E-Learning in China

Dream Team (a learning circle in International teacher education 2013-12014 in Teacher Education College in Jyväskylä) is an international group of students studying to achieve the qualification of a vocational teacher.

Dongbin Yang
International Group 13 – 14
Teacher Education College
JAMK University of Applied Sciences

Traditionally Chinese families appreciate education more for their children and expense on education is the highest share of family expenditure. Early in 2004, the Chinese urban residents’ average expense on education was 1012 RMB ($163), which took 7.4% as the highest share of family spending. This figure increased to 2563 RMB ($413) in 2013. Education therefore always is one of the important investments for families in China (Thibaud, 2014).

At mid of 90s, some of pedagogical institution and commercial firm started to establish e-learning education system in order to fulfill the need of internet education development. Since then e-learning system in China has been experienced four developing steps. Due to undeveloped internet technology and cultural impact, distant e-learning was not regarded as “normal” learning approach. However, online education booming took place since 2004. From 2004 to 2012, online degree education has quadrupled. In 2012, the overall market revenue reached 64.6 billion RMB (approx. $10.4 billion) and there were 1095 thousand new registers professional e-training course and 1270 thousand new students for university e-learning courses (Thibaud, 2014).

Yong E-learning China

E-learning in China can be divided into three sectors: online degree education, enterprise e-learning, language and professional training for certificates. The approx. average growth rate has been 20% since 2004 (Thibaud, 2014). Prior to e-learning, almost all the lectures was hold through conventional setting to which might not be easily access for graduated “white collar” and others. The economy booming propels the education during last 30 years. With maturity of internet technology, e-learning to large extent supplements the defect of conventional lecture that hold in university. E-learning provides more opportunities for them to update knowledge or to reach new subjects.

Education reform has been always the key issue in China. Universities in China have tried to find the suitable development in education. Since 2006, the studies (Hongyi Q. Xibin H. Ming Z. and Xiangcun W.) indicate the major e-learning systems in universities, which include material-centered and instructed e-learning types. The former promotes the digitalized high quality materials in order to activate a self-learning; the latter promotes a digitalized teaching process by internet communication in order to activate an instructed-learning. In practice, universities did not select either of them separately rather than to parallel both systems into teaching process.

The face-to-face conventional approach still remains as primary teaching approach at universities in China. It primarily emphasizes 6 elements such as teaching, discussion, assignment, experiment, test and textbook; however the material-centered e-learning is able to support from those 6 aspects and it utilizes mass media and internet as pedagogical tools to expand the conventional lecture. Furthermore, pedagogical future development in China aims to cultivate further self-learning capability and enhance communication and cooperation skills among students. In practice, the emphasis on interaction between teachers and students and among the students consequently achieves “student-centered” learning and cultivates critical-thinking and knowledge-exploring (Hongyi Q. Xibin H. Ming Z. and Xiangcun W, 2006).

E-learning presently just functions as a supplement of conventional education and it has not yet become a lifelong learning for community. It does have some cultural factor that may prevent the development of e-learning in China. Chinese culture is influenced by the philosophical principles of key thinkers. Hofstede (1996) revealed an additional fifth dimension “Confucian dynamism”. Confucianism still has a strong cultural impact upon Chinese society and has a role in shaping Chinese thinking and learning styles (Chan 1999). The culture in China strongly respects a good education and degrees and diplomas enhance a virtuous education (Oh, 1991). China is a collectivist society according to Hofstede, and often depends upon informal chains of communication. Therefore, open discussion in forums or web casts could see an infringement of cultural values (Chan, 1999).

Chang (2009) indicates the expectation to teacher involvement that teacher or tutor play a very important role in Chinese educational contexts. Students expect the same teacher/tutor presence in e-learning environment. Observation of e-learning programs in China indicates that e-learning tends to be heavily instructor led, which has similar consequence to Levy (2003) explains that most learning in China takes place in classrooms, even where technology such as television or software is used it tends to be heavily instructor lead. Chinese e-learners may feel that they are subservient to a teacher and this could prove problematic when no physical tutor exists (Friesner & Hart, 2004).

Further, it can affect the level of student involvement in online group discussion. Chinese students tend to be restrained in formal or open discussions. Open discussion in forums could be seen as an infringement of cultural values (Chan 1999). They might favor to a lesser extent online discussions due to the cultural influence of “talking of the known rather than talking to know” (Jin & Cortazzi, 1998). Even though students participated as required may submitted comments in a limited way or hardly posted questions to the others. The “safe” response and quoted from literature used in discussion instead of developing their own thoughts or criticize other’s input, which can be explained by preserving “harmony”.

Lastly, the teacher-centered approaches are still prevalent in Chinese universities. Students do lack of experiences with e-learning environment, which can be an important factor. Online learning is available in some universities, but this reflects mostly the fact that course materials are distributed online. The use of task-based online collaboration – as implemented in this study – is scarce in Chinese higher education contexts. Therefore, student perceptions of the innovative e-learning environment were certainly influenced by their long traditional schooling experience Chang (2009).

To conclusion, with maturity of internet technology, e-learning has been boomed up in China; however we have to face some realities and problems in e-learning environment that caused by cultural factor and long traditional schooling experience. E-learning presently was not utilized as a life-long learning project for self-educating in China, but become a part of supplement for conventional education for college students, “white collar” and others due to economic-growth requirment of knowledge-based workforce. Besides developed regions, unbalance education resource does exist in China, for instance west and mid part of China has not yet installed computer lab at school. The allocation of education resource primarily invested in eastern developed part of China though “hope school” projects has operated for many years. E-learning seems to be even more necessary for those undeveloped places. Therefore, e-learning has huge potential market in China and also requires sufficient reforms to take place in education system.


Dongbin Yang
Language teacher
Temporary lecturer, Vaasa University



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Jin, L. & Cortazzi, M. (1998). Dimensions of dialogue: Large classes in China. International Journal of Educational Research, 29, 739-761.

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