I feel I’m in a good position to produce an honest edX review because I’ve been using the online training platform since back in 2014. I’ve completed several edX courses over the years, so if you’re wondering “is edX legit?” I can definitely give you an answer. (TL;DR – The short answer is “yes,” but you’ll have to read on to get all the important details!)
Like other online course providers, such as Coursera and FutureLearn, edX has evolved considerably over the years. Once a place that concentrated on short, individual MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), edX now offers a vast range of training options. At one end of the scale, there are casual short courses (that you can study for FREE), and at the other, you will find full multi-year Master’s degrees.
In 2020 edX, rebranded itself and updated its site to be more responsive to the needs of students, businesses, and educators. Major changes can be risky but I think edX has made their platform cleaner, more modern looking, and easier to use. Most importantly, the changes highlight a sense of community and the fact that edX does more than simply offer online courses.
In June 2021, edX announced that it was being acquired by 2U, Inc. as part of an $800 million deal. This is a significant change but, hopefully, it will benefit platform users in the long run.
As a nonprofit, edX was not able to make a huge investment in the platform in response to the explosion in remote learning driven by COVID. This put it at a disadvantage when compared with its commercial competitors. 2U has committed to preserve and advance edX’s mission by operating it as a public benefit entity.
While there has been a lot going on recently, what hasn’t changed is edX’s links to seriously prestigious educational institutions.
edX offers courses delivered in association with the likes of Harvard University, Berkeley and Penn. There are also courses from tech giants like Microsoft, and W3C (The World Wide Web Consortium).
Before we dive into the main part of the edX review, let’s cover some of the basics.
- Is edX Safe to Use?
- Is edX Recognised by Employers?
- Are Courses on edX Self Paced?
- Education Courses: Review of edX Programs and Degrees
- Online Learning in Other Languages
- Financial Assistance for Students
- Is edX Any Good?
- Other edX Reviews
- The Best of edX
- The Worst of edX
- edX vs. Coursera
- edX vs. Udemy
- edX vs. Linkedin Learning
What is edX?
edX is a global public benefit entity focused on providing high-quality education. Its training website offering a huge range of online courses (MOOCs). edX works with well-known companies and over 160 universities to provide these courses. Many of the courses are available to study for free, with the option of paying for graded assessments and an official ID-verified certificate.
edX offers a range of training options, spanning individual courses on specific subjects, certification programs covering a range of complementary skills, and full online Master’s degrees.
Is edX Safe to Use?
The short answer is yes. It is a reputable, not-for-profit organization that has successfully helped millions to enhance their education through online courses.
If you review comments by users you will find some complaints. Generally, these are a result of the user not reading the course information carefully enough.
Most complaints are about self-paced courses which were actually archived. They, therefore, did not have activity on the discussion forums, teacher assistance or offer a professional certificate. Other users complained because they believed that the online courses were free courses with a certificate. You can audit most courses for free but if you do so you do not get the certificate!
What edX could perhaps improve is the quality of its customer service. Thus students could better understand the programs and resolve issues without feeling the need to resort to negative reviews.
edX is not a con and they also take care to ensure your verification information is secure. They use a third-party partner to perform verification, images are encrypted, edX does not view the images. Once verification is complete the images are destroyed.
Is edX Accredited?
Some edX courses are accredited, with courses delivered in association with well-known, universities and companies. In some cases, online learners use materials and lectures from “bricks and mortar” Ivy League colleges.
If what you are looking for is courses that are eligible for college credits, edX has partnered with some institutions to offer these. You will mainly find such courses in the MicroBachelors and MicroMasters programs but there are also a few individual undergraduate level courses too.
All of the Master’s degree programs are fully accredited.
Is edX Recognised by Employers?
edX courses are recognised and well-received. This is due to the high quality and reputation of the course providers that have partnered with edX. The interest on the part of businesses to use the edX learning platform to help their employees learn new skills has led to the creation of edX For Business.
edX worth will normally depend on you paying for the verified certificates. Although you can audit a wide range of courses for free, employers will undoubtedly want to see certificates verifying what you have learnt on the platform.
edX Review: What Are the Online Courses edX Offers?
edX offers over 3,000 university-level courses on a wide range of topics. The course providers are mainly top universities. This means that most courses are geared towards professional education rather than casual learning.
The main subject areas covered by edX are data science, computer science, business, engineering, and design. However, you can find online courses in most subjects that you would find on offer at top universities.
The recent upgrades to the platform make finding the right course a little easier. Although, to be honest, it was never really hard to search through the courses before. The ability to filter courses according to language, level, availability, and program are nice touches.
One element that is really lacking from a user standpoint is edX course ratings. While the courses all come from reputable providers, the quality of the course materials and the standard of teaching does vary. Many online learning providers allow students to rate courses and this is often a key factor for students in which courses to take.
Are Courses on edX Self Paced?
edX does offer self-paced courses but you still need to pay attention to any dates and deadlines posted on the course page. The edX platform lets you search for courses by availability because their courses are sometimes archived.
Prospective students need to pay particular attention to the enrollment date. You can find this in a red box at the top of the course page (as shown in the image below).
While you might be able to access the course materials and even finish the course before this date, do not expect teacher support, discussion forums, or verified certificates. edX considers these courses as archived until that start date.
Many negative reviews of the platform on TrustPilot come from a user who has taken a course that was not archived at the time they took it. This meant that if they wanted to receive a verified certificate they had to retake the exams once the course opened again.
This may seem confusing and perhaps edX should remove archived courses from the platform. Still, it is important to remember that many users who turn to online learning are looking for free courses. By maintaining archived courses on the platform, edX allows a user to learn from course materials for free. It also helps those looking for a very specific course to learn more about it, including when that self-paced course will be available.
Personally, I like being able to access all of the online courses available on the platform. Say I’m interested in a specific computer science course. The current setup allows me to learn a lot about the course even if it is currently unavailable. But it does require that the user read all of the course information carefully.
Education Courses: Review of edX Programs and Degrees
One of the things that really makes edX worth looking at in terms of online learning is that the platform does not just offer individual courses. Over the years, edX has developed a series of programs to help students interested in online learning take education courses that will actually advance their career or degree path.
At the time of writing, edX offers the following:
- MicroBachelors Programs: Undergraduate level courses that come with transferable college credit. You can find courses in subject areas such as professional writing and computer science fundamentals.
- MicroMasters Programs: Graduate level courses which, if accepted by the university, will allow the student to pursue an accelerated and less expensive Master’s Degree.
- Professional certificates: Multi-course programs created by industry leaders, such as IBM, and top universities. Designed to build the foundations for various professional vocations.
- XSeries: These combine multiple courses to give a deep understanding of a specific subject.
- Online Master’s Degree: You can get a fully-accredited Master’s Degree from a university like Georgia Tech or Boston University in 2-3 years.
- Executive Education: This is professional education at the executive level. High-quality, 6-week courses taught by industry experts.
Online Learning in Other Languages
As a user who looks for courses in English it is sometimes hard to appreciate the value of having course materials offered in another language on a learning platform. While many of the students in edX’s global community will still not be able to learn in their native tongue, it is encouraging to see courses in other languages.
Spanish speaking students are the biggest beneficiaries with close to 450 courses. It is great to see that the course providers include companies like IBM and not just universities in Spanish-speaking countries.
edX Pricing: Is edX Worth the Cost?
edX offers courses and certificates for a range of budgets. It’s possible to study many edX courses completely free. However, if you want to obtain an official course certificate (which you can also attach to your LinkedIn Profile) you need to join the verified track and there is a fee for this.
Here are some indicative prices for different edX training options:
- Individual courses: Often free to study, with a fee for an official assessment and verified certificate. The free option is known as “auditing” a course. Taking the verified track tends to cost from $49 to $125.
- MicroBachelors programs: These undergraduate courses work out at around $166 per credit.
- MicroMasters programs: These multi-course graduate-level learning paths can count towards a Master’s degree, thus reducing the overall cost of the Master’s Degree. Prices vary quite significantly but the majority are in the $540-$1500 range.
- Professional certificate programs: These programs range from under $100 to close to $3,000. Whether they are worth the cost will really depend on your needs. Options by IBM and W3C certainly lend the program significant weight but a professional certificate does not guarantee you greater success at work.
- X-Series courses: These online courses generally range between $150 and $500.
- Online Master’s degrees: Most of the degrees on offer come in at around $10,000 and a few around $25,000. Although this is a significant chunk of money, it is incredibly affordable for a full Master’s degree from a top-ranked university.
- Executive Education: These online courses range from $1000 to $3,600.
If you access edX outside the US, you will likely see prices in your equivalent local currency.
Obviously, there’s a huge amount of variation here. The good news is that there is plenty on edX you can study for free. It’s also worth noting that even the online Master’s degrees compare favourably in cost to completing one in a brick and mortar college.
Financial Assistance for Students
A review of the cost of edX would be incomplete if I failed to mention that they have a pretty generous financial assistance program for students.
Although you can audit most courses for free, edX knows that taking an online course without getting a certificate is unlikely to help the job prospects of students. They, therefore, offer financial assistance to students who cannot afford to pay full price.
Students must enrol in a course as an audit learner and then apply for financial assistance. If the edX team approve the application you will receive a coupon for up to 90% off the regular course price. All you need to do is enter the coupon code when you request to switch to the verified track.
Assistance is available for courses in the MicroMasters, MicroBachelors, XSeries and Professional Certificate Program. However, you must apply for assistance for each course individually.
Is it Worthwhile Investing in an edX Verified Certificate?
edX certificates are certainly worthwhile for some purposes. Many come with the kudos of big-name universities or companies like Microsoft and could be a good addition to a resumé or LinkedIn profile.
That said, a certificate for a single short course obviously isn’t as valuable a credential as a full degree. Certificates for edX’s professional certification programs fall somewhere in the middle. In some cases, completing edX courses can act as credit towards a formal academic qualification.
Is it possible to start for free and purchase an edX certificate later?
Yes, but only if the upgrade deadline has not passed. You can find the Verification Upgrade Deadline on the course homepage under Important Dates.
Once the upgrade deadline has passed you will not be able to get the certificate unless you take the course again. For self-paced courses that deadline is fairly close to the course’s final end date, but in instructor-paced classes it is usually very early on.
It is always a good idea to decide if you are interested in the certificate upfront and upgrade early. This will give you more time to complete the assignments necessary to earn the certificate.
Being able to access the course materials for free is a great way to see if it the right fit for you but just be careful not to miss that upgrade deadline if you want the cert!
edX: Going Beyond The Online Course
The blog and free learning resources that edX offers are a great bonus and help create more of a sense of community. From student stories and articles about the value of certain skills to articles, webinars, white papers and case studies… this is a great resource for those who prefer to read articles for personal and professional growth.
edX Review: Our Experiences
As you can see from the explanations above, edX’s course offerings are quite involved and complex. In common with Coursera and Futurelearn, this has created a situation where choosing a course can seem a little daunting at first.
Having said that, edX does do a better job than others of explaining what your options are in terms of studying for free (“auditing” a course) or taking a verified track, where your work is assessed and you can gain a certificate. They also work hard to sell the benefits of paying – which I suppose is fair enough when they have a business to run!
Once you’ve chosen a course and started studying, edX’s learning platform is well-put-together, but there’s a fair bit to get your head around. You certainly feel like you’re in a proper, formal learning environment, rather than a casual setting.
Rather than force every course creator to use exactly the same training layout, edX appears to have given each college (or company) relatively free rein on how to put a course together on the Open edX platform. As such, you might find that the menu options at the top of one course are for “Course,” “Syllabus,” “Discussion,” “Case Studies” and “Progress,” while another mixes in options like “FAQs,” “Schedule” and “Glossary.”
Similarly, while some courses are quite reliant on video content, others are more text-heavy, with links out to further reading. Ultimately, the end result is that some courses are easier to navigate than others.
When you’re studying a course, you’re encouraged to follow things in order, module by module. This makes sense, both for obvious reasons, and because it gradually exposes you to all the different course features – and in some cases there are many of them. These include discussion forums (where you introduce yourself and carry out group tasks), video modules and graded quizzes.
The video player is similar to that provided by other online course providers. You can turn on subtitles, read transcripts, and opt to play content at a faster speed. You can also download video content to watch offline. Finally, there’s an edX app so you can study on the go on both iOS and Android.
Is edX Any Good?
edX is definitely good if you choose the right course and dedicate the recommended amount of time to it.
Having taken several courses on edX, on subjects ranging from cybersecurity to psychology, I can say that I’ve largely enjoyed my time spent on the platform, and certainly learned a lot. That said, the quality of courses does vary a little.
Unsurprisingly, the general rule is that the more high-profile the university producing the course, the better the production values and the overall course content. This has a considerable impact on how much you feel you’ve really got from the course at the end.
For example, I took a “Science of Happiness” course from Berkeley way back in 2014, yet I still clearly remember some of the course content and the lessons I learned. (I really recommend the Science of Happiness course if you’re into wellbeing and psychology). Meanwhile, the Criminal Justice course I took a year later taught me little beyond the fact that criminal justice isn’t nearly as exciting or interesting as I thought it would be! (If that had been the only course I’d taken before writing an edX review, I may have been less positive!)
I think two key tips come out of this:
- Ensure you study something you’re truly interested in – because it makes all the difference.
- Ideally, pick from the courses offered by the well-known companies and institutions – as they’re generally the better ones.
Other edX Reviews
Other edX reviews out there are largely positive, with Trustpilot giving an average four-star rating at the time of writing. This is an interesting contrast to Coursera, where the reviews are considerably more mixed.
Negative reviews tend to focus around issues related to deadlines so make sure you check these carefully before signing up for courses. There are deadlines for signing up to the verified track in order to receive a certificate, exam deadlines, and also course completion deadlines when courses are not self-paced.
All in all, edX is a platform that people seem to like, and I must admit I have more positive memories of my edX courses than of those I’ve taken on other platforms. I think their pricing transparency helps too because this is somewhat lacking on some other platforms.
Pros and Cons of edX
If you want a quick answer you can check the summary table at the end of this edX review, but if you want some more detail read on.
The Best of edX
- Its association with prestigious colleges. The reality is that the name matters when it comes to a college education. Prestigious colleges are often able to attract the best professors and students. Even when they are not necessarily the best in a particular field, having a certificate from a university like Harvard or MIT looks very impressive on a resume.
- A huge range of courses. Ironically, when compared to some other e-learning platforms the offerings might seem paltry but you are unlikely to get such a wide variety of top-notch offerings at a regular brick-and-mortar university.
- Certification tracks from IBM, Microsoft and others. In addition to the more academic offerings from the universities, edX offers plenty of business certifications from some of the top players in their respective industries.
- (Largely) high-quality course materials. edX has teamed with some of the best to offer great quality.
- Transparent pricing. Hopefully this will not change under 2U. Pricing on e-learning platforms is often very confusing and up until now edX has done a pretty good job at keeping it simple and transparent.
- Free course audit options. This is fantastic if you want to learn from the best but don’t have a big budget or the need for a certificate. Can you imagine the reaction of someone 30 years ago if you told them they would be able to learn from a Harvard University professor for free? Sometimes the wealth of opportunities that we have today makes us take for granted how valuable these opportunities really are.
- App for learning on the go. I know this is basically becoming standard in the industry but it is still something that provides incredible value.
The Worst of edX
- Interface can feel overwhelming. Even though edX has clearly put more effort into making the site more user-friendly, it can still feel a little too much for some. In this sense, it is best to approach edX like you would a brick-and-mortar university, with the expectation of receiving a lot of information and the need to jump through some hoops in order achieve your goal.
- No course ratings system. This is perhaps the biggest and most serious drawback to edX. Course ratings and student feedback are tremendously useful for prospective students. I suspect the absence of this feature could be related to the fact that student reviews at universities are confidential and used for internal purposes. However, there are plenty of sites for students to rate their brick-and-mortar university professors and courses online. Hopefully 2U will seek to change this as an in-platform rating system would be a huge asset for edX users.
- Some courses less engaging than others. At the end of the day the universities and businesses are responsible for the quality of the courses they provide. Still, due to the care with which edX has built associations with universities and businesses there really aren’t any duds.
Who is edX Best for?
It’s fair to say that this is a platform for more serious learning. To be frank, if you’d rather graze around different subjects, you’re probably better off doing some casual study on something like Linkedin Learning (free trial here).
However, if you know what it is you want to learn and are willing to commit properly to it, edX is well worth your time. Certificates from the likes of Wharton and MIT do look good, especially if you complete one of the multi-course programs, and some of the options could even move you towards a Master’s degree.
Best of all, there’s a HUGE amount of content here that you can try out for free, so you can get a really good feel for a course before you decide to spend any money.
edX Review Conclusion
With the weight and experience of Harvard University behind it edX should be good, and it is. Only time will tell, however, how the switch to being a public benefit entity under 2U, Inc. will affect the platform.
At a bare minimum, edX will have to modify their pitch to get you to upgrade to a certificate by claiming that it helps fund them as a non-profit.
In theory, with the shift from non-profit and the ability to invest more in the platform, the number of courses available should expand and the experience should get even better. Still, the money must come from somewhere.
If the press release is to be believed, courses on edX should continue to be affordable and come from top institutions. It will be interesting to see how 2U decides to proceed but at least they are far from being new to this market.
Hopefully, this edX review has answered all your questions about “free courses”, verified certificates, and the quality and value of the platform’s offering.
We will keep an eye on changes being made to the platform so we can update this post but do let us know if there is something we missed.
Comparisons with Other Training Sites
edX vs. Coursera
edX and Coursera are VERY similar training sites. There’s even some cross-over between some of the universities involved in the courses. However, edX’s highlights are Berkeley and MIT, while Coursera’s are Yale and Stanford.
Really, it’s worth looking on both sites, because I’d suggest choosing based on the course and not the provider. For what it’s worth, edX wins out over Coursera for a more transparent pricing policy and better user reviews. However, Coursera does have the edge when it comes to the overall training experience, as everything’s just that little easier to understand.
If you plan on doing a lot of training you may also want to take into consideration the fact that Coursera offers a subscription plan: Coursera Plus.
edX vs. Udemy
edX and Udemy are very different sites, however both will probably appear on your radar if you’re looking for online training.
While it is companies and educational institutions that put together the edX courses, anyone can create a Udemy course. This results in a considerable variation in quality. On the other hand, it does mean you can find courses on a far wider range of topics. Udemy is particularly strong on things like software and internet marketing – if you choose the right course. On the downside, Udemy courses aren’t accredited and won’t do much for your CV.
edX vs. Linkedin Learning
Compared to edX, Linkedin Learning is more a place for casual vocational training than somewhere to grab certificates mentioning impressive colleges. However, we are hearing more and more about LinkedIn Learning these days, especially since the company acquired Lynda and all of that platform’s courses.
Linkedin Learning has also mixed things up a bit lately, by starting to offer individual “a la carte” courses, as well as an unlimited subscription. There’s also a month of free trial for the curious.
- To learn more about cheap (and even free) training options, check out this online trainings article.
- Want to learn about social media? This Pinterest course is worth a good look.
- If affiliate marketing is what you would like to learn about, this Wealthy Affiliate Review could be of interest.
A Worthy Option for Online Training
A Worthy Option for Online Training
edX offers a huge and somewhat overwhelming array of courses, on everything from academic to vocational subjects. Like all the big course platforms it has some detractors, but the overall quality of the courses is good, and there are lots of free course “audit” options. edX’s links to big universities make this a safe place to gain some provable new skills for your resumé.
- Links with prestigious colleges.
- A huge range of courses.
- Certification tracks from IBM, Microsoft and others.
- (Largely) high-quality course materials.
- Transparent pricing.
- Free course audit options.
- App for learning on the go.
- Interface can feel overwhelming.
- No course ratings system.
- Some courses less engaging than others.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.