A recent report has been published detailing the development of e-Learning and online education in China. The report, by companiesandmarkets.com, identifies that the sector has reached its "growth stage", increasing in market scale by 20.7 percent between 2006 and 2007 (from RMB14.5 billion to RMB17.5 billion). So how is the industry set to develop from here? And what can the west learn from the success of the Chinese distance and blended learning systems?
Distance learning, online degree courses, and adult education have been popular in China for some time. This has been due to a number of factors, such as the expansive and rural geography of the country, the high competition for fewer enrolment places (comparable to the UK or US, at least), and recent government-stimulated incentives to ensure compulsory learning for all, eg the National Project of Compulsory Education in Impoverished Areas (established in 1995).
In regards to e-Learning and its involvement with pre / primary / middle school education, the latest report doesn't reflect an outright consolidation of the country vast school system – which is something that makes it quite different to others. Those who offer online education services to pre-schoolers are private individuals and companies, whilst the most traditional primary and middle schools are said to be employing e-Learning techniques and offering distance classes. Primary and middle school teaching market scale has increased by 18.5 percent between 2006 and 2007.
For higher education and older learners, the report shows a growth and diversification of online education but an unimpressive continuation of doubts amongst members of the public as to the worth of diplomas from online institutions. Despite this, there is healthy enthusiasm for online education for vocation certification and an increased demand for customizable services. Additionally corporate e-learning is becoming more integrated with business hoping to improve services – especially over the last year. As a result, projections suggest that corporate e-learning is set to grow 40 percent year by year until 2011.
China is an interesting country to discuss when it comes to distance education – due to the rural country and uniquely provincial governance of education, as well as its huge population. Consequently, the country has pioneered certain aspects of education by use of online courses and media. This has not only included a Central Radio and TV University, but also distance institutions that specifically cater for niche markets such as adult farmers and workers – it will be intriguing to see how technological advancements and increased accessibility for education over the next few years.