Today, EdX, the Harvard- and MIT-based online course platform, is announcing a partnership with eight to 10 leading Chinese universities to develop the largest online education platform in China. The new platform, Xuetangx (Schoolx), will be like an EdX clone–built on EdX’s open-source platform, but featuring video-based versions of courses created at Tsinghua and other leading Chinese universities.
In a similar overture to the Chinese market, a few days ago, Coursera, another major online course platform, announced a partnership with Chinese Internet company NetEase to launch Coursera Zone, a Chinese-language web portal that enables Chinese students to discover Coursera course content and to connect in Chinese-language web forums (the courses themselves won’t necessarily have translations, but Coursera does have partnerships with volunteer translators).
NetEase, which serves as something of a curator of open-learning resources from around the Web, will also host Coursera video lectures on local servers to improve video quality for users based in China.
China has seen an unprecedented educational explosion in the last 20 years. In 1990, only 3% or 4% of the relevant-age population was enrolled in higher education. By 2010, up to 30% was enrolled–a tenfold increase.
And the demand is only growing. Currently China is the fourth-largest consumer of America-based free online courses. These overtures by EdX and Coursera are poised to grow the audience even more. In particular, the EdX initiative is fascinating because of the participation of Chinese universities. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have proved a disruptive and divisive force among elite American institutions, and the desire of elite Chinese institutions to follow suit in creating and sharing free versions of their courses is testimony to what they consider the path forward for global higher education.