Why edX, a learning platform founded by Harvard and MIT, should be your go-to for free and affordable career development

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If you're looking for an accessible way to learn online, you've probably heard of edX. Founded in 2012 by Harvard and MIT to remove common barriers to education (like cost and location), the site hosts thousands of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Since its inception, the non-profit has partnered with more than 90 of the world's top universities, non-profits, NGOs, and corporations. Currently, edX reportedly hosts about 3,000 courses and caters to about 25 million learners from every country in the world.

What courses and programs are offered on edX?

edX topics run the gamut from the art of persuasive speaking to game development. Courses are catered to all types of students, including those looking to enter the job market, earn promotions, or explore new interests. Find a catalog of the site's most popular online courses here.

The free classes are sourced directly from top universities and institutions such as Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, Microsoft, IBM, and The Smithsonian. edX also has programs made up of multiple related courses, workforce-applicable professional certificates, and even full online master's degree programs.

They also offer MicroBachelors and MicroMasters — bite-sized versions of on-campus programs at a substantial discount. These programs cover 25-50% of a university's degree curriculum and sometimes offer credits towards a full degree. You can find FAQs for edX MicroBachelors here, and edX MicroMasters here. Students can also enroll in a few courses with transferable credit from ASU and only pay if they earn the grade they need. 

How does an edX class work?

edX courses are generally made up of weekly modules with pre-recorded videos that you can watch on a schedule or at your own pace.

There are supplemental readings and student discussion forums, as well as homework assignments and assessments like short quizzes or exams.

You can check out a demo course to get a sense of the standard edX learning experience here.

What is the difference between auditing an edX course and paying for a certificate?

The audit option is free and lets you review course materials and discussion forums. However, it will not include graded assignments or unlimited course access. For those, you must enroll in the certificate program, which comes with a fee.

How much does edX cost?

edX's courses are technically free, but students have to pay a low fee ranging from $50-$100 to take a "verified certificate" version of the class, which includes a certificate as well as graded homework during the course and unlimited course access.

For example, Harvard's famous CS50 Introductory Computer Science course — the most popular course on edX — is free to take but a verified certificate costs $90. 

Longer programs (such as MicroMasters) charge one-time program fees, but you can usually audit the individual courses for free to get a sense of whether you want to pay for the full program.

Are edX certificates worth it?

It depends. 

If you're looking to demonstrate aptitude in a subject (for a job or for graduate school) and would benefit from having a certificate you can add to your LinkedIn or resume, paying for one may be worth the money. And f you're hoping to earn credit towards a more time-consuming or expensive degree, a MicroBachelors or MicroMasters program can be a great starting point, too.

Mara Leighton is a senior digital culture reporter.

If you want to get in touch, please send an email to mleighton@insider.com, or send a DM on twitter to @maraleighton.

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