China has long been a world leader in online learning, and the country is currently leading the world in its growing embrace of virtual learning.
Now, experts are starting to wonder why.
China has invested a record $3 billion in virtual learning in the last five years, but experts are beginning to wonder if China is investing more to get more students online than other countries, such as the United States, India, Australia, and New Zealand.CNN’s Lisa Mazzetti and Dan Merica, with support from the Pew Research Center, conducted a nationwide survey of more than 4,000 online learners.
We asked learners about their learning experiences, and found a number of surprising results.
“We were surprised to find that most Chinese students are still not able to use a virtual assistant,” said Emily Le, a lecturer at the University of New South Wales.
“In China, this is not a new problem.
Chinese students had to use their smartphones and computers to access content and access services.”
In the survey, nearly two-thirds of Chinese learners said they use a desktop virtual assistant (desktop is the main computing platform of China), and almost three-quarters of them reported that they had at least one video chat in the past three months.
In addition, nearly half of all learners said that the most important part of virtual instruction was to use social media.
Nearly a quarter of Chinese students said they used social media during their first semester of virtual school.
“There is a perception that the online education system has improved in China over the past five years.
And this perception is not necessarily accurate,” said Le.
“But we did find that while the online system has been improving, the use of online learning still has a long way to go.”
Le and her colleagues also found that virtual learning has a steep learning curve.
Only about 60% of Chinese learner respondents said they were able to complete at least half of the content in their first year of online school.
About a third of learners who received virtual instruction reported not completing the required content in a year.
In another survey, conducted by the Beijing Internet Center, more than half of Chinese university students said that their university was unable to support their study due to the cost of internet access.
The results of this survey indicate that Chinese students have a high learning rate in virtual classrooms.
But it also raises concerns that virtual education will ultimately make the learning environment more expensive, and that it could discourage many Chinese students from pursuing higher education.
“Chinese students are really looking to use virtual learning as a way to learn and a way for their country to compete,” said David Guban, professor of Chinese studies at the John Hopkins University.
“They are looking to learn in the way that they have historically been learning.”
The results suggest that virtual educational opportunities have been underutilized in China, Le said.
In fact, the country has yet to increase its online learning capacity by any significant amount.