So you’ve taken the big leap into exploring Open edX. You’ve looked at e-learning best practices, Open edX documentation, and even how to deploy Open edX through your preferred installation. Maybe you’ve checked out the costs of hosting Open edX or you’re trying to figure out which Open edX marketplace vendors can help you install and host Open edX. After all this research you might have missed one thing: is a fully-hosted (aka SaaS) Open edX solution better than a self-hosted (aka custom) Open edX solution?
I’ve been in the e-learning space since 2014 and have been guiding organizations through Open edX services since 2018. More recently, I’ve been working with the Open edX Marketing Working Group to help make Open edX as marketable and easy to understand as possible. So through this article, I’m going to give you all the secrets, tips, and tricks you need to know when you’re deciding what Open edX solution is best for you.
Spoiler alert: a SaaS Open edX solution can be 90% cheaper than a custom solution.
If that’s the kind of insight you’re looking for, keep reading! Throughout this article, I’m going to call out questions that you can ask yourself as you try to determine what kind of solution is best for you.
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What’s the deal with Open edX?
Well, Jerry, Open edX is run by an organization known as The Center for Reimagining Learning (TCRL). TCRL was previously known as edX, the nonprofit brainchild of Harvard and MIT. edX was also the name of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providing-platform itself with Open edX being essentially the open-source version of that platform.
In short, Open edX is an open-source Learning Management System (LMS) that is also being used to create MOOCs, allowing you to create and deliver e-learning, training, and online education solutions, whether you’re a school, a university, a nonprofit, a business, or even an individual just looking to create a base of users to train and educate.
The most important thing to know about Open edX is that it has to be deployed. We’ve talked about Open edX deployments in the past, so let’s focus on what Open edX solution is best for you. Here are a couple of key questions to ask yourself to help figure that out:
- Do I have my own servers (e.g. AWS, Microsoft Azure, etc.) that I can use to host Open edX?
- Do I have the technical expertise and/or a team to help run Open edX on my own?
If the answer to either of these questions isn’t a resounding “Yes!” then you might want to consider bringing in an Open edX provider that can help you host, install, and/or run your Open edX instance.
Remember: you can still have Open edX hosted on your own servers even if you leverage Managed Hosting Services from an Open edX provider.
Is a fully-hosted instance of Open edX right for me?
Chances are that you already have the answer to the two questions in the previous section. So let’s take this in a different direction: will a fully-hosted, SaaS instance of Open edX be sufficient for you and your organization?
This question might be more complicated than it seems, so let’s figure out some of the differences between a hosted, SaaS Open edX solution vs. self-hosting Open edX.
Some of the items above are pretty obvious: you can’t own someone else’s hosted system, for example. But you might be surprised to see that a hosted Open edX solution can still allow for custom payment gateways or custom e-learning experiences (including XBlocks). For example, beyond supporting Stripe, PayPal, Authorize.net, and Cybersource payment gateways out of the box, we can integrate your preferred payment gateway too just like how we integrated CowPay with Open edX in 2021.
On top of that, Edly’s fully-hosted Open edX solution has a publicly-available product roadmap that we created by collaborating with e-learning experts and our customers. If your features are great for your organization and others, we can add them to our roadmap to make the product that is much more usable for your business needs.
The key difference between a self-hosted Open edX solution and a SaaS Open edX solution is ownership: you likely won’t own the LMS or development/engineering that goes into a SaaS solution. So the question to ask yourself here is: am I willing to pay more (maybe a lot more) to own all of my Open edX development? If content ownership is what’s important to you, Edly guarantees a transfer of your course content back to you if you decide to leave our platform.
What’s so great about a fully-hosted Open edX instance?
This really comes down to that classic question of cost vs. value. Let’s break this down further: do you have the necessary people resources to fully customize your application? Do you want to invest time and money in developing those skills or bringing on a team that has those skills?
A fully-hosted Open edX instance like Edly’s is supported by a team of Open edX experts, it has a dedicated Product Owner and/or Product Steering Committee and features that would otherwise take months to develop on a custom, self-hosted Open edX instance.
Now, let’s ask the question: what features does a self-hosted Open edX instance have out-of-the-box? For the purpose of answering this question, I am going to focus more specifically on Edly’s SaaS Open edX solution. Here are just a few of the out-of-the-box features on Edly’s Open edX solution:
- Macro and micro reporting at user, course, and system levels
- Integrated discovery site experience with built-in WYSIWYG
- Improved tools for Course Instructors and System Administrators
- Integrated and custom XBlocks/plugins/enhancements readily available
- Redesigned learner experience developed by Instructional Design experts
Is it worth it to spend months developing and customizing features when they are already available on a SaaS Open edX instance?
The features listed above are great but what about all the support for your platform going on behind the scenes?
- An e-learning platform is ready to go on Day 1
- 24/7 platform monitoring and guaranteed SLAs
- Free platform maintenance, patching, and upgrading
- Dedicated customer support and account management
- New features added to your platform at no additional cost
When you’re using a fully-hosted SaaS Open edX solution, you’re not just getting Open edX: you’re getting a team of experts dedicated to improving your solution and you’re getting best-in-class features designed to support your e-learning goals, all without throwing your development needs out the window.
My team and I have dedicated countless hours towards guiding customers on Open edX solutions and we can tell you that with a SaaS Open edX solution, there are definitely reasons to go with a custom solution but it can come with a hefty price tag and it may not have all the features that you were hoping for. If you could customize your instance, own your content, and have experts supporting your platform at a fraction of the cost, would you do it?
I hope this article gave you some insights into the benefits of SaaS Open edX solutions and custom, self-hosted Open edX solutions but if you still have questions or just need some additional insights about Open edX, you can get a no-cost, no-obligation call with me or a member of my team at a time that suits you.