Eton Expands Into Online Courses With EtonX Joint Venture

There’s no doubting Eton’s grip on the British establishment. The number of U.K. Prime Ministers who were educated at Eton College is 19 (by Wikipedia‘s count). So how does a rarified public school maintain the bounded privileged of its selective, fee-paying education while also topping up its profits by widening access to its teaching methods? Online that’s how.

Eton College has announced the launch of EtonX: a joint venture between its trading subsidiary, Eton Online Ventures, and edtech provider (and Founders Factory-backed) Eighteen70, which will offer Eton-branded e-learning courses — initially to schools in China. It’s the first commercial e-learning initiative from Eton (though not the first use of e-learning by the college).

The first EtonX course will be a blended learning model, meaning it will consist of 12-15 hours of one-to-one e-learning live tuition and 12-15 hours of on-the-ground teaching in China per term, says Simon Walsh, EtonX CEO, plus some additional online interaction elements. Teaching delivered via the course will be conducted by tutors trained by Eton, not by existing Eton College teachers.

“The core thing about this product is it is a genuine homegrown Eton product. The editorial control sits with Eton, the content is designed by teachers in Eton. And if we are working with teachers on the ground to help deliver this course Eton teachers go out to China and train the delivery partners face to face, as well as maintaining an online training system with them,” says Walsh.

EtonX is not a MOOC (so this is not Eton’s EdX). The intention is for EtonX to remain relatively small scale in terms of reach. It’s also not free; fees are charged of £700 (6,900CNY) per semester. The idea is for the course to slot into Chinese school timetables as after school option that parents can pay for.

Walsh said EtonX is starting with China as it sees a gap in the market there for “Eton style education” — and specifically the soft skills the initial leadership course will be teaching — given the local focus on teaching via rote learning.

“There’s absolutely plans to expand this to other territories and other courses. The reason we have started in China is that this particular course is particularly valuable for students who are going through the Chinese education system where the focus is on knowledge and rote learning. This leadership course supplements that very well,” he says.

“The return on education in China is the greatest, if you like. If we were to deliver this course in other territories where the school system isn’t quite so rigid… it probably wouldn’t get as much return on education for the students.”

The initial EtonX course, which will launch this September with fewer than a dozen schools (and likely less than 1,000 students), is called the Modern Leadership Programme — and will be focused on teaching collaboration and communication skills.

Other courses planned for the future may include subjects such as entrepreneurship, and may be purely delivered via e-learning, but Walsh adds it wouldn’t be credible to deliver a course in leadership “without a real world component”.