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Aurora Institute

What Does a Trip to Moscow Tell Us About the Future of Global Education?

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Although my career has spanned working in both higher education and in K-12 education, for more than the past decade I have focused my efforts in the K-12 arena. However, there are moments where I believe K-12 education can learn from trends in higher education. I had one of those moments during a trip to Moscow last week by invitation of the Ministry of Education for the Russian Federation.

3 reasons I’m optimistic after a trip to Moscow

  • From predictions ten years ago to today’s Kremlin[2]-webreality—changes in global education systems are happening fast.
  • The World Future Society predicted that of the top breakthrough fields that would change life as we know it on the planet in the next 20 years, online learning was the only item in the Top 10 list related to education.
  • Open access to education is changing global education dramatically as societies use open educational resources to expand access to high-quality education and personalize learning.

3 surprising things I learned about globally competitive education in Russia

  • 100% of high schools in Moscow are connected to the Internet; teachers and students have devices Moscow-Kremlin[2]-weband access to digital content.
  • All Russian students take Physics in 7th Platforms exist for deeper project-based learning broad using real data collection in collaboration with hundreds of schools.
  • All Russian students get calculus at roughly ages 12-13.
  • Consider this in contrast with education in the US. A report by USED Office of Civil Rights showed the huge gaps in course taking and K-12 educational opportunity in the US: “High-level math and science courses are widely unavailable. Nationwide, only 50% of high schools offer calculus courses, and only 63% offer physics courses.” See why we need expanded course access in K-12.

3 soundbites from Moscow that describe the future of learning

  • 5 Trends are driving the future of education: “1) accessible, anytime, anywhere, 2) global, 3) lifelong and continuous, 4) personalized, 5) unbundled and blended.” – Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX.
  • “How do we take the best learnings from everyone around the planet and share them all over the world? There is a huge tsunami coming.” –Sh. Khema Executive Chairman, Global Education & Leadership Forum.
  • From degrees to competencies: “If the work place can identify a set of competencies that could be certified; would you study in the university if the set of competencies and certifications were available?”

Why Russia?

I was invited to Russia for a EdCrunch 2015, a conference on the announcement of the Launch of a NewStudent-Panel[2]-web National Platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by eight leading universities (who will create the courses and provide faculty) and the Ministry of Education for the Russian Federation. The conference covered both higher education and a new K-12 digital learning focus.

Here’s the scoop. The Russian Ministry of Education has centralized authority over the entire higher education and K-12 education systems. Therefore, all higher education institutions accept all courses for all students, anywhere and anytime. The platform will begin with online core courses. Students accepted in any Russian university can also earn credit through successful completion of online courses in the National Online Platform and take the end-of-course exam successfully in a testing center in their community. Essentially, the centralized certification will validate credits, and credits will be accepted on the home campus for students across Russia. It will expand to other universities across the Russian Federation. Will it expand to K-12? Only time will tell.

Russia’s leadership felt they needed to innovate through the use of digital learning to offer the best faculty teaching in the Russian language—providing high-quality education experiences in more locations. Next, the plan is to expand education options by offering more courses and degrees in a logical way using the Internet and national open platforms (EdX and Coursera).

How quickly is the world changing? France and China’s progress

Alongside Russia, thought leaders from France and China shared how their countries are using MOOCs to open up access.


Catherine Mongenet from France Universite Numerique (FUN) is responsible for MOOC development. Here are some highlights of her work she presented.

The French Ministry of Education wanted to expand digital learning in higher education. In January 2014, FUN partnered with the open education EdX platform, and with French higher education experts and public institutions, to start the first MOOC courses—only seven months after the initial launch. They wanted to offer courses in French, as most MOOC courses are in English—and this drove the fast-paced MOOC development in France.

A large community of pioneers in higher education designed the MOOC project, including 500 people trained at 150 French higher education institutions. Together, they established:

  • Guidelines and quality requirements;
  • Methodology and processes;
  • Support on intellectual property;
  • Training on the platform;
  • Helpdesk support for academic teams and learners; and
  • Working groups on certification, accessibility.

They now have over 1,000,000 enrollments, including 70% from France, 17% from Africa, and 13% from other countries. In 2014, they began with 24 MOOCs—today, they have 193.


In 2013, China created a national open education platform to reach their goal of educating 100 million more students in universities, using the Open EdX and Coursera platforms. It is a strategy for reform for the Chinese education system.

The XuetangX project leaders soon realized that doing this within the existing university structures was very difficult. Thus, the project leaders received private capital and began a start-up company to provide high-quality, sharable open courses with everyone in China. They received a round of funding for development, and then formed a company to continue the work. The XuetangX project manages the platform, courses, and services, and they import EdX courses into China.

This signals a shift in China from a single portal system to a distributed education system. They now have 2,400,000 enrollments in more than 280 EdX MOOCs and over 80 XuetangX MOOCs.

As Russia, France, and China illustrate, global enrollments in MOOCs are increasing rapidly. Although these MOOCs are not a silver bullet, I did think it was worth sharing these examples in higher education as many countries are utilizing the power of online learning to provide increased access to more students in more locations.

The take-aways

MOOCs provide an interesting means to delivering openly accessible knowledge. However, they are not a panacea nor a silver bullet. It is interesting to consider – what if certification systems developed in the US to award credit for skills and knowledge acquired through MOOCs? This would raise important questions for “un-bundling” education. Due to Russia’s centralized structure, they can move quickly in how they certify and award credit—changing the locus of control in higher education.

MOOC enrollments across the world are growing so rapidly, signaling a significant shift in the potential global impact they might have. Many other nations have centralized education systems in higher education where education is free to those who pass entrance exams. Additionally, the focus of MOOCs is shifting toward the certification of skills, and this will likely have tremendous impact. Everything is changing very quickly—the world we live in, the skills our students need, and how we learn and validate learning.