Baidu, Andrew Ng, and the China Higher Ed Leapfrog

Thinking beyond AI.

May 20, 2014

So I’m excited about Andrew Ng, Coursera’s co-founder, becoming the chief scientist at Baidu.

The rest of the world can’t follow the Western model of higher education development.  

The countries of the emerging world, especially China and India, have both the opportunity and the necessity to things differently.  They cannot build their postsecondary systems along a campus-based and bundled model of education.  Supply will never catch up to demand.  Costs will be too high.   

The imperative to offer high quality postsecondary educational opportunities to hundreds of millions of upwardly mobile citizens will run wildly ahead of the ability to build enough campuses.  
China and India (along with other emerging regions) must follow the same higher ed path as that they have forged in areas such as communications.  

Just as these countries have largely skipped landlines and jumped to cellular, they need to skip the bundled campus model and jump directly to unbundled, mobile, and competency based models of postsecondary learning and credentialing.

Which brings me back to Andrew Ng and Baidu.

My sense is that Andrew is not joining Baidu to bring open online education to China.  It sounds like he will be building a super well-fiananced AI research lab in Silicon Valley.

I hope, however, that Andrew is thinking bigger.  

From what I know about Baidu, which admittedly is less than I’d like to know, Baidu is a pretty big deal.  Often described as the “Google of China”, Baidu has the wealth, reach, and ambitions to make long-term bets in transforming postsecondary education in China.

What sorts of thought experiments can we run if combine the reach, wealth and business model of Baidu with open online education?

We should keep in mind that Coursera is a venture funded for-profit startup.  

Could Baidu buy Coursera?  

Make a commitment to invest $100 million in the platform, and then utilize the scale of Baidu to build an alternative competency based accreditation system around Coursera’s platforms and open online content?

Could Baidu find a way to disaggregate and monetize Coursera modules via advertising and/or data driven marketing?

Could Baidu make the long-term investments to combine bricks and mortar postsecondary services, such as student support and verified assessment, with Coursera’s online/mobile course content?

Could Baidu make investments in both a Coursera and adaptive learning platforms to create truly personalized learning ecosystems, and then pair these investments with new competency based accreditation practices?

It would make for an interesting story if the higher ed world that Coursera ends up disrupting most is not the U.S.s but China’s.


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