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
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
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, <http://pku.edu.cn> (October 2003).
China Internet Network Information, Survey on the Development of
China Internet Network, July 2003, <http://www.cnnic.cn/develst/2003-7/4-2-1.shtml>
(12 October 2003), 4.
Zhang, Aiwei and Lin, Feng. Reflection on Modern Distance Education
in China, 11 November 2003, <http://www.online-edu.org/article/article/3198.html>
(12 October 2003).