Concept Note: Open edX Core Product Strategy


What is the Open edX Platform Narrative?


The Open edX project is an open-source learning and teaching platform for creating and delivering online courses targeted to adult learning. It is highly customizable and scale-able. It is designed for how people learn, with optimal pedagogy and support for good instructional design guiding the Core Product experience.

The platform excels at delivering at-scale online courses and modular learning presentations, credentialed learning pathways, and high-touch blended courses. The platform may even be used to deliver full curricula for online degrees.

The platform is a single solution for supporting a spectrum of use cases .

On one end of the spectrum, the Core Product is built to deliver low-touch online courses and learning presentations, with the potential to scale to the size of MOOCs.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Core Product can be configured to deliver high-touch online courses and learning presentations, where the focus is on small-scale, learner-to-instructor interactions.

While the Core Product is optimized to deliver low-touch courses at scale, configurable bundles of features can be added to optimize for the needs of higher-touch learning environments. Features in these bundle sets may not need to scale.

As the platform evolves, we may consider curating additional bundles that respond to specific needs of the use case, such as length of the learning pathway (multi-course programs vs single courses vs micro-learning); size of course enrollment; or mode of learning (social vs independent).



The low-touch end of the spectrum serves the vast majority of current Open edX instances, with particular emphasis on Continuing Adult Education in the higher education, consumer and not-for-profit sectors, and large public education initiatives in the higher education and government sectors. The unifying thread among these use cases is that learners tend to be non-matriculated students, many of whom are on credential-based learning pathways. The latter use case represents an area for which there is growing community interest and demand, and an area of significant potential growth for the platform.

What are our ideal Core Product value propositions?


The following value propositions describe where we aspire to take the Open edX platform over the next 3-5 years. While many of these value propositions reflect and build on inherent strengths of the open source platform, others signify areas of key investment.


  1. The Core Product experience supports the full learning and teaching cycle. For authors and course teams, this includes content creation, course design and delivery. For learners, this includes enrollment to credential. For administrators, this includes management to analytics.

  2. We believe that a sound, learner-centric experience is only as good as the instructional design behind it. We aim to make the Core Product the most pedagogically-informed online learning platform it can be. We should aim to occupy the higher education LMS space, as the best open source LMS with a mission-driven approach to learner impact. To achieve this, we can leverage our robust and eager community of world-class instructional designers and educators to ensure that good pedagogy is baked into each core capability in the Core Product experience.

  3. We excel at enabling good content creation and course design. The “out of the box” experience enables authors, educators and course teams to infuse best pedagogical practices into content and course creation workflows by design, while our continued support of DIY tools and environment fosters innovation and experimentation in the learning design process.

  4. We excel at assessment and interactivity, with robust capabilities for formative and summative assessment online that are grounded in Interactive Pedagogy.

  5. We excel at closing the loop between learner analytics and course design, with channels for analytics to inform and shape course design.

  6. We excel at customization across the full-spectrum of the Open edX experience, from carefully curated customizations that support each of the two primary use cases, to support for DIY extension of the platform.

  7. We excel at balancing “out of the box” experiences while continuing to foster the DIY spirit that the Open edX platform was founded on. We ensure that the Core Product experience is designed for seamless use by any educator without a technical background. At the same time, the Core Product experience includes a thoughtful extension framework that enables continued extension and innovation, with proper guidelines and channels for some extensions to be contributed back to the Core Product experience.

  8. We excel at using evidence-based approaches to continually improve and invest in the Core Product experience. Just as our learners are continually evolving through knowledge and experience, so is our platform. We routinely collaborate with partners to create studies and data analyses that measure key features and interventions to continually improve learner success rates, and use those findings to inform the platform roadmap and areas for investment.

  9. We embrace new technologies in the EdTech space while holding high standards for integrating them. We investigate new technologies as potential solutions for key problems or challenges identified on our Roadmap, and ensure rigorous testing of efficacy and pedagogical effectiveness as a prerequisite for putting them into the Core Product experience.


What is the Core Product design?


The platform is designed around the concept of an “out of the box” Core Product experience. Criteria includes:

  • All of the Core Capabilities necessary to deliver an end-to-end course experience, including course/content authoring for course teams and educators, enrollment to credential experience for learners, and administrative and analytics dashboards.

  • Has the potential to support MOOC-scale learning experiences

  • All external-facing features that are intended for use by course authors, teams and learners do not require the user to have any technical experience or background. No use of json strings, no advanced settings. Every feature has a WYSIWYG UI.

  • Supports clear configuration pathways, via optional Core Product Feature Bundles, that can be leveraged to support across the spectrum of use cases.

  • Supports clear customization pathways, via a well-documented API framework, that can be leveraged for developers to extend the platform.


Optional Core Product Feature bundles can be added to the Core Product experience. Feature bundles include:

  • Curated features that support unique and varied requirements of specific use cases, such as high-touch learning environments

  • May not be required to scale

  • All features in curated Bundles intended for use by course authors, teams and learners do not require the user to have for any technical experience or background. Every feature has a WYSIWYG UI.

  • Feature bundles are configured as add-ons during install, in a Wizard-like installation workflow. Once added, each feature can be configured by either administrators at the org level, or course teams at the course level. The configuration process has a UI and a simple toggle on/toggle off workflow.

Additionally, a Marketplace of third-party LTI tools, services (and non-core xblocks) enables further customization, particularly for subject-specific needs, and a DIY extension framework enable maximal customization and continued expansion of the platform.


Core Product Install

  1. An out of the box install comes with a native set of core capabilities that are central to developing a sound learning experience. These capabilities are:

  2. Supported extension points and workflows for integrating custom native features from the Customization Catalog, based on the size and scale of the learning experience

  3. Supported extension points and workflows for integrating native and third-party features from the External Marketplace


Core Product Customizations

  1. A highly curated selection of guaranteed community-supported, native features that can be mixed and matched, depending on the size, scale and needs of the learning experience.

    1. Most features can be used “out of the box” with no technical expertise required

    2. A few features may require some technical knowledge, but are well-documented and templated


External Marketplace

A semi-curated catalog of community-contributed native features and third-party features and services to fill any gaps


Build it yourself opportunities

Supported extension points, documentation and community support for building custom features yourself.

What are the Core Capabilities the Core Product will support?



What is the Open edX “competitive” position in the marketplace?


As a general rule, our approach to the wider LMS marketplace is to “compete” by simply excelling at our mission and with what we do best - online pedagogy, assessment, course design and delivery, and customization.

Each of the primary use cases we support has niche-specific competitors. Here is how we position ourselves accordingly with the key players:



Moodle is the direct competitor to Open edX as an open source solution to learning and teaching online. While Moodle tends to cater to high-touch learning needs, it’s weaknesses include a steep learning curve for non-technical users, outdated and clunky UI, poor mobile experience, and fewer customization options.



The Open edX/Canvas relationship is nuanced. Canvas is a fully managed service designed to support residential, in-person learning. We believe that the Open edX platform, with a reasonably sized set of improvements, can also support robust teaching and learning for matriculated learners, in small classes, on campus or online. In other words, with the right investment, Open edX can compete with Canvas in terms of feature parity. In other areas, particularly around assessment and modularized content authoring and delivery, Open edX can excel beyond Canvas. However, Open edX will never offer the fully-managed customer service experience that makes Canvas appeal to many universities.

For the institutions who are unlikely to move away from fully-managed LMS services, the strategy is not to compete with Canvas, but rather to operate alongside it, and integrate with it. In these cases, Open edX can serve complementary functions to Canvas, including delivery of Continuing Adult Education, online learning department programming, and experimental or research-oriented offerings.

Additionally, the higher education LMS market is not monolithic. Some institutions may prefer open source solutions that don’t require vendor agreements or lock-in. Others may not be able to afford the high service costs that come with a Canvas subscription, particularly in developing areas of the world. Still others may be swayed toward Open edX over time upon realizing that the platform delivers a pedagogically superior experience at a lower cost. Open edX should occupy the residential learning space, functioning as an open source alternative to the residential LMS system for all these institutional profiles.


In both cases, Open edX can achieve parity with both Moodle and Canvas in terms of offering options to deliver high-touch learning experiences. Investment is needed in the following areas:


  1. Investing in feature parity in the authoring experience, particularly around content reuse, content management tools, master course templates

  2. Investing in feature parity in the administrative experience, particularly around RBAC

  3. Investing in a sleek, updated UX/UI for authors in particular

  4. Investing in user-friendly, point-and-click pathways to customization, particularly for LTI

  5. Investing in a core set of new features designed to meeting residential needs, particularly around real-time learner analytics, a high-touch speedgrader

  6. Investing in building an integration framework with existing campus services


What is Open edX not?


The open-source Open edX platform IS NOT:


A fully managed subscription service like Canvas. Rather, any service-related experiences might be delivered via individual providers. For users who run their own instances, support is available via the open-source community channels.


A CRM, sales, or ecommerce platform. This reflects our commitment to a Core Product experience dedicated solely to learning and teaching, unencumbered by upsell channels or marketing needs. However, we will invest in ensuring the most popular ecommerce and sales services and tools have fully supported extension points, and maintain a shortlist of vetted, recommended ecommerce services.


An OPM. Many of the services expected of an OPM fall outside the scope of the Open edX focus on learning and teaching. However, the Open edX extension framework should be inclusive of integrating with third-party OPM providers.


An LXP. The “learner as consumer” focus of most LXPs diverges from the value proposition outlined here for Open edX, where our focus is on a platform enhanced for instructional design and educators. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. We should design Open edX to thoughtfully integrate with LXPs, particularly as content libraries continue to evolve to support adaptive learning and modular approaches to course creation and delivery. Furthermore, we can integrate many key properties of an LXP environment into the modular learning strategy, particularly around adaptive learning pathways, collaborative spaces for higher touch environments, and skills tracking.