edX Review: Looking at edX Courses, Quality, Pricing, and More

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edX is a non-profit online course platform created by Harvard and MIT. It hosts online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines (not just computer science), including Python, front-end Development, full-stack development, and blockchain. 

Is edX good for learning tech skills? In this edX review, we’ll cover what edX is, the main features of the platform, topics taught in edX courses, content quality, edX free courses and pricing options, tips for use, what past students think, etc.

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Table of Contents

What Is edX?

edX is a leading provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs), covering subjects including law, science, engineering, biology, business, computer science, public health, and artificial intelligence (AI) — to name just a few.

edX courses and programs are offered by 140+ leading institutions like Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, The University of Texas System, Boston University, The Smithsonian, Brown University, and even international universities like Imperial College London and the University of Toronto.   

What makes edX unique is that it’s completely free to take any course through an audit option. For those looking for certificates and online degrees, edX offers certificates of completion and online degrees (e.g., MicroMaster, MicroBachelors) for a small fee.

Beyond individual courses, edX programs and degrees include:

  • MicroBachelors® Programs for Undergraduate Education: built for adult learners looking to progress their career.
  • MicroMasters® Programs: series of graduate-level courses from top universities designed to advance your career.
  • Professional Certificate Programs: designed to build and enhance critical professional skills needed to succeed in in-demand fields like web development, data science, finance, etc. 
  • Online Master’s Degrees: Fully online master’s degrees from real universities like UT Austin and the Georgia Institute of Technology 
  • Global Freshman Academy: Through this program, you can earn transferable Arizona State University (ASU) credit from anywhere in the world.
  • XSeries: A series of courses to develop deep knowledge in interesting and popular subjects like astrophysics, world religions, and even Star Trek!

To learn more about this platform, check out my podcast episode with the founder and CEO of edX, Anant Agarwal.

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edX Review: the TL;DR

Pros of edX:

The broad, diverse, and niche range of edX courses makes the platform stand out from other MOOC providers that may focus on just one or two subjects. There’s something for everyone and would it be hard to get bored with their selection!

Some other pros:

  • It’s 100% free to take a course through the audit option
  • Different types of courses and programs to suit your needs, learning stage, and budget, from MicroMasters and MicroBachelors programs to individual courses to groups of courses that explore a specific subject in depth
  • Taught by leading institutions and universities, like Harvard, Berkeley and Microsoft
  • Receive credit to put toward a college or university application
  • Interactive labs, experiments, assignments, and assessments
  • 14-day refund policy on verified tracks
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Financial aid is available

Cons of edX:

  • It’s not possible to download a course for offline viewing
  • No social proof — i.e., no student ratings and reviews to read through when deciding which course to take (however, you can see how many people have enrolled in the course)
  • Most edX courses are only offered in English
  • Different names for different course/program offerings can be confusing (MicroMasters, Professional Certificate, XSeries, Online Master’s Degree, Global Freshman Academy)
  • On the free/audit track, you lose access to the course materials after the course end date.

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Topics Taught on edX

edX covers a wide range of topics. In fact, there are 31 different subjects to explore, covering everything from technology to music to design and medicine.

See for yourself:

  • Architecture
  • Art & Culture
  • Biology & Life Sciences
  • Computer Science
  • Data Analysis & Statistics
  • Design
  • Economics & Finance
  • Education & Teacher Training
  • Electronics
  • Energy & Earth Sciences
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Studies
  • Ethics
  • Food & Nutrition
  • Health & Safety
  • History
  • Business & Management
  • Chemistry
  • Communication
  • Humanities
  • Language
  • Law
  • Literature
  • Math
  • Medicine
  • Music
  • Philanthropy
  • Philosophy and ethics
  • Physics
  • Science
  • Social science
edx topics

Specifically zooming in on tech categories, you’ll find courses on subjects like web development, data science, cybersecurity, IT, and much more. Explore the full edX course library here!

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Features of the edX Platform

🎓 University-level courses from real universities that allow you to earn transferable academic credits, which you can potentially use to pursue higher education at a more affordable price and grow your career 

✏️ Video subtitles: All edX videos have interactive, downloadable transcripts and closed captions

🔖 Bookmarks: So you can remember where you are in a course if you have to come back to it later

⏩ Lecture control: You have the option to play lectures at different speeds (.5x, 1x, 1.1x, 1.25x, 1.5x or 2x)

📱 Cross-platform support: Courses are available on any desktop and mobile device with the free edX mobile app (Android and iOS)

🏆 Certificates of completion: If you pay for the verified track and achieve a passing grade, you can earn an edX certificate to show off to employers, clients, and schools

🧑‍🏫 Wide range of programs: From individual courses to MicroMasters and MicroBachelors to XSeries programs and professional certificates to the Global Freshman Program. There are also extremely niche/interesting courses like The Science of Beer and Electric Cars: Introduction

💬 Online discussion groups: Each course gives you the opportunity to start conversations with fellow students and ask/answer questions

✅ Graded assignments: Quizzes, exams, and essay questions that are graded by a member of the course team (for verified tracks only)

🤝 Team projects: In some courses, you’ll get to work with a small group of people to complete assigned activities and projects  (for verified tracks only)

🗒️ Notes: Highlight passages and make notes right inside the course

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Are edX Courses Really Free?

Yes, it’s really free to take a course on edX — when you enroll in the audit track! Exceptions are edX’s professional education courses, which are fee-based and have specific costs that vary by course.

When you “audit” any course in edX’s library for free, one downside is that you don’t get a certificate or the chance to complete graded assignments. If you want to earn a certificate for a course and complete assignments through a “verified track” (which is the opposite of the “audit” option), it will cost you between $50 and $300, depending on the course.

Are edX courses free?

If you want a certificate, but can’t afford to pay the full price of the “verified track,” edX offers financial assistance (up to a 90% discount). See more about financial assistance here

You’ll also need to pay if you’re pursuing a program or qualification:

Please note that pricing listed below may change in the future!

  • MicroBachelors: Around $166 USD per credit
  • MicroMasters: You must earn and pay for a verified certificate in each of the courses in the  program. Overall cost varies.
  • Professional Certificate Programs: Prices can vary from around $100 to $1,000+, depending on the program
  • Online Master’s Degrees: $9,900 to $25,000
  • Global Freshman Academy: Approximately $200 per credit.
  • XSeries: Like MicroMasters, you must earn and pay for a verified certificate in each of the courses in the  program. Overall cost varies.

Bottom line: Nearly all of edX’s 2,800+ courses are completely free when you choose the audit option, but you will not have access to graded assignments and certificates of completion.

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Are edX Certificates Worth It?

edX currently offers two types of certificates:

To get a verified certificate, you must pay for a course, pass the course with the required grade, and verify your identity on edX before the verification deadline. For verification, you have to use a webcam and show a photo ID to prove that it’s you completing the course work. That means it’s a trusted way for employers and schools to verify your skills

Some universities also offer academic credit based on the verified certificate, so it can definitely be worth it in that case.To get a program certificate, you must earn a verified certificate for each course in a “program” (e.g., MicroMasters, MicroBachelors, XSeries, Professional Certificates).

edX micromasters

So what’s the benefit of pursuing a “verified track” to earn a certificate vs. auditing a course for free on edX? Are edX certificates worth it?

There are some benefits beyond mere bragging rights. Earning a certificate can prove to employers, schools, or other institutions that you have successfully completed an online course through a rigorous university. It can lead to a better job or a promotion, and even attract freelance clients. You can also potentially receive academic credit to accelerate a bachelor’s or master’s degree. 

Additionally, sometimes paying money for a edX certificate can light a fire under you and give you an incentive to complete the course, whereas when you’re auditing a course for free, you may be more casual about finishing or give up. Paying for edX courses means you can do the graded assignments and receive instructor feedback, which can also help your learning stick better.

So are edX certificates worth it? It depends on your goals, but if you want a way to prove your skills to employers, schools, or clients, a verified certificate may be worth the money. Plus, if you want to do graded work or you struggle to motivate yourself to finish free courses, paying for a certificate may give you the push you need.

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edX’s Ease of Use

Overall, even though edX has tons of courses and programs to choose from, the interface is clean, simple, and easy to browse through.

From the home page, you can browse through courses by hovering over the Courses or Programs & Degrees tabs in the menu. There, you can browse through edX 30+ subjects or different types of degree programs. You can also search for specific keywords in the search bar to find courses you’re looking for.

edX course search

When using this method, you can filter by subject, partner (i.e., the university or company teaching the course), type of program (e.g., MicroMaster’s, XSeries), skill level, availability (e.g., available now, upcoming, archived), or language that the course is taught in 

After clicking on a course, you’ll be able to see basic course info, a course description, details about the instructor(s), how much the verified track costs, and what exactly you’ll be learning. When you decide to take a course, all you have to do is click Enroll and choose whether you want to pursue a verified certificate or audit the course for free.

edX course page

As you watch course videos, you’ll see the video on the left and an interactive transcript on the right, making it easy to follow along. 

edX lecture view

If you want extra guidance to set yourself up for success, there’s even DemoX, a course that teaches you how to navigate edX and all of its features so you can get the most out of the platform. 

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edX Content Quality

edX course videos are high-quality with clear audio. Some courses even show footage from real in-person courses at universities, so you’re getting the same learning as a college student without the tuition price tag. 

According to edX, “To publish a course on edx.org, you must have an agreement with edX and specific approval from your organization,” which means not just anyone can create a course. They typically have to be affiliated with a university, a high-profile company like Google, or an institution.

My Top edX Course Recommendations

Each of these can be taken as edX free courses with the audit option, or you can choose the paid verified tracks to earn certificates.

1. Python for Data Science

In this course by UC San Diego, you’ll learn how to use Python to manipulate, analyze, and visualize data. This course is also part of the Data Science MicroMasters® Program.

2. HTML5 and CSS Fundamentals

Part of W3C’s “Front-End Web Developer” Professional Certificate, this course teaches you the basics of web design using HTML5 and basic CSS. It’s six weeks long, requiring about 4–6 hours of study per week.

3. CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science

A highly popular course on edX, Harvard’s intro to computer science teaches you how to think algorithmically and solve coding problems efficiently. Fun fact: The on-campus version of this course is Harvard’s largest course.

4. Cybersecurity Fundamentals

An intro to the field of cybersecurity, this course will teach you how to detect threats, protect networks and anticipate potential cyber attacks. Part of the RITx Cybersecurity MicroMasters Program.

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What Past edX Students Think

Mary N.

What do you like best?

“EdX is comprehensive, straightforward and easy to use. It offers various professional courses and there are certificates at the end of the course. I like that EdX offers free courses except when you require a certificate, and even when the course is not free, you can still audit the course material and access content. I also like that EdX has a star rating program that helps inform learners about courses based on other learner’s experiences before enrolling. I also like the categorization and structure of courses. You can search for a course randomly through a refined search or locate by subject, making everything simpler.”

What do you dislike?

“Some courses in EdX are entirely not free. You need to pay a fee to be able to access and use the material more effectively.”

Kevin L.

What do you like best?

“The quality of most of the courses I’ve taken are very good. Along with some traditional courses you might find at brick and mortar colleges, edX offers a wide range of specialized courses that really zero in on my needs. I can take courses [to] acquire skills and knowledge that I can actually apply to my occupation. The teachers are generally engaging and come across as attentive and caring. I like that course details and resources are easy to find and access.”

What do you dislike?

“I think since online learning isn’t always the best way to go for all courses, edX can be very limiting in capturing the full experience of a course. It’s easier to let the course work get away from you and let time drag on. Also, there probably isn’t as much prestige or validity in getting certified through edX compared to taking a live course in person.”

Cy C.

What do you like best?

“The course structures are easy to follow, yet still contain in-depth information and course work that is similar to actual college courses. I like that I can access this platform at any time of day. The layout of the menus and content is neat and nice for me to look at for hours at a time. The quality of the material is as good as I could expect. edX uses professors with top qualifications and years of experience.”

What do you dislike?

“The online course experience isn’t for everyone and may make it harder for some people to be engaged and learn compared to live courses. Though I generally like to learn at my own pace, there are some courses that don’t keep my attention. I would likely thrive more in live versions of those courses.”

Interested in how edX has transformed people’s lives and careers? You can read a full range of inspiring learner stories here.

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As edX says on their website, they are dedicated to “Supporting learners at every stage, whether entering the job market, changing fields, seeking a promotion or exploring new interests.”

I’d recommend edX as a good place to learn for:

  • People looking for higher-level courses from quality institutions like real universities. 
  • People looking for something more advanced to add to their resume 
  • People wanting to dip their toes into higher education 
  • People who want to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree online (or start earning credits for one)

Since you can audit courses for free, you can also just take them for the love of learning and to try out different skills!

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edX Alternatives 

Coursera: edX is very similar to Coursera: both have courses and online degrees taught by top-tier universities, both have the option to audit courses for free, and both have similar interfaces. However, edX has a more expansive library of courses that cover a wider range of subjects. Read my full Coursera review here and my edX versus Coursera comparison here.

Udemy: Like edX, Udemy has courses on a variety of topics (not just tech), but Udemy courses are taught by individuals creating their own courses, so content quality can be hit or miss. Plus, there is no option to take courses for free on Udemy — you have to buy each course individually.  Read my full Udemy review here.

Team Treehouse: Unlike edX, Team Treehouse is a subscription-based platform focused only on tech and design subjects. No free option; costs $25/month – $45/month. Read my full Team Treehouse review here.

LinkedIn Learning: Has a larger content library of over 16,000 courses (compared to edX’s ~2,800) but a more limited amount of subjects, only covering technology, business, and creative topics. Monthly subscription price is $29.99/month (no free options). Read my full LinkedIn Learning review here.

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Final edX Review: Are Courses on edX Worth It?

My verdict: absolutely! There’s something for everyone on edX — whether you want to learn about philosophy, music, art, coding, or almost anything in between. 

edX is especially great for people looking for something more in-depth/higher-level than just your regular online course, and can be a stepping stone to getting your bachelor’s, master’s, or a professional certification. It’s one of the best learning platforms out there to learn new skills, earn impressive qualifications, and accelerate your career in tech. 

Check out edX here and take a few free courses to see is this is the platform for you!