Coursera Makes a Play for China

Coursera announced yesterday that it is partnering with Chinese Internet company NetEase to launch Coursera Zone, a MOOC portal aimed at making massive open online courses more accessible to Chinese-speaking students around the world. Through Coursera Zone, Chinese students will be able to access translated course synopses and materials, as well as hold localized discussions in Chinese-language discussion forums. The partnership with NetEase will also improve the technical side of MOOCs, such as providing faster download speeds.

Coursera already hosts courses in Chinese from institutions including National Taiwan University, Peking University, and The Chinese University of Hong Kong, as well as courses in other languages. However, this marks the first time the MOOC provider will offer separate resources and forums targeting a specific segment of the student population. And with the hundreds of millions of potential students in China, the move has the potential to open up a huge new revenue stream if Chinese students and employers show interest in the Signature Track verified certificate program. This initiative is particularly interesting as Chinese students were conspicuously absent from early MOOCs. For example, of the more than 155,000 students who registered for edX’s “Circuits and Electronics” course in March 2012, only 622 were from China.

Coursera is not alone in targeting the Chinese market and it faces some local competition. Ewant is a Chinese MOOC platform that currently offers 14 courses, mostly in engineering, and open163 hosts translated TED talks and other educational materials. There is also some speculation that MOOCs will fail in China because of the disconnect between the courses and the Chinese learning structure, which is highly focused on preparing for exams and leaves little time for anything else.

With the move into China, Cousera starts to make good on its promise to make MOOCs available to anyone, anywhere, with an Internet connection. If it is successful, we may see the company set its sights on other student population segments—India, perhaps? The only thing to do now is to watch and see how Chinese students respond.

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