China has declared itself the world’s leader in massive open online courses (Moocs), in terms of the number of courses and participants. This announcement has directed academic attention to a type of learning that was pronounced “dead” in 2017 by a vice-president of Udacity, a US educational technology giant.
In October 2020, China had more than 30 Mooc platforms hosting 34,000 courses, education minister Chen Baosheng said at a conference held at Tsinghua University in December. Of all Chinese Mooc users, about a quarter are university students who receive credit for their work. “We have gradually established a unique development model of online teaching,” says Chen. “In the post-pandemic era, Chinese education has entered a new stage of high-quality development, integrating the advantages of Moocs and online education.”
China is taking the lead in this revival. Tsinghua University, working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has issued a 17-point Beijing Declaration on Mooc Development and has formed a 20-member Global Mooc Alliance with overseas institutions such as Cornell University, the University of Toronto and the University of Auckland.
The revival of the Mooc in Asia seems to have been spurred by the need to support institutions without capability to develop their own online classes. Miao Fengchun, chief of Unesco’s unit for technology and artificial intelligence in education, said at the Tsinghua conference, that 2020 may mark the “real year of the Mooc” because of the much higher level of usage.
A UNESCO report, based on surveys in 150 nations from June to October, shows that 90 percent of governments facilitate or subsidise online learning, mostly through mobile phone access. “The courses provided by governmental agencies to support online learning, by nature, are massive open online courses,” Miao told Times Higher Education. According to Miao, several new trends have emerged: governments are “becoming a major player” in Moocs; the languages used are being “significantly diversified” away from English dominance; and Moocs have moved beyond higher education.
Mainland China has an Internet penetration rate of 65 percent, according to a 2020 report by the China Internet Network Information Center. That puts it ahead of developing nations like India — where it is about 50 percent — but behind high-tech societies such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, where it is 85 to 95 percent. Moreover, while top institutions like Tsinghua were able to shift huge numbers of courses online last year, this may not be true of all of China’s more than 1,200 universities, particularly those in outlying provinces.
Qiu Yong, Tsinghua’s president, says that the pandemic “empowered Moocs and online education to have a large-scale, well-organised and all-round system application worldwide for the first time, which truly becomes a new form of education”.
(Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education and The Economist)