Coursera, edX strike MOOC deals in China

In deals that were announced within days of each other, two of the largest providers of massive open online courses (MOOCs) are bringing their wares to China.

A recent study showed low MOOC registration rates among Chinese students.

Unrestrained by borders, oceans, and student visas, MOOCs have been touted for their ability to reach students all over the world, but most prominent MOOC courses are designed for an English-speaking – primarily American – audience.

Now, the courses could be seeing a push to truly go global — a marked shift in the proliferation of the experimental online courses.

Anant Agarwal, president of edX, and Jining Chen, president of Tsinghua University in Bejing, unveiled a new partnership today between the non-profit MOOC platform and the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The announcement came just days after Coursera publicized its partnership with Chinese internet company NetEase.

“There’s suddenly a billion new learners that now have access to high quality education,” said Johannes Heinlein, senior director of Strategic Partnerhips for edX.

With record numbers of Chinese students enrolling at American universities, the announcements are not wholly surprising. China, as of 2012, was sending nearly 200,000 of its students to the United States.

Their interest in American MOOCs, then, seemed inevitable, a study released earlier this year noted.

But that same study, which examined the first MOOC ever offered by edX, found that only 622 of the 155,000 students registered for the course were from China. For comparison, 13,044 of the students were from India, a country whose number of students attending U.S. colleges has steadily dropped in recent years.

See Page 2 for details on how the partnerships differ and why the companies are focusing on China.

Heinlein said that the unexpectedly low Chinese turnout may have had to do with some access and language issues. The non-profit has already attempted to course-correct this with smaller partnerships with two Chinese universities, which did yield 10,000 extra Chinese students using

The new partnership will result in even larger gains, Heinlein said, though the Chinese platform will be independent from edX.

“Because they are hosting their own platform in China, there will be less access issues,” he said. “People will have more streamlined capabilities to use the courses. It will absolutely improve access nationally and globally.”

Coursera’s partnership with NetEase will keep the for-profit MOOC company more directly in the loop, creating a web portal called Coursera Zone, which will include Chinese-language synopses, testimonials, and discussion forums.

NetEase will also locally host selected Coursera course videos, improving their video quality in China.

The platform is partnering with Peking University and National Taiwan University to expand Coursera’s original Chinese-language options, and working with a social networking website called Guokor to translate existing courses into Chinese.

“Ensuring the accessibility of quality educational content, regardless of a person’s location or native language, is at the core of our mission,” said Coursera’s co-founder and co-CEO Andrew Ng.

EdX’s partnership with Tshinghua University and the Chinese Ministry of Education will form a consortium of at least eight Chinese universities creating and offering online courses through edX’s open source platform.

Called XuetangX, or SchoolX, it will be the largest online learning initiative in the country, edX said.

Earlier this week, edX also announced that it was collaborating with the French Ministry of Education in a similar deal, providing its open source learning platform as part of the French digital learning initiative, France Université Numerique.

“We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a trend and that the edX platform will continue to grow in usage and application in other countries, and states, and so on,” Heinlein said. “That is very much our hope.”

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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