How Do You Educate Institutionalized Educators About Online Learning In China?

How Do You Educate Institutionalized Educators About Online Learning In China?
Summary: Online learning is increasingly becoming popular in China. This fast growing trend is leaving a lot of local Chinese teachers in the dark. With the start of a new academic year this month, how do you explain online learning technology to a traditional “brick-and-mortar” teacher?

3 Things That Need To Be Done To Promote Online Learning In China  

Online learning in China is becoming more and more popular in the last couple of years, with the popularity of open education platforms and “ivy league”-type universities like Peking University in Beijing warming up to the idea of offering courses online [1]. According to recent studies, there are over 100 million eLearning users in China; outnumbering the population of the United States 2 to 1 [2]. Despite some challenges in technology, in the same study, it is projected that China’s eLearning market is expected to surge to $5.9 Billion by 2018.

Although the numbers are huge and promising, the consumption of online learning and knowledge of online learning continues to be a mystery for many educators in China. With the start of a new academic year this month, how do you change the minds of a predominantly institutionalized “brick-and-mortar” rigid style of teaching ingrained in local Chinese teachers to one that addresses the fast-paced technological learning lifestyles of students today?

  1. Overcome the association of school buildings, classrooms, studying, textbooks, and teachers with learning.
    In very rigid education systems like the one in China, this is by far the hardest and probably the one that would take the longest for anyone to overcome. Many of us associate learning with going to school every day sitting in “brick-and-mortar” classrooms while teachers and professors go on and on about the topic defined in the course curriculum for the year. Because this is instilled in many of us from a very young age, we often fail to look at learning from a wider perspective. In the age of social media and accessibility to information on the internet, we need to remember that the information around us is a learning opportunity whether we realize it or not. In its simplest terms, watching an educational video including simple “Do-It-Yourself” projects (DIY) on YouTube (YouKu in China) using a computer or a mobile device is considered online learning. In fact, you are learning right now.
  2. Differentiate between facilitating learning and teaching.
    Similar to the point above, this could also be one of the hardest topics to overcome when explaining online learning to a “brick-and-mortar” educator. By definition, teachers teach by telling a group of students what they need to learn. Facilitating learning, on the other hand, involves the teacher helping students discover the knowledge for themselves through a guided process and by asking the right questions. In online learning, this is achieved through a combination of self-paced learning and discovery blended with open discussions with an online teacher, professor, facilitator, or open discussion student forums where students can learn from each other. Thus cultivating a more positive learning experience for the student.
  3. Understand that knowledge can be measured, not what was memorized.
    Growing up in an “exam-obsessed” generation before online learning and Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are options, standardized testing and examinations was a way to measure what the student learned. I’ll be the first to admit that I was guilty of memorizing endless notes from lectures to prepare for exams and I did really well with that strategy. However, the advancement in Learning Management System technology and eLearning Instructional design has gone leaps and bounds in the last decade that the student’s knowledge of the topic or subject can really be measured. Aside from red pen check marks and X’s on test papers, Learning Management Systems can provide an in-depth analysis of the student’s knowledge through data analysis. It is also comforting to know that the technology “ensures that the person sitting in the exam actually studied the course” [3] instead of memorizing their notes. Since marks are important to many parents especially in China, the marks and feedback provided to them is a real reflection of the student’s progress rather than a letter or a number at the end of the semester.

In China, reverence for traditional institutions is very high and it will likely not go away. However, it is important to note that the online learning trend is also catching on with today’s fast-paced mobile technology generation. Top universities in China have been partnering with ivy-league schools in North America and the UK to offer courses online in the last few years. Private educational institutions offering preparatory English-language examinations (IELTS and TOEFL) are lining up to offer online learning to reach as many students as possible. Thanks to the Chinese government’s Modern Distance Education Project, there are at least 68 universities in China that offer online learning. It is only a matter of time when teacher and “brick-and-mortar”-type education and online learning go hand-in-hand in China.


  1. Wang, Y. Can online education thrive in China? (The Atlantic. 2013)
  2. Rise Of Educational Technology In China
  3. A.A. and A.MCE. Online Learning is becoming more popular. (The Economist. 2014)