Open edX Overiew and Best Alternative Hosting Solution

What is Open edX and What is the Best Alternative?

We will delve into what is Open edX, an open-source Learning Management System (LMS) renowned for its robust features and customization options. We will discuss the basics of Open edX, its key differentiators, and its applications across various industries. Also, highlight the advantages and considerations of using Open edX and introduce you to the best alternative in the market.

(Want a more “advanced” deep-dive into Open edX’s features? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of “The Hidden Features of Open edX Studio.”)

Key Takeaways

  1. Open edX is a free and open-source LMS that offers limitless opportunities for customization and innovation.
  2. The platform is trusted by organizations of all sizes to deliver engaging online courses, from small businesses to large enterprises.
  3. Open edX provides a learner-centric experience with features like self-paced training, interactive assessments, and comprehensive analytics.
  4. The platform’s open-source nature allows for continuous development and contributions from major corporations, ensuring ongoing improvements and new features.
  5. While self-hosting Open edX requires technical expertise and resources, alternative solutions like Appsembler offer hosting, professional support, and streamlined implementation.

What is Open edX?

Open edX is a free, open-source content management system (CMS) that offers a robust and supportive community. Released to the public in June 2013, Open edX was developed by edX, the same organization behind

Open edX is used worldwide and enables anyone to deliver engaging online course content to their learners. Rather that using to create and submit their own courses, organizations can host and deploy their own branded instance of edX tailored specifically for their own online learning or training needs.

Features on the Open edX learning platform include self-paced training, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning and learning assessments as a student progresses through a course. Also, right to left language support, course and learner analytics, cohort-specific content and discussions, digital course certificates, online laboratories and more.

Open edX platform overview

Open edX platform overview (Source)

How Open edX Works

There are two sides to the Open edX platform being the LMS and Studio.


The LMS is the learner-facing side of the platform, where learners can access and complete courses. Course material is typically composed of videos and problems while enabling learners to check their progress as they work through the course. Administrators can use the LMS to admit new learners, generate reports, and oversee learner progress. This can all be managed through the Instructor Dashboard and is accessible through any Internet browser.

LMS Dashboard - Open edX

LMS Dashboard example view


Open edX Studio is the side of the platform accessed through a browser by course administrators, instructors, and course authors. This is where you can create, design, and manage your courses. In addition to building out the course structure and adding course material, administrators can use Studio to adjust the course schedule, determine grading policies, update course content, and more. Like the LMS, Studio can be accessed directly through any Internet browser.

Example of Open edX Studio Dashboard

Studio Dashboard example view

Key Features and Capabilities

Open edX offers a wide range of feature to enhance the online learning experience. These include self-paced training, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, learning assessments, right-to-left language support, learner analytics, course certificates, online laboratories, and more.

Who uses Open edX?

Open edX is trusted by organizations of all sizes and industries to power their online learning initiatives. Smaller organizations leverage Open edX to improve their bottom line and deliver a positive learning experience. Large enterprises use the platform to train employees, onboard clients, and educate customers. Even renowned educational institutions like MIT and Harvard rely on Open edX to engage their students in an online setting.

Furthermore, Open edX is an ideal choice for software companies. It serves as a powerful tool for developer marketing and developer education. By creating courses that demonstrate the value and features of their products, software companies can drive product adoption and usage. Redis University is an excellent example of successful implementation of Open edX for developer education.

Open edX site example - redis university

Open edX example: Redis University

Another example, MongoDB, an open source database, could previously only train 1,800 people per year with their in-person training. However, with their Open edX site, they were able to train 14,000 during the same timeframe and MongoDB University now serves as its largest source for lead generation and an effective developer marketing initiative. Learn How MongoDB Built a World-Class Developer Marketing Machine.

Not only can you create courses for your own company, but you can also create a catalog of courses consisting of your own internal courses and useful licensed courses from other corporations.

The demand for online learning and training is at an all-time high, which explains why Open edX has gained so much traction in recent years. Because it’s such a robust and versatile platform, Open edX has become a go-to platform for organizations to deliver impactful learning experiences that satisfy learners and empower administrators.

Check out some of our customer stories to learn about other Open edX use cases.

Open edX Sites and Providers

Within the edX wiki, there is a list of sites powered by Open edX as well as a list of Open edX service providers. At the time of writing, there are hundreds of Open edX sites listed on the page—with probably hundreds (if not thousands) more that are not listed on the page.

The Difference with Open Source Software

In-person training is dying out, slowly. As we see a shift from the physical classroom to anytime, anywhere learning, learning management systems (LMS) are growing quickly across many industries.

While traditional LMS’s have to rely on their ability to update their proprietary software as and when the market calls for it, the open-source nature of Open edX means the platform is constantly iterating and improving with contributions from the open source community.

Open edX benefits from a large number of major corporations currently using the software – such as Google and Microsoft who contribute new features others can benefit from.

What’s brilliant about the platform is the range of different things companies are using it for. Some are creating mini-MOOCs within their own internal content strategy, while others are using the platform to improve the skills of their workers. Also, there are software companies using Open edX to provide training as part of their product marketing strategy, specifically to provide immersive learning experiences such as in developer education.

This works because technical audiences such as developers, devops, and engineers prefer learning about a product’s features rather than reading about its benefits. So, instead of traditional marketing techniques, software product marketers use developer education to demonstrate the value of their products and this increases product adoption and usage.

Why Choose Open edX?

There are many open source learning platforms to choose from. Open edX has emerged as the chosen online learning or training platform for many organizations because it is learner centric, innovative, scalable, and flexible.

It is a cutting-edge, powerful online learning platform and it’s open-sourced, which means it is constantly innovating with contributions from the world’s most brilliant minds. It is extensible, versatile, and can be modified and customized for your needs.

Open edX instructors maintain full intellectual property of their course as well as their learner data.

Open edX encourages active learning which is a modular approach to learning through interaction. This approach uses sequences, videos and interactive exercises and allows instructors to teach by asking questions. And unlike traditional teaching, Open edX supports self-paced learning so learners can pause, rewind or even mute the instructor at any time.

When courses attract hundreds of thousands of students, grading work becomes a problem. Open edX supports instant feedback where the computer grades the exercises and students immediately receive their marks after answering each question.

Throughout their time on the course, learners are able to see a progress bare with their final scores and how much more of the course they need to complete before they finish.

The Advantages Open edX

Full Ownership Over the Learning Experience

Using an entirely open-source software like Open edX means you have limitless opportunities to build your site to your exact specifications. Other learning platforms may not have the customizations or integrations your organization requires, which can inhibit your training team’s ability to develop the best learning ecosystem possible. Having a flexible and versatile learning platform is a common theme of why companies switch from proprietary learning systems and into Open edX.

While there are several open source learning platforms to choose from, Open edX is a leader in the space because it’s modern, learner-centric, scalable, and flexible to each organization’s needs. For organizations that want a completely do-it-yourself site that is tailored to their particular needs, Open edX gives you the freedom to build what you want, when you want it.

Access to an Open Source Community

As an open-source platform, Open edX is constantly innovating with contributions from some of the most successful organizations around the world. Open edX benefits from a large number of major corporations currently using the software – such as Google and Microsoft – who contribute new features that others can benefit from. One of the major upsides that organizations see in an open-source platform like Open edX is that accessing it is free. And while there are costs involved with self-hosting and maintaining your Open edX instance (which we’ll discuss later), downloading Open edX won’t result in any immediate expenses.

Being part of the Open edX community enables organizations to benefit from the continual improvements being made to the underlying code. Having the opportunity to collaborate with, learn from, and grow alongside brilliant engineers and developers can help organizations get the most out of Open edX.

Streamlined Expansion

The Open edX platform was built with extensibility in mind, and allows your organization to shape learning experiences that weren’t necessarily envisioned by edX itself. Through many customizable features, including XBlocks, Open edX gives you the freedom and flexibility to ensure gradually expanding and modifying your platform will never be an issue.

As the building blocks of the Open edX platform, XBlocks were created to enable completely customized behavior inside the Open edX platform by using an open standard and a well-documented framework. So whatever learning experience your internal team is striving to build, Open edX gives you options in terms of how to build those experiences.

Proven Performance

Used by some of the leading universities and organizations in the world, including Georgetown, Stanford, Google, and Microsoft, Open edX has become a global success since its inception. And with 2U’s acquisition of edX, which is expected to bolster the resources available to Open edX, Open edX will continue advancing its leading position as an open-source software for delivering scalable and learner-first learning experiences that benefit administrators and students alike.

The Limitations of Open edX

While Open edX offers numerous advantages, it’s important to consider the limitations before making a decision.

Dependence on Dedicated IT Resources

While there is no purchase price or annual maintenance fee for using Open edX, the costs associated with using Open edX can add up in a hurry. Your internal IT department will be tasked with installing the software, setting up integrations, and maintaining the learning platform over time.

This may not be an issue for organizations that have access to dedicated IT resources who will keep their Open edX instance up and running. However, most training departments don’t have access to dedicated IT resources and certainly can’t expect their company’s IT departments to be fully dedicated to the upkeep of their Open edX installation. Needless to say, self-hosting your online university can quickly eat away at your training team’s precious time, money, and resources.

Self-Reliance for Support

The Open edX community is a great way to benefit from other organizations using the open-source platform and collaborate on effective new features. But when it comes to the day-to-day upkeep, maintenance, and performance of your particular learning platform, you’re mainly on your own.

If you experience a bug with your platform or have questions about troubleshooting issues with Open edX, you need to be self-reliant and determine the proper solutions internally. Not having professional support to lean on when you need it most can be a major downside, especially for online universities that serve paying audiences who expect responsive support, site reliability, and premium uptime.

Alignment with Open edX Roadmap

A lot of innovation takes place within the Open edX community that results in new features and improvements being deployed. But what if the innovation direction of the Open edX community doesn’t align with your organization’s needs? If your organization’s needs don’t line-up with the Open edX roadmap (which skews towards the university use case), then you might be better off looking for a platform that is better-aligned to your organization’s needs

Self-Hosting Requirements

Another major cost associated with using Open edX is the need to host your site. Self-hosting means your organization is reliant on internal IT resources, which may or may not place your Open edX instance as their top priority. On top of that, self-hosting requires you to staff knowledgeable (and often expensive) developers and engineers who can ensure site reliability and perform the upkeep of your Open edX instance.

Self-hosting an Open edX instance also means you’ll be tasked with standing up the instance yourself, which can be notoriously difficult and expensive. All in all, self-hosting through Open edX can result in roughly $33,368 a year in hosting costs. If that investment seems too daunting, self-hosting Open edX may be a dealbreaker for your training organization.

Open edX: The Bottom Line

Ultimately, Open edX is a great option for organizations that have the bandwidth to implement sophisticated customizations and the resources to internally maintain and update learning courses. Through a powerful LMS and Open edX Studio, Open edX will empower organizations to deploy their learning platform and develop effective content for their learners.

However, some organizations may not want to worry about upkeep, hosting, or want features that Open edX’s roadmap isn’t aligned with. Luckily, there are Open edX alternatives that provide the community-built features from Open edX coupled with the features and services that other organizations expect. 

Introducing Appsembler: The Ultimate Open edX Alternative

While Open edX has a large, loyal community of users that are content with its service offerings, many organizations are beginning to seek out Open edX alternatives that offer more professional support, less internal upkeep, and features that cater to their corporate audiences.

One of those alternatives is Appsembler, a bundled solution used by companies like Snowflake, Redis Labs, Chef Software, and Dremio to create educational product experiences for external audiences like their existing and prospective customers, resellers, and developers in their community.

What is Appsembler?

Appsembler is a leading, customer training software that lets you easily create and deliver immersive courses to your audiences with your own branded Open edX site. It enables organizations to benefit from the power of Open edX while leaving the details (such as hosting, version upgrades, and ongoing maintenance) to a team of dedicated Open edX experts. They offer three different pricing plans that allow businesses to get the support they need at the price they can afford.

How Does Appsembler work?

As proud members of the Open edX community, Appsembler’s core, and the primary course authoring and learning experience, is built on the Open edX platform. Using the Open edX tools to build the Appsembler system for course authoring and delivery, Appsembler provides organizations with an intuitive management console that enables them to brand and style their site without having to do any development work.

Key Features of Appsembler

Worry-Free Hosting

Unlike self-hosting, Appsembler takes care of hosting, version upgrades, and ongoing maintenance for you. You can focus on delivering learning experiences while leaving the technical details to Appsembler’s team of dedicated Open edX experts.

Aligned with B2B Software Companies

When you self-host Open edX, you’re reliant on the community-based and open-source Open edX roadmap. While the Open edX community may be building features that are useful to some organizations, they may not be relevant to your particular use case or industry. 

Appsembler’s B2B software clients get the best of both worlds, with access to community-built features from Open edX as well as access to all of the additional enterprise features requested by companies like Redis Labs, Snowflake, Dremio, InterSystems. Through Appsembler’s Customer Advisory Board of enterprise B2B software companies, Appsembler’s product roadmap is closely aligned with what B2B software companies need and want out of Open edX.

Integrations with Third-Party Technologies

Appsembler offers seamless integration with various third-party systems, such as marketing automation tools, identity providers, CRMs, and eCommerce systems. This enables you to connect your training platform with your existing technology stack effortlessly.

Rapid Launch and Time-to-Market

With Appsembler, you can launch your online university in a matter of days, not months. Appsembler’s expertise and support streamline the process, allowing you to focus on content creation and delivering training to your audiences promptly.

Reliable Support and Customer Support

Appsembler provides access to skilled support professionals who are dedicated to ensuring your success. You’l have a dedicated Customer Support Line to assist you whenever you need help or have questions.

Appsembler: The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a fully do-it-yourself Open edX site that your internal team feels comfortable taking full ownership of, then self-hosting Open edX is a great option for your organization. If you’re not an Open edX expert and feel overwhelmed by the expertise and resources needed to launch and maintain your online university, then Appsembler is a superior alternative.

Choosing the Right Solution for Your Organization

When selecting an LMS for your organization, consider your specific needs, resources, and budget. If you have the technical expertise, resources, and desire for full control, self-hosting Open edX may be suitable. However, if you’re looking for a hassle-free, comprehensive solution with professional support, Appsembler is the ideal alternative.

Appsembler offers worry-free hosting, enterprise features, integrations, and expert support, allowing you to focus on delivering exceptional learning experiences to your audiences. It’s an excellent choice for organizations seeking a reliable and efficient solution without the burdens of self-hosting.

Take the Next Step with Appsembler

If you’re unsure which option is best for your organization or want to explore how Appsembler can meet your specific needs, reach out to Appsembler today. Experts will guide you through the decision-making process and help you determine the right solution for your online university.


Open edX is a powerful open-source LMS that empowers organizations to deliver engaging online courses and training programs. Self-hosting Open edX comes with considerations such as dedicated IT resources and maintenance, alternative solutions like Appsembler offer hosting and professional support. By choosing the right solution that aligns with your organization’s needs, you can leverage the benefits of Open edX to deliver impactful learning experiences and drive success in the digital education landscape.

Overall, Open edX provides a versatile platform for creating immersive courses, promoting active learning, and analyzing learner progress. Its scalability, flexibility, and continuous innovation make it a top choice for organizations looking to deliver exceptional online learning experiences. Whether you opt for self-hosting Open edX or explore alternative solutions like Appsembler, the key is to make an informed decision that meets your organization’s specific requirements and ensures a seamless and effective online learning environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Open edX and other learning management systems?

Open edX stands out due to its open-source nature, which allows for continuous improvement and customization. It offers a robust set of features, a supportive community, and the ability to create tailored learning experiences. Additionally, major organizations like Google and Microsoft contribute to its development, ensuring ongoing innovation.

How does Open edX compare to proprietary learning systems?

Open edX offers several advantages over proprietary learning systems. It provides full ownership and customization capabilities, allowing organizations to tailor their online learning platform to their specific needs. Additionally, Open edX benefits from a vibrant open-source community, which results in continuous improvements and new features. In contrast, proprietary systems may have limitations in terms of customization and may require costly licensing fees.

Is Open edX suitable for large enterprises?

Absolutely! Open edX is trusted by organizations of all sizes, including large enterprises. Its scalability and versatility make it an excellent choice for training employees, onboarding clients, and educating customers. With features like self-paced training, learner analytics, and cohort-specific content, Open edX empowers large enterprises to deliver impactful learning experiences at scale.

How can software companies benefit from using Open edX?

Software companies can leverage Open edX for various purposes. It can be used for developer marketing and education, allowing companies to create courses that showcase the features and value of their products. This approach helps drive product adoption and usage. Open edX enables software companies to provide training as part of their product marketing strategy, delivering immersive learning experiences to technical audiences.

What are the advantages of choosing Appsembler over self-hosting Open edX?

Appsembler offers a comprehensive solution that addresses the challenges of self-hosting Open edX. With Appsembler, you benefit from worry-free hosting, professional support, and enterprise-level features. Appsembler handles the technical aspects, allowing you to focus on delivering exceptional learning experiences. It also provides integrations with third-party technologies and offers rapid launch capabilities, saving you time and resources.

How can I determine whether self-hosting Open edX or using Appsembler is right for my organization?

The decision depends on your organization’s specific needs, resources, and expertise. If you have the technical know-how and want full control over your learning platform, self-hosting Open edX may be suitable. However, if you prefer a hassle-free solution with professional support and streamlined implementation, Appsembler is the ideal choice. Consider your organization’s goals, budget, and desired level of involvement in platform maintenance to make an informed decision.

What type of support does Appsembler offer?

Appsembler provides reliable support and customer success services. You’ll have access to skilled support professionals who can assist with troubleshooting, updates, and maintenance. Appsembler offers a dedicated Customer Support Line to ensure a seamless experience. Their team is committed to your organization’s long-term success and growth.

Can Appsembler integrate with other systems in my training technology stack?

Absolutely! Appsembler offers seamless integration with various third-party systems, including marketing automation tools, identity providers, CRMs, and eCommerce systems. This allows you to connect your training platform with your existing technology stack, creating a cohesive and efficient ecosystem.