Why there are so many Chinese MOOC platforms


It will not surprise me any more when I hear another MOOC platform is built and ready. These MOOC platforms can be under university or commercial company roof. Like having breakfast, every day I hear people telling me how great their platforms are, ‘we are the best’. I am not used to hear people giving so much compliment about themselves. How much substance there is to support it, I don’t know.

I put a lot of thinking trying to understand why. Why MOOC platform so quickly become commoditised in China. Meanwhile in the US and UK, most universities are very content just providing courses.

At university level, the essential funding models are different. In China, universities are funded by the central government. In the US and UK, universities have to pay their own bill, largely from tuition or endowment. The funding channel leads to different decision making mechanics. When a US or UK university makes a decision, they more or less need to consider return of investment , using a commercial framework. When a Chinese university makes a decision, it looks upwards: who is the boss and what is this boss thinking.

At people level, there is less of a diversity, more of a convergence of how people think and act. If one person thinks – building a MOOC platform sounds like a good idea. The same idea occurs to many others. Very few people goes to the second or third step – how am I going to be different? What happens if every one else is doing the same stuff? More people want to take the ride, reaping short term profits. Fewer think longer term and really ask questions beyond a short term lucrative picture.

One then would challenge, what about Japan and Korea? Why wouldn’t Japanese and Korean universities join the crowd of MOOC platform as they are conformist societies as well. The answer is performance metrics vary. Probably Chinese universities are measured by achievement list including ‘have you built a MOOC platform’ whereas in other parts of the world, the KPI is probably profits and loss of the institution.

plant vegFor my father’s teenage life, he was sent to work in a Chinese farm for two years. During the time he was supposed to study, he was planting vegetables one day and taking the same vegetables out the other day. He was kept very busy and led a tough life destroying the same stuff he created the day before. For his precious two years, his net contribution to the society was zero.

I hope people learn a bit more from building platforms than my father planting and de-planting vegetables.


3 thoughts on “Why there are so many Chinese MOOC platforms

  1. JJCohen

    Hi! I liked the idea that China, Japan and Korea are all conformist societies. Did you read the paper in the recent Science?
    Science 9 May 2014:
    vol. 344 no. 6184 pp. 603-608
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1246850
    Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture

    T. Talhelm, X. Zhang, S. Oishi, C. Shimin, D. Duan, X. Lan, S. Kitayama

    Basically they say that wheat growers (Northern China; hardly any in Japan or Korea) are individualists, but rice harvesting is a collective sort of job.
    Can you access that paper online?

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