Using Free Classes from EdX in your Homeschool

edx-logo-headerFounded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012, edX is an online learning destination and MOOC provider, offering high-quality courses from the world’s best universities and institutions to learners everywhere.

Before I had my children try an edX class, I tried two of them myself. I loved the idea that I could take classes from universities I would never have the chance to attend in person. Even better, I could take them for free. I signed up for two classes offered by Harvard: Making and Meaning in the Medieval Manuscript and Book Sleuthing in the 19th Century. I enjoyed both of them. Course material included both written documents and video presentations. Book Sleuthing in the 19th Century was completely self-evaluated (all students are required to abide by an honor code) while Making and Meaning in the Medieval Manuscript offered multiple-choice tests. These classes were interesting, informative, and not overly challenging. In addition, I was able to move at my own pace.

Having had a positive experience, I asked my teenage sons if they would like to take a six-week course offered by the Smithsonian Institution: The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture. I figured it would be a fun introduction to online learning for them featuring a topic they were interested in. They did find the class very interesting and learned a great deal, but the work load vastly exceeded anything I had experienced in my two classes. There were the video and written lessons, but there were also weekly assignments that took a great deal of time and effort. The assignments were then reviewed and graded by others in the class. In addition, they had to grade a few of their fellow students’ work. 

My older son has just started another class, this time one offered by MIT on Game Design.

At the free price point, no certificate of completion is provided. You can, however, print out the following evidence of course progress (This is my younger son’s course on the Superheroes – as you can see, he had a bit of a learning curve on the first assignment, but then stepped up his game):

Final Class Score

They also offer a verified certificate for various costs per class (most are under $100). In order to obtain such a certificate, one needs a government ID of some sort: a driver’s license, government ID, or passport. For this additional cost, upon successful completion, one receives a .pdf certificate that can be printed as well as an electronic certificate that can be added to a LinkedIn Profile.

Classes are offered in almost every subject area. Some subjects are particularly suited for high school students, but they can enroll in almost any class that may interest them. Some classes are also offered for college credit (for an additional cost).

EdX classes offer a great opportunity to learn from professors from colleges and universities around the world. One can choose one’s level of involvement – your student might just want to take advantage of the videos and written instruction, without doing all of the corresponding assignments. Many classes are archived so that they can be used for this purpose without any evidence of completion. Or, they may choose to obtain a verified certificate or college credit (when offered). If you are interested in including online learning in your homeschool, edX is definitely worth checking out.


Author: Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, editor of "Today's Catholic Homeschooling", is the mother of two biological sons and one adopted daughter. She is in her fifteenth year of homeschooling. She has a B.A. in History and Fine Art and a Master's Degree in Applied Theology. She is the author of "The Crash Course Guide to Catholic Homeschooling" and "The Fruits of the Mysteries of the Rosary". She blogs at