December 2017 Newsletter on Learning Innovation


• Oracle will open in early January a $43 million building that will house an innovative, free public high school with 550 students, the sleek Design Tech High School, known as d.teach. “Nobody has done anything like this before,” said Colleen Cassity, the executive director of the Oracle Education Foundation.

• Cengage Learning has joined the open educational resources (OER) movement and announced OpenNow, a suite of digital products for general education courses. Fees start at $25 per student per course, a price point in line with Lumen Learning, which has also developed proprietary OER courseware. Available courses now include psychology, American government and sociology.

• Most higher education CIOs say their organizations’ business models will change as a result of the digital transformation. Top tech areas for new spending will include cybersecurity, ERP, Analytics, ERP, CRM, LMS, digital marketing and cloud services.

Saint Michael’s College, a private institution in Vermont, has created new “pop-up”, short-term courses about timely issues not accommodated in the traditional curriculum and offered for 0-1 credits, pass or fail. Other institutions are implementing the pop-up approach, including Bennington College (VT) and Stanford University (CA).

• Cornell Tech, a graduate school at Cornell University, inaugurated the Tata Innovation Center, after this IT services firm contributed $50 million to help the school invest in technology research and expand K-12 digital literacy programs in New York City.

Noodle Partners, one of the newer players to step into the online program manager (OPM) space, got a boost attracting $14 million in funding. Its CEO John Katzman started 2U, one of the companies, along with Academic Partnerships, Bisk, Pearson Embanet and Wiley Education Services that today control half of the OPM market, which is estimated at around $1.1 billion. Noodle Partners has signed on nearly a dozen universities like American, Tulane and New York University.

Forbes has made a list of young entrepreneurs with its list of 2018 “30 Under 30”. There is a lot of innovation on what they are doing.

VitalSource, dedicated to offering tools to create digital courses and materials, has acquired the corporate LMS Intrepid Learning, which claims to serve 20 million users globally.

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The Learning Times monthly newsletter is a topic-curated email report compiled by Michael Amigot, Founder at IBL Education, a company specialized in Open edX technology and course production. If you enjoy what you read please consider forwarding it. Click here to subscribe.

The Learning Times Newsletter #3 – November 2017
The Learning Times Newsletter #2 – October 2017
The Learning Times Newsletter #1 – September 2017


Why Open edX (a Reminder)

Open edX is the open source educational software that powers MIT’s and Harvard’s platform and its 5M+ users. It is scalable, well-tested and fully featured in terms of its web application, iOS and Android platforms and learning analytics software.

new-ibl-web-mainOpen edX is used by the world’s top ten universities, either as a course publishing tool through edX or fully personalized instances such as Stanford’s and MIT’s. It is supported by a strong community of corporate, academic and government partners.

Moreover, since it is open source, users of the platform are able to fully control it, customize it and benefit from edX’s major upgrades and feature releases, which occur several times per year. This is very powerful for at least a couple of reasons:

Open edX allows organizations who are looking for custom-built solutions to literally stand on the shoulders of giants when building their education programs’ software. How much “shoulders of giants” are we talking about? Well, essentially, the software that runs and includes mobile apps, learning analytics and ecommerce. We can customize its user interface and backend-integrations as much as we need but, in 99% of the cases, we’re talking about days or weeks of development efforts, not months or years.

Another reason is that, when an organization deploys Open edX, it fully owns it. This includes full ownership of its learners’ data and analytics (proprietary datasets will only become more valuable) as well as an ability to scale without prohibitive costs.

Sure, at $5 to $20 per student per month, traditional cloud-based LMS’s are cheap for a small number of students, but costs can quickly skyrocket — a Fortune 500 company in the US recently disclosed to IBL that it is paying close to $1.5m for 60k learners every year (“but only $2.08 per student per month!”). It may have been necessary to pay sums like this a few years ago when Open edX did not exist and the existing open source solutions were neither appealing nor fully-featured, but that is fortunately no longer the case.

For more information, visit Open edX’s official website or read our founder’s article on its official blog, “What Makes Open edX Unique”And, of course, please reach out to our team if you’d like to see how your organization can implement Open edX.

Harvard Hopes to Find a Way of Sustainability with its New Open edX Platform

“The additional revenue from HarvardXPlus will contribute to the sustainability of HarvardX and defray some of the costs of producing the online materials
,” Faculty director of HarvardX Robert A. Lue said for The Harvard Crimson about its new premium model on MOOCs.

The HarvardXPlus platform will charge between $200 and $500 for enrollments in four eight-week courses, starting on September. This, according to The Harvard Crimson, will signal a move towards more financially sustainable online learning models”, after the “fiscal sustainability of the HarvardX has come under question.”

“Charging a fee will provide financial incentive to finish the course,” said Lue. According to a recent report, 5 percent of non-paying HarvardX participants completed the course, while those who paid for certification had around a 59 percent completion rate.

Lue emphasized that HarvardXPlus is “experimental,” and more premium courses are currently in the works. According to Lue, HarvardX will evaluate the first iteration of the program after the courses are completed this fall.

HarvardXPlus promises students expanded content and a more intimate contact with peers, teaching fellows, and faculty. In addition, the program will also provide those who complete the course with a “branded credential,” a two-page document that describes in detail the learning objectives, outcomes, and skills acquired throughout the course. Enrollment will be capped in the hundreds, as opposed to the tens of thousands who enroll in HarvardX courses.

HarvardXPlus –with courses on biochemistry, business contracts, world and China literature– requires a fee for enrollment; HarvardX –the Harvard-specific branch of the edX platform– allows participants to purchase $50 to $150 verified certificates for otherwise free courses.

MITx Introduces an edX Course Where Students Will Have Their Work Graded By Professional Philosophers

The Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness MITx course on edX will allow students to obtain a verified ID certificate and have their work graded and commented on by professional philosophers.

“This is a big deal — the first MITx humanities course to offer students the chance to write a paper and have it carefully reviewed by instructors,” says Caspar Hare, who will be running the popular MOOC for the third time. “Listening to lectures and reading books is great, but philosophy is all about taking complex ideas and organizing them in a simple way. You learn by writing, specifically writing to someone.”

The course, which costs $300 with a verified certificate and starts on August 29th, will introduce students to theories around knowledge, beliefs, and consciousness, the existence of God and notion of proofs; the debate between free will and determinism. One of its goals is to move students from discussion to development of critical reasoning and argumentative skills.

The new instructor grading and feedback feature will enable that process to take shape, according to MIT News.

The course is also available for free without the certificate.

According to The Wall Street Journal, philosophy majors tend to earn more than people with majors in accounting, business management or computer science.

Armando Fox, the Professor Who Coined the term "SPOC", Honored as an Outstanding Educator

armando-foxArmando Fox, a professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Berkeley, author of successful MOOCs and leader at the Open edX community, was honored in June with the Association for Computing Machinery’s Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award.

“Mr. Fox was instrumental in adapting a software-engineering course at Berkeley to be offered as a massive open online course, or MOOC, beginning in 2011. One of the course’s innovations was an automatic grading system to evaluate the correctness and style of student programming assignments,” Ruth Hammond reported at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Armando Fox is the author of the term “SPOCs” or Small Private Online Courses –that is, MOOCs intended for a small audience of learners on campus.

Numbers that Speak the Impact of Open Courses: the Scope of edX



Are MOOCs a failure?

Read this interesting thought from Dr. Joshua Kim, director of Digital Learning Initiatives al Dartmouth University, from Inside Higher Ed:

“Those of us participating in the open online education movement (…) never thought that MOOCs would disrupt higher ed.  We create open online courses because offering educational opportunities to the world’s learners is both aligned with our missions, and because we think that participating in this movement is a good way to learn about learning.”

And a good example of the success of the open education (or open courses) movement is edX. Dr. Joshua Kim is sharing these mind blowing numbers:

  • There are 8.3 million (unique) lifelong learners on the edX platform.
  • Between 2012, when edX started, and today – there have been 27 million course enrollments.
  • Over 1,000 courses have been offered.
  • There have been over 2,300 faculty and staff who have taught on edX.
  • Over 840,000 certificates have been earned by edX learners.
  • EdX has over 100 schools, institutes and organizations in the Consortium creating open online courses.

Who exactly are all these lifelong learners on the edX platform?

  • Seven-in-ten lifelong learners are 25 years old or older.
  • The median age of an edX learner is 29.
  • About 36 percent are women, and each year the proportion of women learners on the edX platform grows.  It will be interesting to see if the gender distribution for open online learning starts to match that for post-secondary education as a whole (~57%).
  • Over two-thirds have a bachelor degree or higher, with over a quarter having a masters. (And 4% having a PhD).

And where do edX’s lifelong learners come from?

  • There are lifelong learners in every country of the world (save North Korea).
  • A bit over a quarter (27%) of edX learners come from the U.S. The next biggest country is India (11%), the U.K. and Brazil (both 4%) and China, Canada, and Mexico (3% each).
  • Over four-in-ten edX learners live in emerging economy countries.

“Does Coursera, NovoEd, FutureLearn,, and other open online learning platforms report similar levels and trends?”,
wonders Dr. Kim.

Inside Higher Ed, July 21: The Scope of edX

A New Open edX Hosting Service for Testing or Small Instances

OpenCraft, an Open edX provider led by French developer Xavier Antoviaque, has announced the launch of an pre-installed service to host small Open edX instances, which “can be a good place for a first course experimentation with a small set of students; or as a side instance for tests,” according to his creator.

The service, hosted at, is now in beta mode and open to early testers.

'Courses Need to Be Re-Engineered for the Digital Environment'

Beyond the traditional instructional designers, a new speciality is emerging: learning engineering. Courses need to be re-engineered to create online and blended experiences and improve learning outcomes.

This was one of the conclusions of the recent 2016 LINC Conference at MIT from Sanjay Sarma, vice president of open learning at MIT:

“Understanding how people learn is critical to understanding how — and when — to apply digital technologies for education. This is where “learning engineers” come in, designing new approaches to the practice of learning. Online education is not as simple as posting coursework on the internet; courses need to be re-engineered for the digital environment. By taking advantage of the available technologies, educators can create a blended learning experience, enhance the curriculum and, ultimately, improve outcomes for students.”

MIT News: LINC Conference addresses the changing face of education



UC3M Spanish University Shows its Open edX Developments


Paco Cruz, lead engineer for edX and Open edX at UC3M –the Spanish university that will organize the 2017 Open edX Conference– showed during Spain’s 2016 Open edX Meetup all of the developments his organization is delivering in terms of XBlocks, learning analytics and gamification.

  • XBlock to rate videos and add comments (available on Github)
  • Regarding analytics, UC3M is using Elastic and Analyse (internally developed software)
  • Additional developments on the iOS app in Spanish and a coming-soon app for flipped classrooms (Flip App)
  • “Quiz video” XBlock to insert questions inside videos using the “Paella Interactive Video Player”
  • Private video stream XBlock for Wowza
  • Full interoperability between its Moodle and Open edX platforms, which is used for SPOCs (Small Private Online Course) at

UC3M is one of the most active non-US universities both in course creation and developments. It has attracted 280K enrollments through 12 courses on edX, and is now preparing another 5 courses. Additionally, it has launched 10 SPOCs and is creating 7 more.

See the video above –captions are available in English– as well as main conclusions from this university regarding the future of learning.





The Open edX Platform Aims for a New Architecture


EdX has established a plan to reduce the complexity of the edX-platform codebase, while focusing on extensibility and interoperability.

The new Chief Architect of edX, Eddie Fagin, who will execute this transformation, removed the old architecture diagram (below) and presented a new one (above). (Watch his talk below).


Along with it, notable technology updates are coming soon. The new “Eucalyptus” version, scheduled for July, will include new features such as:

  • New course home and navigation
  • Bookmarks
  • Teams
  • Student Notes
  • Video Closed Captions
  • Self-Paced Course Pacing

Additionally, the new iOS and Android mobile apps will continue to evolve from being a video companion app into a much more sophisticated setup, including learner profiles, discussion forums, native course discovery and push notifications, according to Marco Morales, Product Manager at edX.