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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

Online Education in China

Online education is catching on in China with the benefits of free, convenient learning. Companies such as Coursera have already popularized e-learning and massive-open-online-courses (MOOCs) around the world, and opened its Chinese portal last year to great success. The localized version of Coursera, which includes Chinese synopsi and forums, is now the second fastest-growing market for the company. With the rising access to the Internet on mobiles, platforms such as Coursera are appealing to those who are less affluent, but are still interested in quality higher education that come from top universities around the world. China’s Peking University has even partnered with the MOOC giant to provide courses taught in Mandarin. Coursera’s Signature Track even provides recognition for completed work, though employers will not necessarily accept the MOOC credentials.

China’s own internet giants have been competing to provide online education resources as well. Some platforms are linked to educators who offer classes both online and in person, and educators collaborate with major internet companies to expand their online options. Internet giant Alibaba has heavily invested in exam-prep portal TutorGroup with a $100-million investment in TutorGroup, a language-learning site, while another major company Baidu has poured money into Wanxue, which specializes in post-graduate and civil service exam preparation. Tencent has its own QQ classrooms, part of its QQ messenger desktop application, and features live video and presentation sessions. Even Taobao has its own education portal. XuetangX, shown below, is a partnership between leading Chinese universities and online course platform edX. It offers quality university courses from partnership schools such as Tsinghua and Stanford.

Since traditional classroom learning and tutoring are abundant in a country where job and school placements rely on standardized tests, courses often focus on exam preparation and interviewing skills. Vocational courses and skill-specific classes are becoming popular as they offer flexible learning for vocational students who are motivated and willing to pay. But a changing mindset means Chinese students are becoming less focused on just tests, and are increasingly interested in the interactive and self-learning involved with education online. The popularity of programs provided by TutorGroup or Wanxue show that exam preparation is still important, but the growing participation in higher level courses from Coursera or XuetangX show rising interest in online education in another direction. Pao Mian Ba, a start-up similar to Code Academy but in Chinese, is another site that gives its target audience of high-school and college aged students a chance to try out programming and learn subjects outside of the classroom curriculum. Rather than using online platforms to only supplement exam or job placement coursework, netizens are increasingly embracing the self-driven MOOC courses that finally give them an opportunity to learn, especially from top educators.

Meanwhile, learning Mandarin has taken its own turn. Miracle Mandarin, which teaches the language to non-native speakers, is the first of its kind to use social media platform WeChat in its program. Students from the pilot program all registered on WeChat and formed their own chat group, giving them communication practice and enabling them to feel more comfortable using Mandarin in both text and speech. Miracle Mandarin’s innovative program has only cemented the status of online education as a way to improve learning and advance education with technology.

The Graduate Management Admission Council, or GMAC, is another prime example demonstrating the benefits of online technology and social media in furthering education. China’s business sector has boomed in recent years and the demand for qualifications from graduate school has only increased. GMAC publishes the GMAT, the most widely recognized entrance exam for MBA programs. Mailman launched GMAC in China, creating a Chinese website and presences on various social media platforms. Through engaging campaigns online, Mailman drove GMAC into recognition in China, and in 2013, test-takers from China accounted for 20% of total test-takers.

Along with the growing education platforms in China, it is clear accessible, online education is here to stay and can revolutionize the way students learn. Technology introduces resources and enables more people to be educated, and these various online education initiatives can change education in China.

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