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New advances in online learning pose challenges to modern life

Xiao Gu, a senior student at Shanxi University, clutched her iPad in her hands every single day at home during this year's winter holiday. However, Xiao Gu didn't use her iPad to watch western TV series as she had in the past, but to study massive open online courses (MOOC).


Chen Jiang, a teacher at Peking University, has kept up the habit he formed in the fall semester of 2013, when his course "Electronic Circuits" was put on line by the university through the MOOC platform edX. Now, the first thing Chen does when he wakes up every morning is to engage in interactive communication with his students, answering any questions they have about the course he is teaching.


"Although I majored in finance in university for four years, I felt I had just started to learn it when I started to study the open online courses provided by many foreign universities on my iPad." said Li, graduate of Shanxi University, who is now working at a bank in Taiyuan, capital city of northwest China's Shanxi Province. Four years ago, Li felt deep regret at not being able to study abroad. Now, Li feels her dream of studying abroad has been realized by studying MOOC during her spare time. 

MOOC, as a new education platform, has not only brought great changes to the lives of these three people, but also to millions of others. It has influenced both the industries of education and the Internet.


Different from previous Internet education platforms, in which students typically just gathered knowledge by watching videos on TVs or computers, MOOC is a much better method of education, inspiring as it does mutual interaction between teachers and students while offering more fully-developed educational services. MOOC has a homework evaluation system and test system, the same as traditional school education. It's accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. This method of education has been well implemented with the core concepts of the Internet, which are 'sharing' and 'interaction'.



Although everyone can register freely to study and can communicate with teachers on MOOC, if they want to finish the whole course and get a diploma they have to follow the strict requirements set by the authorities of different universities, and finish all the coursework and tests assigned by teachers.


MOOC wasn't released until 2012 in developed western countries. That year, three MOOC platforms Udacity, Coursera, and edX were set up in the U.S., through which anyone in the world could use the three MOOC platforms to learn all the selected courses provided by any universities involved in the program after registering (for free) with any of these MOOC platforms. The institutions involved include some of the best universities in the world, such as Harvard University, Yale University, and Stanford University.


Cao Yu, a teacher from the Teaching Affairs Office of Peking University, noted that "MOOC could be called the third version of online Internet education, which has experienced three critical phases of development, including the pattern of downloading lesson notes, the pattern of watching teaching videos online or after downloading, and then MOOC."


Cao added, "With the development of Internet technology and the increasing number of Internet users, it is necessary to develop the methods of MOOC by integrating Internet resources with educational resources, since just watching videos can't meet the demands of students any more. So MOOC is sure to replace its predecessors."


MOOC in China has developed quickly. Take Peking University for example. Only two weeks after the MOOC program was launched by Peking University, the official Sina Weibo (China's Twitter) account of Peking University's MOOC program released a piece of news stating: "The registered total number of students applying to the ten newly launched courses of Peking University's Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) program has reached 37,000, which is greater than the total number of students physically attending Peking University."


This announcement displays the growing influence of MOOC. In the current, more traditional university education environment of Peking University, almost 1,998 courses are opened each semester and the average number of students applying for each course is 48. In contrast, the number of students applying for each course in MOOC can easily reach thousands of people.


Why do netizens like MOOC? And why are so many famous universities planning to launch their own MOOC program? Both MOOC students and university teachers participating in the development of the MOOC program share more-or-less the same goal.


A netizen who registered to study Netease website's MOOC program answered: "The best courses provided by the best universities in the world are available when using MOOC. You can be a classmate with groups of people who share the same interests as you. Additionally, the desire to acquire any knowledge you are interested in can be met with the best teacher's in the world through MOOC."


Wang Enge, president of Peking University noted: "Building up a MOOC platform is not only an action being taken by Peking University to meet the challenges of new educational models, but also for implementing Peking University's concepts on educational fairness." Peking University are planning to launch one hundred MOOC courses over the next five years.


The Impact of MOOC on Traditional School Education Patterns


Wang Juan, associate professor of the Department of Chinese in Peking University, has taken part in the launch of the MOOC course 'Folklore,' after being recommended by her department. Wang is now an active participant in and strong supporter of Internet education. "When education confronts new media, the concept of traditional school will be weakened, and may even be overthrown in the future. Bachelor's degrees could be earned by students through MOOC study both out of campus, and on campus there will be only postgraduate students. Universities will maybe become research institutions in the future," said Wang.


Many teachers and experts share this idea with Wang Juan. However, there are also many who hold conflicting opinions on this. They think that school education in the future will be improved with the complementary nature of traditional education and the Internet, and they don't think the concept of school education will be overthrown and become out-of-date in the future.


Li Ge, associate professor of the Software Research Institute of Peking University, thinks that both Internet education and traditional education have their own advantages and they can complement each other. Li thinks the biggest advantage of Internet education is that it can improve the availability of quality educational resources. Everyone can enjoy a quality education through MOOC. But there are also advantages of the traditional educational model, since it is easier for teachers to know more about their students and their specific needs. So, Li thinks that the two forms of education should learn from each other and integrate well with each other.


Bi Minghui, a teacher at the School of Arts in Peking University, thinks that the biggest advantage of MOOC is that it can reduce repetition in teachers' work, allowing teachers the opportunity to divert more of their energy to communicating person-to-person with students.


MOOC's Popularity Requires More Innovative Work from Teachers  

MOOC poses even bigger challenges to teachers than traditional education. After half a year's work in a MOOC program, teachers have come to the same conclusion that they will face more challenges in the teaching of MOOC programs, and they have to define a new concept of what makes a good MOOC teacher, what kinds of teachers are good teachers and what courses are good courses. On this, Chen Jiang said: "In MOOC programs, students can give up a course easily after trying one session if they don' like the teaching method or the teacher. The number of students who take a course can change in MOOC programs, which will then pose obvious problems to teachers." Chen added that Internet education will push forward teachers to make endless progress, otherwise they will be left behind.


Additionally, MOOC's development requires more innovative work on Internet technology and services, as MOOC depends on the support of wireless Internet and social networks.


At the same time, the popularity of MOOC also stipulates that people need to think about how to make Internet technology better integrated with traditional industries. As another hot industry in the Internet economy, after that of Internet finance, Internet education will have both opportunities and challenges in its development in the future.


On the Internet, student Xiao Gu has found that the biggest change is the increasing popularity of iPads and smartphones among his classmates. "For the purpose of using MOOC, many of my classmates have rushed to buy iPads and smartphones." 

However, the improvement of availability to mobile terminals is just one of the influences that Internet education has had on the world. Chen Jiang noted that: "With the development of MOOC, more and more courses focusing on interaction, discussions, experiments, field surveys or social surveys will appear in MOOC courses. These versatile ways of teaching require rapid innovation in Internet technology."


Cao Yu said: "Not only Internet technology will be challenged by new patterns and concepts of education, Internet services will also be challenged." Cao added that MOOC can't depend on just one-time innovation, but requires endless minor-innovations.


Although there are big challenges facing the development of MOOC, this new type of Internet education is believed by experts to be very promising. A report released by medu.org.cn, a mobile learning information website, indicated that China's online education's market size was only 12.5 billion yuan (U.S. $2 billion), which is far less than the market size previously forecast by some consultancies of over 100 billion yuan (U.S. $16 billion.)


Lv Senlin, chief researcher of the website medu.org.cn, said the reason why online education's market size is smaller than the market had previously forecast, is down to the nature of netizens in China. However, with more and more Internet users developing habits of online learning and payment, this market is expected to boom in three to five years.



Reported by: Ji Ye and Yuan Quan

Source: People.com.cn

Translated by: Women of China

Edited by: Arthars