China jumps on the Western online-course bandwagon

Elite Chinese universities have begun offering free online courses in an experimental attempt to modernise the country's education system.

Elite Chinese universities have become the latest additions to adopt the model of online learning.

Already popular in the West, China is seeing the potential benefits of a distance-based learning system, having recently launched their own debut version.

Going live last month, 20 courses provided by 19 top Chinese institutions have already enjoyed thousands of students signing up.

The Ministry of Education stated that 100 courses will be available by the end of the year, with a plan to put 1,000 courses online in the next five years.

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The programs have been launched in conjunction with web portal NetEase and China Network Television, and are available for free as “open courses”.

Although they have been tailored primarily for university students, the free courses are available to the general public. The courses include subjects and lectures given by some of China's lecturers and speakers.

The courses available cover a range of subjects, although many will focus primarily on Chinese culture. According to NetEase, some will be translated and available in English; although agreeing between universities on intellectual property rights are the first priority to make this scheme a success.

These courses will allow more opportunity for general education, whether for pleasure or advancement. The range is currently small, but the scheme does allow for future scope of more resources being available and perhaps in the promotion of a less rigid and traditional education structure.

It can be argued that much is lost through a complete focus on online learning systems; lectures in a more traditional campus setting may be of a higher quality than their online counterparts.

Some learners require more interaction than others to learn; and there are limitations on how much content of a course can be studied through distance-only methods.