What is Open edX and What is the Best Open edX Alternative?

What is Open edX and What is the Best Open edX Alternative?

Explore the basics of Open edX, its pros and cons, and how Appsembler Tahoe extends the Open edX platform with key features targeted at enterprise software companies.

Build a Free Open edX Site on Tahoe

(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.”)

Open edX – An Overview

Want to learn about the basics of Open edX? You’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll walk through what Open edX is, how it works, its many use cases and features, who uses it, and why many trainers and educators choose the platform to deliver online learning. We’ll also weigh the pros and cons of the platform and why many organizations are searching for alternatives to suit their evolving business needs.

But first, let’s clarify the question we hear most often from people new to Open edX…


The open edx platform illustrated

Open edX platform overview (Source)

Open edX vs. edX.org: What’s the Difference?

You may have already heard of edX.org. Developed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2012, edX.org is a nonprofit, massive open online course (MOOC) provider.

With over 35M users worldwide, edX offers many free and paid courses that are designed to help you advance your career. edX.org courses range across a variety of disciplines including computer science, data science, languages, engineering, psychology, writing, biology, business and more.


edX platform


What is Open edX?

On the other hand, Open edX is a free, open-source content management system (CMS) with a large, supportive community. Released to the public in June 2013, Open edX was  originally developed by edX. It is the same platform that powers edX.org’s own courses. 

Open edX is used worldwide and enables anyone to deliver engaging online course content to their learners. Rather than using edX.org 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, learning assessments as a student progresses through a course, right to left language support, course and learner analytics, cohort-specific content and discussions, digital course certificates, online laboratories and more.


Redis University example website of Open edX
Open edX example: Redis University (https://university.redislabs.com/)

How Open edX Works

There are two sides to the Open edX platform:

1. LMS

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.


Appsembler dashboard built on open edX



2. Studio

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.


Studio of Appsembler built on open edX



Open edX supports video, HTML text, and discussion elements. Course authors are also able to include their own wiki, or textbook-style elements that can be uploaded as a PDF file.

Like any new software, there are many new terms to learn. Luckily, there’s a handy Open edX glossary you can use to familiarize yourself with anything you don’t understand.

Who Uses Open edX?

Because Open edX is such a robust and versatile platform, it is trusted worldwide by organizations of all shapes and sizes to power a wide range of online learning use cases.

Smaller organizations use Open edX to develop engaging learning content that can improve their bottom line and ensure a positive learning experience. Large organizations use Open edX to train employees, onboard new clients, and educate customers on their service offerings. Educational institutions, including MIT and Harvard, use Open edX to engage their students in an online setting.

Open edX provides companies and higher education institutions with a powerful platform to scale their education and training efforts.


Kong Academy example website of Open edX

Open edX site example: Kong Academy (education.konghq.com)


Two great applications of Open edX for software companies is in developer marketing and developer education. For example, Chef Software created courses through its Learn Chef online university to teach developers the skills they need to be successful with using their products. Packaged with hands-on product sandboxes, these courses help users to spin up the product quickly and get practical experience with it.


Open edX example screenshot from Chef

Open edX site example: Chef (learn.chef.io)


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.


Learn how to build your first Open edX Course with Appsembler's experts.

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.


What is developer education - blue background

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.

Open edX’s modern web user interface pushes the focus on usability making it a great platform for instructors and an immersive learning environment for students.

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 bar with their final scores and how much more of the course they need to complete before they finish.



The Pros of 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 Shortcomings of Open edX

You need to have access to 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.

You need to be self-reliant

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.

Your needs must align with Open edX’s 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.

You need to self-host your Open edX instance

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.

Do you want Open edX without the shortcomings? See how Appsembler Tahoe stacks up against to 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. 

Let’s take a closer look at Appsembler Tahoe, a bundled solution used by companies to create educational product experiences while removing all of the Open edX shortcomings discussed above.

Is Appsembler Tahoe an 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 Tahoe, a bundled solution used by companies like 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.

Other Open edX alternatives are:

  • Moodle: Great fit for educators like teachers and academic administrators
  • Graphy: Online course platform for live, instructor-led, scheduled, and drip courses for teams, individuals, and educational institutions
  • Continu: Learning software for content authoring and delivering training to employees, teammates, and customers

So how do you go about deciding which software is best suited for your organization? Since we’ve covered the basics of Open edX, let’s move on to review Appsembler Tahoe to highlight some similarities and differences between the two. After reading this article, you’ll have a clear sense of which platform to use for your online university.


diy open edx vs appsembler tahoe cta

What is Appsembler Tahoe?

Appsembler Tahoe 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. Appsembler Tahoe 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. Appsembler offers three different pricing plans that allow businesses to get the support they need at the price they can afford.

Tahoe Starter is the most affordable option and provides organizations with everything they need to start creating and delivering courses online. With Tahoe Starter, you can have an Open edX site up-and-running in minutes, complete with a page builder, course authoring, managed hosting, onboarding, analytics and reporting, certificates, and a dedicated customer success manager.

Tahoe Pro includes all of the features in Tahoe Starter with added benefits such as a custom domain, single sign-on (SSO), dedicated training, and Appsembler’s CSS editor.

Finally, Tahoe Premium is made for organizations that want to harness the full potential of the Appsembler platform. In addition to all of the features included in the Tahoe Starter and Tahoe Pro plans, Tahoe Premium provides organizations with API endpoints, a business intelligence connector, custom contracts and SLAs, as well as a dedicated staging site so organizations can see and test the changes that they’re making to their Open edX site before they are published to learners.

Tahoe Platform + Virtual Labs is an excellent way for software companies to pair their self-paced courses with hands-on product sandboxes and training labs. This immersive learning experience shows the value of software products to the target audience the way they prefer. It has improved product adoption and usage for companies like Redis, Chef Software, Kong, and Dremio.

How Does Appsembler Tahoe work?

How Does Appsembler Tahoe work?

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

In addition to providing course authoring and delivery tools, Tahoe gives organizations access to Appsembler’s team of experienced support professionals. And with the Tahoe Pro or Premium packages, administrators are provided with additional enterprise features and dedicated training to learn how to create, deliver, and optimize their online courses. Additionally, every customer has a dedicated Customer Success Manager who is committed to ensuring that their organization is on track to achieving its desired goals.
Who is Appsembler Tahoe For?

Who is Appsembler Tahoe For?

Appsembler Tahoe is suited for businesses that don’t have years of IT or software expertise, or don’t want to have (and don’t plan to have) the Open edX domain experience. The process of deploying, hosting, managing, upgrading, and maintaining an Open edX instance can eat up loads of time, money, and resources—distracting training departments from their core responsibilities. Appsembler Tahoe serves as an Open edX alternative for organizations that want to publish their online university faster at a fraction of the cost of handling all of the platform responsibilities internally.

One major reason training teams select Appsembler Tahoe over Open edX is to offload the burden of self-hosting and maintaining their Open edX instance. Self-hosting means that a training department has to deal with change management, QA tasks, bug fixes, and the dreaded “switchover” day (or weekend), which can result in the platform being unusable for an extended period of time. With Tahoe, the Appsembler team handles QA and tests all major releases before switching customers over. This ensures that learners experience minimal downtime, see fewer bugs, and that training teams are able to focus on their core business responsibility of delivering training to their audiences.

The Pros of Appsembler Tahoe

Worry-free hosting

Open edX requires companies to self-host, which requires organizations to have the technical expertise (think an entire IT department) to host and maintain the Open edX platform. If your organization is unable to invest in the essential IT infrastructure and internal Open edX expertise, Appsembler Tahoe is an ideal alternative. Appsembler Tahoe doesn’t require upfront IT investments, maintenance or Open edX expertise, enabling you to recoup time and money to re-invest elsewhere. 

Additionally, Appsembler will prioritize your customer satisfaction above all else. Compare this to your internal IT department, which has a wide range of responsibilities and reports to multiple stakeholders, likely resulting in your Open edX instance not being their top priority. With an Appsembler Tahoe subscription, Appsembler’s team will be fully dedicated to ensuring the long-term success and growth of your training initiative.

A product roadmap 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 neat 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, Chef Software, Dremio, InterSystems and more. 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.

Access to integrations with 3rd party technologies

As your online university evolves, you will encounter other systems in your training technology stack that need to be taken into consideration. While Tahoe provides some out-of-the-box integrations, it also has the ability to extend and integrate your training platform as your needs grow. Whether you’re keen on connecting it to marketing automation tools, identity providers, CRMs, or eCommerce systems, Appsembler Tahoe can integrate with 3rd party technologies and systems with ease. And if you’re uncomfortable connecting integrations yourself, Appsembler’s Professional Services team can integrate Tahoe with 3rd party systems on your behalf.

Launch your online university in days, not months

Using self-hosted, open source software as the foundation for your training platform may seem like a cost-effective option upfront, but your organization will quickly discover plenty of hidden costs that come with self-hosting open source software. One of these hidden costs is the time it takes to get your training ecosystem up and running. Since there is so much manual work involved with using a platform like Open edX, it can take upwards of a year to actually deliver your platform and start attracting learners.

Appsembler Tahoe can improve your speed to market and have your site developed, branded, and delivered in a matter of days, not months. By negating the need for a dedicated internal IT team to handle site development and maintenance, you’re actually saving both time and money in the long run. Improving your speed to market can give you an edge by enabling you to deliver your online university and courses faster, establishing your online university as an innovator within your space.

Reliable access to skilled support professionals

With Appsembler, not only do you get the tools to build and deliver immersive learning experiences, but you also have a dedicated Customer Success Manager and a Customer Support Line to access help when you need it. Whether you’re experiencing bugs or are looking to make updates to your platform, the Appsembler team provides timely, personalized support when you need it.



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. However, if you’re not an Open edX expert and feel overwhelmed by the amount of expertise and resources needed to launch and maintain your online university, then Appsembler Tahoe is a superior alternative.

What’s Next?

What’s Next?

Knowing where to start when it comes to developing your learning ecosystem can be difficult. Ultimately, your decision will depend on the particular needs of your organization, as well as what kind of resources and budget you’re working with. If you’re not sure what the best option for your organization is, Appsembler can help you determine whether a self-hosted Open edX site or an Appsembler Tahoe subscription is right for your situation.

If you have specific questions or want to discuss whether Appsembler Tahoe could work within your organization, reach out to us today.