Online education is in full swing in China. The newly emerged range from Coursera-like platforms, online services for schools, to learning apps. While some hope to change China’s education market drastically, many don’t believe it will change in the near future that the private education market, through the Internet or not, is pretty much about pre-exam courses or language learning.

NetEase, one of the largest Chinese Internet companies and early mover in China’s online education market, didn’t expect they’d roll out an online class platform focusing on English-learning.

Earlier this year, the company launched Youdao Open Education Platform for third parties to list and sell courses and other educational content. Unlike other newly launched Chinese online education platforms, such as (for K-12 education), the plan of the Youdao one is to leverage the user base of Youdao Dictionary.

Youdao is a brand under NetEase that has developed a variety of Internet products, from general search to Evernote-like app. Back in 2007, Youdao launched a dictionary application, a PC client. Along the way more versions, Web-based application and mobile apps for all the mobile operating systems, would be launched and now it has had more than 400 million users, with 60 million active users.

The dictionary application has been making revenues through advertising and broke even in the third quarter of 2013. And now the company concludes Chinese users are used to purchasing goods and services online. The company also believe English-learning and online education market in general will continue to grow.

The whole idea of the Youdao Open Education Platform is to have third parties, from teachers to educational content publishers, list their content or courses and share revenues with them. Apart from online courses, more features are available to make interactions between teachers and students easier.

A couple of teachers have tried out the platform. Wang Changxi, a renown teacher that has been teaching English and producing materials, is satisfied with the result that the audience of one class is about the size of all the students of his in a mid-sized Chinese city.

Youdao Dictionary has 210 million users on mobile. The company said, when launching the platform, they’d develop separate mobile-friendly features.

NetEase was an early mover in Internet-powered education in China. The company established Public Courses, a program offering online courses licensed from Western colleges or organizations and Cloud Courses for skill learning. Public Courses became the official partner of Coursera in the second half of 2013, introducing English courses in the same way like before and having got a dozen of Chinese universities on board.

The Public Courses and Coursera classes are for free while NetEase has been spending tons of money hiring translators to produce Chinese subtitles. It’s unknown whether or how NetEase will monetize the viewers, but what for sure is English-learning is one of the most mature categories with willing payers in China’s online education market.

Zhou Feng, SVP of NetEase and CEO of Youdao, believes English-learning is big enough a market in China in the near future. And it has advantages over other similar platform operators such as YY, the online video software company. YY is offering educational content on TOFEL and GRE for free trying to build a user base, while Youdao Dictionary has had a large user base and the only purpose of those users’ is learning a language — for most it’s English.

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at

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