote, of “150,349 that registered only 1,388 (less than 1%) actually received a Certificate of Completion from Harvardx.”

Based on 6,400+ student reviews on CourseTalk, edX’s courses had an average rating of 4.5 stars, where many complimented the engaging coursework, the easy accessibility, and the solid instruction and supplementary materials (videos, etc.).

Is an edX Certificate Valuable?

Right now, since they’re less than 10 years old and backed by some high-level higher learning institutions though, it’s easy to foresee MOOCs having staying power and finding their own niche over the next several years. Until that happens though, they seem occupy a fuzzy middle ground between valuable educational materials that can advance your career, and nothing more than a way to learn about a subject you’re interested in.

Why? NoPayMBA puts it this way:

“I’m skeptical that course certificates themselves are valuable. I can hardly imagine that I’ll present my course certificates to future employers for the same reason that I don’t list my individual courses from undergrad on my resume. The totality of the program of study is much more important than any individual class. That said, some type of proof of course completion is probably worth something, especially if you can aggregate individual certificates into something bigger.”

In other words, if you’re interested in obtaining a programming position at a local company (for example), completing a set of edX courses might boost your employability. But in the eyes of an employer, each individual course might not weigh much in your favor.

Let’s carry this thought over into the final section.

Should You Sign up for an EdX Course?

We already alluded to it above, but it’s important enough to reiterate here: Whether or not you’ll get any value out of your edX coursework depends on a wide variety of factors and personal preferences, such as:

  • How rigorous would you like the coursework to be? Based on online student feedback, edX’s coursework comes from top-notch higher learning institutions, so it’ll probably require a lot of time and effort. Looking for an easy A? If so, edX might not be your first choice.
  • Are you interested in science-focused coursework? By all appearances, edX’s coursework is science-heavy, so if this is your focus, they might be a decent choice. If not, you might want to explore other options, too.
  • Are you doing this for work or pleasure? Like online degrees well over a decade ago, there’s currently some debate about the overall value of MOOC coursework like edX; at least from an employability standpoint. So, unless you’re going through your current employer to complete continuing education credits, or you’re just taking a course for fun, you might strongly consider whether the time and monetary (if applicable) commitment will really pay off.

If you’re already sure you want to take a MOOC class though, since they’re backed by two of the most prestigious higher learning institutions in the nation—not to mention the fact that much of their coursework is free!—it might be difficult to beat edX.

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