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How edX Works

        Culture | Learning

How edX Courses Work
An edX video editor works on a video of an MIT biology class. EdX classes are a combination of videos, quizzes, discussions and short essays -- all online.
An edX video editor works on a video of an MIT biology class. EdX classes are a combination of videos, quizzes, discussions and short essays -- all online.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

All edX classes are found at edx.org. Some have set start and end dates, while others can be taken anytime. The edX home page lists upcoming classes with links that allow you to view all courses or browse by topic. Clicking on a title will display a course overview, an introductory video and information about ways to take it. All courses are free to audit, but some allow you to pursue a Verified Certificate of Achievement for a minimum fee ($50 to $90). These certificates are not college credit, but could be useful on a resume.

To register for a class, you need to create an account or log in with Facebook or Google+. To familiarize yourself with the edX online learning experience, edX suggests registering for "DemoX," a 30-minute introduction to course tools, videos, interactive elements, grading and social media integration.

All course content lives on a tab called courseware. Courses are organized by week, and within each week are tabs for lessons and homework. When you click on "lessons," you begin that week's learning sequence, a series of videos, quizzes and interactive labs called "units" that teach bite-sized concepts and test your knowledge. Homework includes problem sets and readings that support that week's content. Once you complete all units and homework, you move on to the next week.

Every question you answer -- both during lessons and in homework assignments -- is graded, as are any midterms and final exams. Almost all grading is done automatically by software called Open Response Assessment using rubrics and algorithms [source: Winterhalter]. You can monitor your grade performance in the "progress" tab, although all final grades are pass/fail.

The meat of edX courses is video; professionally produced clips complete with graphics and special effects delivered by star professors at each university. The edX video player is tricked out with some cool features, including playback speed controls (from half-speed slo-mo to double-time) and a scrolling transcript of everything the professor is saying. Click on a word in the transcript and you jump directly to that moment in the video.

EdX promotes the social dimension of online learning, urging classmates to join Facebook and Google+ groups for each course, or even organizing local in-person meetups. Within each course is a discussion tab where students, professors and teaching assistants can post questions and comments on a message board. Some courses also support a wiki where current and former students can create a shared knowledge base.


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