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Online Learning in China

by Qiumin Dong

Online learning, a new phenomenon in Chinese education, is developing at an unimaginable pace. According to China Internet Information Center’s (CNNIC) survey in June this year, there were 68,000,000 Internet users. Statistics also show that there were 59,100,000 more users compared with the first half of the year. Eighty-four percent of the users were between 18 to 40 years old, the ages for continuing education (China Internet Network Information, 2003). The survey indicated that taking online courses is one of the most important purposes of the users. The development of online learning in China has three tendencies: student-centeredness, more involvement in the nation’s education system, and collaborative effort by prestigious universities.

Online learning challenges the traditional Chinese concept of teacher and student roles in the classroom. Here is a picture of a traditional college classroom in China. The instructor spends more than forty minutes of the fifty-minute class time lecturing and writing on the board, a “teacher’s desk” separates him or her from the students, while the students are engaged in listening and taking notes. With this teacher-centered pattern of learning, students don’t have much interaction with either the instructor or their peers.

Online education suppliers combine technological innovation with quality content and exceptional service to give students the best learning experience available. Students can engage in their professional development by selecting self-guided, self-paced, and career-enriching courses at their convenience—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Also, when a student is online, he or she has more interaction with both the instructor and peers, which is a total revolution in China’s traditional concept of education.

Online learning, with adult students as its audience, begins to play a more and more important role in the whole nation’s education (Zhang, 2003). Five years ago, online learning in Chinese universities was still considered a minor part, whose significance was largely ignored. Last year, however, the Ministry of Education authorized 67 prestigious universities to launch trial distance-education projects, including Beijing University and Tsinghua University (Beijing University, 2003), although this was just the first step. Most of these universities have established their own Web schools. Online learning allows higher education to be more accessible to people who are not able to go to regular classrooms.

The third tendency of the development of online learning is the collaborative effort made by these universities. They offer certification programs and degree programs, including art and humanities, sciences, and engineering, and MBA and EMBA programs, which are in high demand by society. At the same time, they also make a joint effort with big businesses to form a real educational “web” in the country, to serve the needs of 6-7 billion professionals who need continuing education.

Online learning, with its characteristics of convenience and additional interaction between teacher and student, brings changes to the traditional Chinese concept of teaching and learning. With prestigious universities involved and the collaborative effort they make among themselves and with businesses, more learners will benefit, and as a result, the whole country will benefit.


Beijing University, <> (October 2003).

China Internet Network Information, Survey on the Development of China Internet Network, July 2003, <> (12 October 2003), 4.

Zhang, Aiwei and Lin, Feng. Reflection on Modern Distance Education in China, 11 November 2003, <> (12 October 2003).