We here in the U.S. often take for granted the wide range of online education and training options available to us. The suite of professional development courses offered by School Training Solutions is an excellent example of online instruction that is innovative, self-directed and comprehensive. In addition, students taking STS courses have ready access to academic and technical support services.
Indeed, online education has many plusses for students of all ages, interests and education levels. But how has this phenomenon unfolded in other countries?
In my position as Executive Director of the Choral Society of Pensacola, I have the pleasure of working with a gentleman named Xiaolun Chen. Xiaolun serves as the Choral Society’s Artistic Director and also directs the student choral programs at Pensacola State College. Xiaolun, who is in his 50s, was born in Beijing, China. He moved to the U.S. in 1990, but spends a month in his native country each summer. It’s always interesting to discuss national and world events with Xiaolun because he provides perspectives that are often very different from those held by most Americans.
Recently, I asked my Choral Society colleague about the state of online education in China, which has the world’s second-largest economy, places a heavy emphasis on education, and whose population of 1.34 billion people has an ever-growing interest in all things technological. What he had to say surprised me.
“Even though China had innovations like televised university classes as far back as the 1980s, online education there is about where the U.S. was ten years ago,” Xiaolun said. “Where online learning in the U.S. really took off around 1995 with the development of web-based courses, something similar didn’t happen in China until around 2006 or 2007.”
A quick survey of the online education world in China today shows that they are catching up rapidly. From primary and middle-school classes, to higher education, to courses for “older learners,” e-learning in China exhibits extraordinary growth and diversification. There is also a growing demand in China for “customizable services” similar to those offered by STS. These types of courses include training for corporate employees as well as training that caters to the farmers and workers that make up a large of portion of China’s huge rural population.
All of China’s top universities now offer online classes and it is interesting to note that more and more foreign students are signing on to take advantage of distance learning opportunities originating in China. Foreign students have long been a part of U.S. e-learning, but some of these students are now finding their niche in China’s growing system.
It will be interesting to see how technological advancements will continue to make online education more and more available to China’s sprawling population in the coming decades.
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