AWS Training and Certification Blog

Q&A with edX: Collaborating with AWS to ‘meet learners where they are’

AWS Training and Certification’s James Harper interviewed Henry Kesner, Senior Partner Manager, edX

James Harper (AWS): Walk me through how edX got started. What was the vision for the company and did that vision change as the company built momentum?

Henry Kesner (edX): edX was founded in 2012 by Harvard and MIT. As a global nonprofit, the vision of edX has always been to reimagine education and provide access to high quality courses and content from the world’s finest universities, organizations and institutions that share a similar access mission from across the planet.

When edX first started it was a little team with a big idea (and an even bigger heart) to remove barriers of cost, location, access, and provide education to the world. By offering this content in a user-friendly, credit-grade platform, edX is able to fulfill an increasing demand for people to learn on their own terms and time.

The edX mission is just as apparent today, as we continue to transform the possibilities of education—especially given recent events and the ‘new-normal.’ The platform provides the highest-quality, stackable learning experience for millions of learners from every country on the planet and supports learners at every stage in life’s journey. Learners come to edX when they enter the job market, advance their university experience, change fields, seek a promotion, or simply to explore and enjoy new interests. edX offers courses for curious minds on topics ranging from data and computer science to leadership and communications. is where you go (and where I send my friends and family) to learn and change your life.

James: You’ve been working with AWS Training & Certification for a few years now. Why did you choose to work with us and what have been the results of the partnership so far?

Henry: I remember well when AWS joined as edX member. The entire office was buzzing and I, as the Partner Manager collaborating with AWS, became very popular that day.

Quite simply – we saw terrific alignment in the way that AWS wanted to give back to the world by offering free and affordable training opportunities to individuals looking to break into the cloud, developer, and computer science fields. It was a meeting of the minds and a shared vision to upskill the world and change and improve lives.

Further to this, we have always been aware of the high-quality, career relevant courses AWS builds and offers a global audience. AWS courses are timely and in great demand by a large sector of the market looking to upskill or bring advancing knowledge to their workplace.

As a near and dear use case, edX as a global ed tech organization has teams of talented engineers, product managers, dev-ops specialists, and data scientists looking to upskill and keep current with relevant content from AWS on When the first AWS Developer Series was announced, there was (and continues to be) a wave of interest from within edX and our learner community across the planet.

James: There have been a lot of changes to how learners consume education content. What do you see as some of the biggest learner trends on the horizon, and how do you plan to meet those needs?

Henry: The realm of online education is constantly evolving and the beauty of teaching and learning at scale is that we can adapt faster than most traditional forms of education.

On we see the desire to learn manifests in several ways – lifelong learners, skills builders, full-time degree-seekers, among many other learner-types. We continue to see a growing demand for career-relevant, skills-focused content that provides depth of knowledge in a well-designed, easy to digest format.

To this point, there remains great interest in content that offers applied skill training such as AWS’ Sage Maker Machine Learning course, which features an opportunity to work within the SageMaker test environment and a fun and innovative way to drive learners to earn an edX verified course certificate.

In parallel to this, there is also excitement around programs and fully-stackable degrees/credentials to help learners achieve skill mastery. We have seen the most significant growth in technical areas such as Data Science, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence as well as ‘power skills’ including negotiations, leadership and project management.

James: What tips would you offer organizations that want to create a culture of learning and curiosity?

Henry: I think a shift like this needs to start at the top with your leadership team(s). The more your top execs are demonstrating their support and passion for learning the more employees will comfortably and confidently pursue learning opportunities.

It is also imperative that organizations not just view learning and training as a benefit, but as business critical. There are several studies out there that show that when employees have ready access to learning within an organization, they are happier, more productive, and contribute to the bottom line at a greater rate. It is also a great mechanism to recruit and retain top-talent.

We all understand the value of time and people-hours so it is hard for employers to set aside good chunks of a week or a month to dedicate to employee training and learning. That is why content offered by AWS and on is so ideal. The courses are designed and run in a way that meets learners where they are and enables them to master skills on-the-fly as they continue to demonstrate their effectiveness at work.

James: What tips would you offer learners who want to up-level their skills but are strapped for time?

Henry: The beauty of online learning, and the way delivers content, is that it meets learners where they are, not only in their career, but where they are in life. Courses on edX are often designed to be taken as self-paced and consumed during times that are best for a busy professional, balancing a myriad of personal responsibilities.

All AWS courses on are offered in this modality—ideal for a person who is in search of easily digestible, relevant content they can study at their own pace. Furthermore, given our platform is fully accessible in a mobile format, it opens up other options for the busy learner to study on-the-go.

As an edX learner myself (with a busy personal and professional life) here are a few ways I have found my happy place with online learning:

  • Find the courses and programs that matter to you and set realistic goals. For instance, complete a course per month OR two courses per quarter.
  • Treat time as study time and find your cozy place. This means if you are someone who likes studying in the library, bring your laptop there. Or if you are a night owl, try a few units when the rest of the house is asleep.
  • Involve those around you when appropriate. Some courses do benefit from some social interaction beyond the virtual classroom and I have enjoyed practicing with friends and family when appropriate.
  • Download the app so you can take your courses on your commute and travels. The app also works well in areas with less reliable Wi-Fi. A personal note of caution: I do not recommend using the edX app while biking to/from work. 🙂

Happy learning on!