research paper

How to Make Open Education for Older Adults More Attractive: Inspirations from
the Open University of Japan

Wang Zhuguo1 Xu Jinpei2

Abstract: China has entered a period of population ageing, and various types of universities and educational institutions for older adults are constantly emerging. Under the influence of government planning and based on considerations for their own future development, open universities and radio and TV universities have all started open universities for older adults. What purpose do open universities for older adults serve, and how do they operate? In order to demonstrate their differences from ordinary universities or educational institutions, this paper will focus on the hard work of building an education system for older adults that has been done in the field of degree continuing education. The Open University of Japan (OUJ) has a great deal of experience in serving continuing education for older adults, which is worth learning from.

Key Words: Open university for older adults; Ageing; Learning diversity; Learning adaptability; Learning convenience; Degree education; Non-degree training; Operation strategy; Inspirations

In recent years, open and distance education for older adults has drawn more attention from all walks of life. Similarly, open universities for older adults have sprung up across China. According to incomplete statistics, to date, open universities for older adults or colleges for older citizens have been established in 26 open universities or radio and TV universities (RTVUs) across China (Ministry of Education, 2019). Most are able to offer education and teaching by relying on open universities or RTVUs. Their main goal is to provide older with distance non-degree education, but there are also a few open universities for older adults that can provide older adults with degree continuing education. Open universities for older adults have made great efforts to create websites, integrate resources, and develop projects, and have made good progress. However, there is still a great gap between their achievements and the policy-based requirements of the Party and the state, as well as the learning needs of many older adults.

I. The opportunities for and challenges facing open universities for older adults

It is clear that now is the right time for the development of open universities for older adults. On the one hand, the government is paying more attention to education for older adults. On the other hand, older adults have a clear need for education, of which there is insufficient supply. All this has created unprecedented opportunities for the development of open universities for older adults.

The communique of the fourth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China explicitly noted the need to “build an education system that serves lifelong learning for all.” The Opinions on Promoting the Development of Old-Age Services (State Council, 2019) underlined the need to vigorously develop education for older adults. The development of community education for older adults prioritises the establishment of a three-level “county (city, district), township (neighbourhood), village (neighbourhood committee)” operation network. A national public service platform for education for older adults should be established, and a range of educational institutions should be encouraged to give or participate in education for older adults. The sharing of resources, courses, and teachers for education for older adults will be promoted in order to explore a new model integrating geriatric care and education and giving support to communities, education institutions for older adults, and elderly care service institutions. Methods and approaches for universities for older adults run by departments, industrial enterprises and institutions of higher education should be explored. This has charted the way for the development of open universities for older adults.

China has now entered a stage of accelerated ageing population. By the end of 2018, the number of people aged 60 or above reached 249 million, accounting for 17.9% of the total (Ministry of Education, 2019). With the further intensification of population ageing, it should be possible for more and more older adults to learn in universities and educational institutions for older adults as a part of a healthier lifestyle.

Education for older adults faces problems such as insufficient resources, undeveloped management system, cognitive deviation, and an extreme shortage of teachers. The relevant data show that there are tens of thousands of schools for older adults in China, with over 10 million students. However, there is still a considerable gap compared with the total population of 250 million older adults aged 60 or above. There are insufficient places on offer in universities or institutions for older adults, and older adults often have to wait a long time for enrolment or stay up late at night to grab a place.

How can older adults make better use of their spare time after retiring? How can they enjoy a better quality of life? With the constant improvement of living standards, many older adults have become dissatisfied with traditional elderly care and want to have more access to learning. In response to the issue of increasing access to learning for older adults, Zhang Xiaolin, president of the China Association of Universities for the Aged, suggested intensifying the development of distance education since it has lower investment costs. Distance education can adapt to local conditions and achieve twice the results with half the effort (Wang and Yang, 2019).

Open universities for older adults within the Open University of China (OUC) system must take on the responsibility of helping older adults to enjoy the dividends of open and distance education. If they do the same as the other universities or educational institutions for older adults and only focus on non-degree continuing education by organising older adults into drawing or dancing classes, then they are throwing away the advantages of distance education. Changing this situation is a considerable challenge for open universities for older adults that have only just been established or will be established in the future.

Against the background of an ageing society, this essay builds on a solid understanding of the learning needs of older adults and their learning status in China, and analyses the current operation of open universities for older adults. By studying the practical experience of the OUJ, this essay will put forward thoughts on how open education for older adults in China can mature and develop into a complete educational system.

II. Analysis of why older adults in Japan choose the OUJ for distance education

Educational activities for older adults in Japan roughly fall into three categories. The first is classrooms for older adults, which are usually set up in places like schools and public halls. The classrooms usually hold lectures that aim to improve older adults’ capacity for social activities and provide opportunities for recreation, learning, and physical health. The learning content mainly includes arts skills, health knowledge, cultural knowledge, and vocational skills. The second category is universities for older adults targeted at people aged 60 years or above who usually receive more than two years of qualification-based education, aimed at training leaders of activities for older adults. The third category is open universities, which are distance education universities providing learning via TV, radio, or online technology (Chen, 2017).

It is easy to obtain information about the OUJ’s students via its website. Their website includes numbers of admissions and active students, as well as statistics for each course, including the number of students in undergraduate and graduate programmes, and statistics on the different categories of students, including regular students, one-year non-degree students, one-semester non-degree students, and credit transfer students.

(I) Core Concept

OUJ students are split into regular students for direct undergraduate or graduate degrees; one-year non-degree students who choose and learn courses according to their own interests; one-semester non-degree students who choose and learn courses according to their own interests; and credit transfer students who only learn from some lectures.

The OUJ’s school year is the same as the financial year in Japan. Similar to China, one school year is divided into two semesters. The first semester is called the spring semester and starts on 1 April, and the second semester is called the autumn semester and starts in September or October.

Due to length limitations, this essay will use the undergraduate spring semester as an example. The data show that the spring and autumn semesters display the same basic tendencies and proportions, as do the graduate and undergraduate data.

(II) The constantly increasing number of older adults as seen from the data

1. Admissions (OUJ, 2019A)

Table 1 lists the OUJ’s complete spring semester admissions data from 2010-2019, including regular students, one-year non-degree students, one-semester non-degree students, and credit transfer students. The table shows that the number of regular undergraduate students was decreasing by and that one-year non-degree students, one-semester non-degree students, and credit transfer students were all showing a downward trend. Although there was a slight increase in the admission of regular students in 2019, the overall downward trend did not change. Comparing the data from 2019 with the data from 2010 shows a 3% decrease in regular students, an 11.4% decrease in one-year non-degree students, a 25.9% decrease in one-semester non-degree students, and a 25.3% decrease in credit transfer students. The total decrease was 13.5%.

2. Active students

Table 2 shows the number of active students during the 10 years between 2010 and 2019. Initially, the total number of active students and the number of active regular students were gradually rising, reaching a peak in 2016. After 2016, the numbers gradually dropped. However, a comparison of the data from 2019 and 2010 reveals that the numerical value increased, while the conditions of one-year non-degree students, one-semester non-degree students, and credit transfer students all basically showed a downward trend. The number of credit transfer students saw the largest drop.

3. Active students by age

Table 3 shows the number of active OUJ undergraduate students by age. Figures 1 and 2 are sketch maps of the proportion of active students of different age groups from 2013 to 2019. Both the table and figures show a clear increase in the number of students aged 60 or above. Comparing 2019 and 2013 shows that the number of active students aged 60 or above increased by 5.21%, becoming the largest group.



Figure 1 Sketch map of the proportion of active OUJ students by age group in 2013



Figure 2 Sketch map of the proportion of active OUJ students by age group in 2019

4. Basic conclusions

The following basic conclusions can be drawn from an analysis of relevant OUJ student data over the past 10 years.

First, the overall number of undergraduate showed a declining trend.

Second, the year 2016 marked the peak of the total number of active undergraduate students, and that although there was an overall declining trend, the total number of 2019 students in 2019 was still higher than2010.

Third, there was an obvious rising trend in the number of undergraduate students aged 60 or above, and they became the largest active student group, accounting for 27.31% of the total.

5. On the enrolment of master’s and PhD students

Though this essay does not provide the data, it can report that the data show that the total number of active master’s students fluctuated over the course of the same 10 years, but showed a general downward trend with quite a steep drop; however, the number of older adults aged 60 or above showed an obvious rise, accounting for 31.66% in 2019.

The OUJ’s PhD programme was established in 2014. Approximately 12 students are accepted once a year. By 2019, 74 students had been admitted. As of the spring semester of 2019, there had been a total of 15 graduates.

(II) The diversity of the learning needs of older adults as seen from the degree level

The OUJ trains four categories of people. The first is regular undergraduate graduates, who receive 4-10 years of open and distance education and receive a corresponding undergraduate degree or bachelor’s degree upon graduation. The second is one-year or one-semester non-degree junior college students, which includes those studying at the Faculty of Liberal Arts or the School of Graduate Studies. The third is master’s degree graduates. After studying for 2-5 years in specific professional areas, master’s degree graduates receive a corresponding graduate or master’s degree. The fourth is PhD graduates. Such are the choices for older adults when they have access to education.

(III) The adaptability of older adults as seen from the OUJ’s majors

In line with the requirements for majors in universities of Japan, the Faculty of Liberal Arts of the OUJ offers six areas of undergraduate study (OUJ, 2019B): Living and Welfare, Psychology and Education, Society and Industry, Humanities and Culture, Informatics, and Nature and Environment. There are seven areas of study under the master’s programmes (the OUJ, 2019C): are Human Life and Health Sciences, Sciences of Human Development and Education, Clinical Psychology, Social Governance, Arts and Humanities, In-formatics, and Natural and Environmental Sciences. Finally, there are five areas of study under the PhD programme (OUJ, 2019D): Human Life and Health Sciences, Human Sciences, Social Governance, Arts and Humanities, Informatics, and Natural Sciences. All of the majors are closely related to daily life and of interest to older adults.

The undergraduate informatics major can be taken as an example to illustrate training objectives. The description states that it enables students to learn and master the concept and knowledge of the existence of information and information technology that are essentials for people living in a highly information-oriented society (OUJ, 2019E). Such training objectives are appropriate for on-the-job staff and also extremely suitable for older adults.

(IV) Teaching process makes learning convenient for older adults

1. Learning resources

The OUJ’s learning resources include written materials and radio and TV courses, all matched with the courses on offer.

Each course is generally paired with around 200 pages (A5) of written material and 15 45-minute radio and TV course lectures. The lectures are transmitted to learners via satellite or cable TV, as well as through the internet.

2. Teaching implementation and evaluation

The OUJ’s teaching implementation includes self-learning, face-to-face tutorials or online tutorials, mid-term tutorials, and assignments, as well as final-term examinations.

The students mainly learn independently. Generally speaking, they listen to or watch the courses via radio or TV and study the written materials by themselves. Each chapter of the written materials includes questions, exercises, and extended learning to help the students to learn by themselves.

Face-to-face tutorials or online tutorials are of great importance to regular undergraduate students. On the one hand, by attending face-to-face tutorials, students can get direct instruction from the teachers and understand and learn from their peers. On the other hand, face-to-face tutorials and online tutorials do carry credits. The students have to attend 20 credits-worth of face-to-face tutorials or online tutorials before they can complete their schooling and obtain their graduation certificate. The students receive one credit for each course, and they need to complete eight face-to-face tutorials, including seven 90-minute tutorials and one 45-minute tutorial (OUJ, 2019F).

Mid-term correspondence tutorials are also important. In order to understand the students’ learning situation, a correspondence tutorial is given to all the students, and they are required to complete any relevant assignments in the middle of the term. Each OUJ student has a corresponding tutor, either a full-time tutor from the headquarters or a visiting tutor (OUJ, 2019G).

Finally, there are unified national examinations at the end of the term. In general, final-term examinations take place in the study centre. If the students pass the examination, they receive the corresponding credits.

3. Learning support

The OUJ uses online platforms, email, telephone, and face-to-face communication at the study centres to understand students’ need and provide them with effective learning support. In addition to social and psychological support, some students receive financial support, which includes admission fee discounts for students in groups and one-time incentive payments for a certain number of regular students aged 65 or above (Xu, 2016).

It can be seen that the OUJ’s well-developed learning resources, well-designed learning process, and learning support are especially convenient for older adults.

Although the OUJ doesn’t offer majors especially for older adults and does not have an affiliate open university for older adults, this doesn’t prevent it from providing education services to older adults, including undergraduate, master’s, and PhD programmes and one-year and one-semester non-degree programmes. As such, the OUJ’s practice of degree education for older adults sets a good example for open universities for older adults in China.

III. The status quo of older adults learning in the OUC system and analysis of its driving factors

2019 marked the fortieth anniversary of radio and TV universities in China. Like the OUJ, open universities in China (aka radio and TV universities) do provide degree education to all, including older adults, but few older adults actually study in open universities.

(I) The proportion of older adults among active students in the OUC system

The Education Statistics Yearbook of Radio & TV Universities in China and the Education Statistics Yearbook of Open Universities in China only publish data about four age groups — 20 and under, 21-25, 26-30, and 30 or above — so it is difficult to obtain the real number of older adults registered to learn at open universities. However, the authors still managed to obtain admissions data for older adults aged 60 or above in 2018 and 2019, as shown in Table 4. It can be seen that the number of older people registered for degree education at open universities is quite limited. It can be said that the OUC’s degree education offerings have not yet been recognised by most older adults.

(II) Why has the OUC’s degree education not been recognised by older adults

It can be seen that there are a number of reasons why OUC degree education has not been recognised by older adults, including inappropriate major design, difficulty, and lack of interesting content. To the best of the author’s understanding, the key still lies in the positioning of training objectives. At present, the talent training objectives of the OUC are “practical professionals (CCRTVU, 2011),” and its undergraduate majors accordingly embody this objective. Content targeted at professionals is not applicable to many older adults.

Due to institutional restrictions, it will not be easy for the OUC to change its talent training objectives. As such, the OUC has difficulty offering degree education content suitable for older adults. Therefore, this task is left to the newly-founded open universities for older adults. This also leaves room for the development of open universities for older adults.

IV. The current state of open universities for older adults in China

In recent years, an ever-increasing number of open universities for older adults have been founded on the basis of radio and TV universities or open universities in an attempt to offer older adults more effective degree and non-degree open and distance education. However, their development has varied for a number of reasons.

(I) Introduction to the current state of several open universities for older adults

The main goal of open universities for older adults is to provide distance non-degree education; only a few can provide older adults with degree continuing education diplomas. Below is an introduction to several typical open universities for older adults and the support they offer for degree and non-degree continuing education.

1. The OUC Open University for Older Adults

Since the Open University for Older Adults operated under the leadership of the OUC (hereinafter referred to as the OUC Open University for Older Adults) was established in 2015, it has provided older adults with non-degree education teaching services via distance mobile learning. It also planned and developed the “OUC Lectures for the Elderly” and other education and training programmes to promote study tours for older adults (OUC Open University for Older Adults, 2019).

2. Jiangsu Open University for Older Adults

Jiangsu Open University for Older Adults was developed on the basis of the former Jiangsu College for Senior Citizens. It was founded by Jiangsu Open University (OU) and offers continuing education mainly to men aged 60 or above and women aged 55 or above with the interest and ability to attend learning activities. The university's degree continuing education for older adults is part of the national education series. The undergraduate programme offers the ultural Industry Management (for poetry appreciation and photography) major, and the junior college programme offers the Chinese Language and Culture (for poetry appreciation) and photography majors. At the completion of the course, those with qualifying learning achievements receive a course completion certificate. Those who have specified credits will be awarded graduation certificates by Jiangsu Open University (Ma, 2015).

3. Yunnan Open University for Older Adults

Yunnan Open University for Older Adults was founded under the auspices of Yunnan Open University. It is mainly engaged in non-degree education for older adults all over Yunnan. Since its establishment in May 2019, it has offered six majors: Dancing, Music, Literature, Painting & Calligraphy & Photograph, Life Skills, and Sports & Health It also offers 22 courses including Health and Dancing, Ethnic Dances, Fashion Shows, Vocal Music, Piano, Guzheng (a 21 or 25-stringed plucked Chinese instrument similar to the zither), Calligraphy, Traditional Chinese Painting, and Tai Chi (Yunnan Daily, 2019).

4. Jiangsu Open University for Older Adults

Zhejiang Radio and TV University unveiled Zhejiang Open University for Older Adults in June 2015 and launched the Third Age School online learning platform. Over the past four years, the university has made efforts to build a provincial system of open universities for older adults based on the Third Age School platform. Both real classes and online trainings for older adults have been organised through non-degree education training programmes, and obvious achievements have been made through online and offline interaction (Zhejiang Vocational Adult Network, 2018).

(II) Relevant conclusions

Neither the OUC Open University for Older Adults nor the provincial open universities for older adults have made degree education for older adults their leading pursuit. Of course, there are several reasons why this should be so, but we need to try our best to make a change.

V. Operation strategies of open universities for older adults

It is imperative that open universities for older adults further demonstrate their distinctions and ad-vantages during operation. In order to meet this target, we should not only learn from the operational experience of open universities but also depend on their educational resources to offer important new strategies, methods, resources, and models. This will shape the positioning, majors, training objectives, course contents, teaching methods, evaluation mechanisms, system structure, and management approaches of open universities for older adults.

1. Establish a new orientation

There are over 70,000 universities and educational institutions for older adults providing non-degree training educational services via face-to-face teaching on the main. If open universities for older adults also only engage in non-degree education training, then the result will be only to add to the existing training institutions for older adults without giving full play to the inherent advantages of open universities. Open universities should play a more important role in the education of older adults.

Therefore, open universities for older adults should focus on degree education, provide degree education at or above the undergraduate level to a greater number of older adults, offer specialised courses at or above the undergraduate level, and provide diplomas at or above the undergraduate level that are recognised at the national level. Based on the current period that we are in, we should first start undergraduate education for older adults as soon as possible and then move to graduate education after several years of practice.

2. Offer new majors

It is necessary to develop new majors suitable for older adults to attract them to study at open universities. For example, the OUC Open University for Older Adults “plans to design honourary degree diplomas for older adults. The construction of degree majors for calligraphy and freehand brushwork in traditional Chinese painting of flowers and birds, among others, has already started” (OUC Open Uni-versity for Older Adults, 2019). Taking Jiangsu Open University for Older Adults as another example, the Photograph and Literature Appreciation majors are attractive to and meet the needs of older groups. There are also majors in health care, science popularisation (such as artificial intelligence), and modern science and technology (such as computer application). Furthermore, there are also courses on how to get along well with family and how to get involved with social groups, meeting the special needs of older people in China.

3. Set new training objectives

Older adults mainly learn for self-cultivation or to develop their interests. Therefore, it is imperative that the training objectives for open university degree education for older adults are less demanding.

The training objectives of the OUJ’s Humanities and Culture programmes are described thus: “[to] deepen understanding of the existence of thought, literature and arts [and to] quest the history of characteristics and development of modern civilisation and domestic culture” (the OUJ, 2019B). It could be said that these training objectives are not set too high for learners, including older adults.

Therefore, it is imperative for open universities for older adults to set new training objectives for their majors in order to suit the goals of older adults, which include developing their interests, uplifting their mind, and pursuing a rich, full life. For example, the training objectives of Jiangsu Open University for Older Adults’ Cultural Industry Management (for poetry appreciation) undergraduate major meet the individualised learning needs of older adults. Through this course, older adults can familiarise themselves with the basic theories of Chinese language and literature, improve their theoretical level of the aesthetics of poetry, be able to analyse and appreciate ancient and modern poetry using the theories of poetry appreciation, and be able to write their own poetry (Jiangsu Open University, 2019A).

4. Build new courses

The OUJ’s Humanities and Culture majors have a total of four course modules, and the specialised foundation courses are Modern Philosophic Thought, Origin of Western Philosophy, Modern and Contemporary Times of Japan, Classical and Modern Japanese Literature, Kojiki and Manyoshu, Guide to World Literature, Reading of Chinese, New Speech Science, Introduction to Japanese Language, Preliminary Study on Communication, Modern Human Geography, Introduction to Museums (the OUJ, 2019I). As the names of the courses show, they can all be learned by older adults. Open universities for older adults should learn from the OUJ's course setup and arrange courses that older adults will enjoy learning. Jiangsu Open University for Older Adults has already conducted some very good explorations in this regard. For example, the Cultural Industry Management (for poetry appreciation) undergraduate major offered by Jiangsu Open University includes the following courses: Learning Guide, Fundamental Application of Computer Technology, Regional Culture of Jiangsu, Introduction to Arts, Aesthetics of Classical Chinese Poetry, Cultural Resources and Creativity, Selected Readings of Ancient Prose, Selected Readings of Modern Prose, Selected Readings of Renowned Foreign Literature, Poetry Writing, Selected Readings of the Book of Songs, Selected Reading of Tang Dynasty Poems, Selected Reading of Song Dynasty Ci Poems, Selected Readings of Mao Zedong’s Poems, Social Practice and Study, and Graduation Dissertation (Jiangsu Open University, 2019A).

Of course, it is not only necessary to offer new courses but also to add new content to existing knowledge that is more suitable for older adults to learn and accept should be chosen.

5. Adopt new learning methods

Yuan and Chen (2017) discovered that the main learning purpose for older adults is satisfying their own interests and hobbies and improving their quality of life, as opposed to learning a new skill for a job or to make a living. Older adults mainly learn via TV, reading newspapers and magazines, or listening to the radio, as well as in universities for older adults, via their community, and through online resources. However, the older adults who learn online are mostly younger, have stable finances, and have a more open world view.

Older adults, particularly those who attend universities for older adults, also learn for purposes, that is, to meet new friends, make new connections, and to entertain themselves. To this end, a blended learning model integrating online and offline learning should be adopted in degree education at open universities for older adults, with offline learning playing the dominant role. In this case, “online” means transmitting learning resources and teaching content through modern means like radio, TV, and the Internet, presenting learning resources via modern terminals like radio, TV, computers, and mobile phones or tablets, and realising interaction through modern means like cable TV, computers, and smartphones. “Offline” methods include face-to-face teaching, face-to-face tutorials, organised learning activities, and independent self-learning.

A blended learning model integrating online and offline teaching has been adopted by Jiangsu Open University for Older Adults for its degree education programmes. Older adults can register to learn at tutorial centres, and there are clear restrictions on the number of people that can be enrolled at each tutorial centre (Jiangsu Open University, 2019B), making it more convenient for tutorial centres to organise online and offline activities.

6. Establish a flexible credit accumulation mechanism

Older adults have specific learning needs. On the one hand, the need for learning is great. On the other hand, the learning may be suddenly suspended due to family issues or a learner's own health. Therefore, a more flexible credit accumulation system should be established. Within such a mechanism, older adults are encouraged to learn by registering for an undergraduate programme or by choosing a single course. When they complete their learning, they get corresponding credits and a completion certificate for each course. The credits for each course can then be deposited in the credit bank. This means that learners do not have to repeat courses and they can use the credits they have accumulated to register for other courses. They will eventually obtain a graduation certificate when they meet all the requirements for undergraduate graduation.

There have been students who choose to learn a single course since the inception of the radio and TV universities. The Pilot Plan of China Central Radio and TV University (General Office of China Central Radio and TV University, 1999) released on 20 December 1978 stated that students who taught themselves could be given completion certificates for a single course, or given graduation certificates for a single course if they also finished the specified courses via radio or TV, obtained the specified credits, and sat for and passed the examinations in a designated class after getting the approval of a designated institution of the radio and TV university where they applied. For example, there were 322,400 students enrolled in 1979, including 97,700 regular students and 224,700 students of one or two courses (Compilation Team of Chronicles of China Central Radio and TV University, 2019).

It is imperative that we remove the barriers between degree and non-degree education and between open universities for older adults and ordinary open universities. Students that choose to study a single course are an effective way to break the barrier between degree and non-degree education. In addition, older adults should be able to learn at both open universities for older adults and ordinary open uni-versities, and credits should be transferrable between the two types of open university.

At the OUJ, there is no difference between degree and non-degree education or between open universities and open universities for older adults. Students only need to choose to study a course or a major and they will get the necessary learning support and obtain the corresponding credits or certificates when they have completed their learning.

7. Formulate a new organisation system

It is not enough to stop once relevant majors with matching teaching content have been established in response to the characteristics of older adults. It is also necessary to build a matching teaching, management, and assessment service system suitable to the needs of older adults. We can bridge between degree education and open universities for older adults, universities for older adults, and even educational institutions for older adults by referring to the OUC’s educational system.

The China Association of Universities for the Aged is in touch with more than 70,000 universities for older adults (including local universities and schools for older adults) with over 8 million active students (China Association of Universities for the Aged, 2018). The OUC should create teaching designs, construct resources and platforms, formulate assessment standards, accumulate credits, confer undergraduate diplomas, and take care of other issues related to undergraduate degree education for older adults. It is up to open universities for older adults and universities and educational institutions for older adults all over China to implement the teaching process as study centres of the OUC Open University for Older Adults, and to offer services such as learning organisation, learning support, examinations, and assessments for all undergraduate students registered at the OUC or the OUC Open University for Older Adults.

The OUC Open University for Older Adults has already completed its pilot stages. The first stage is to rely on OUC branches and schools to build a system of education for older adults based on open universities and radio and TV universities. The second is to cooperate with universities for older adults of various levels and kinds, University of the Third Age movements in institutions of higher education, and universities for older adults attached to national ministries and commissions, as well as state-owned enterprises in particular. The third is to gradually open up a system of nursing institutions and service institutions (enterprises and associations) for older adults (OUC Open University for Older Adults, 2019).

Zhejiang Open University for Older Adults has conducted effective explorations in this respect. All of its educational units for older adults have been registered with the University of the Third Age, and they have become institutional users. To date, there are a total of 82 platform institutions, including 12 prefectural-level city institutions (including Hangzhou City Committee on Ageing), 49 district and county institutions, and 20 township and neighbourhood institutions (Zhejiang Vocational Adult Network, 2018).

Since this kind of mutual cooperation serves lifelong learning for older adults, it is also necessary to establish a fund sharing mechanism suitable for this kind of organisational system. Funding comes from government input, tuition fees, and other sponsors. Funding should be allocated in accordance with the proportional input of each partner, and the system should be operated as a type of public welfare on a not-for-profit basis.

VI. Conclusion

The OUJ is not a special educational institution for older adults, nor does it offer majors or courses specifically for older adults. However, there are many older adults engaged in the OUJ’s degree and non-degree education courses, including those who choose to learn a single course and those who choose to study an undergraduate, master’s, or PhD programme.

Older adults will only come to learn at the OUC Open University for Older Adults and all local open universities and radio and TV universities when there is suitable degree and non-degree education content available. These institutions should make internal adjustments as soon as possible so that, “there will always be a suitable type of education for older adults available at open universities.”


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About the authors

1. Wang Zhuguo is a doctoral student at the Institute of Education, Nanjing University and a research assistant at Huzhou Vocational and Technical College (Jiangsu, Nanjing 210093, Mobile: 13567292684, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

2. Xu Jinpei holds a bachelor of engineering and is vice general manager, and professor of editorship of the Open University of China Press and Media Group, and is the corresponding author of this essay (Beijing, 100039, Mobile: 13621302375, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


A Tentative Analysis of Collaborative Governance of Community Education in Open Universities

Zhou Yanjun 

Abstract: Community education is a key constituent of both lifelong education and community governance. Phased achievements have been made in the collaborative governance of community education in open universities, but a number of problems still exist. Open universities have enthusiastically advanced community education, laying an ideological foundation for collaborative governance. They have focused on coordination in order to form clear guidance for collaborative governance; paid attention to system coordination to offer a system guarantee for collaborative governance; developed coordinated processed to promote the orderly operation of collaborative governance; and upheld coordination in purpose in order to ensure that collaborative governance has a real benefit to the people. Open universities should improve the school running system coordinated by the government; promote the coordination of several government departments and the improvement of the fund input mechanism; staff teaching and management teams by relying on social strength; use cooperation with diverse bodies to set up a resource sharing platform, enrich the contents and methodology, and meet peoples’ needs for lifelong learning.

Key words: open universities, community education, collaborative governance

Community education is a form of education that provides the residents of a community within a defined geographical area with diverse education services. Community education plays an increasingly important role in serving people’s livelihoods, shaping the lifelong education system, and building a learning society. At the same time, community education governance is an important part of social governance. It introduces international concepts of public governance and represents a major boost to China’s community education governance, helping to improve the management system and operation mechanism and thus achieve innovative and sustainable development. Against the macro background and within the framework of social governance, the theory of collaborative governance has been introduced into community education, which is conducive to achieving collaborative governance between public institutions and other stakeholders in order to meet the public’s needs for community education and to promote the equality and efficiency of community education.

Under the leadership of the government, collaborative governance of community education aims to gather together the various participants of community education through coordination, cooperation, market mechanisms, and other methods, and to shape a public service system for community education with the extensive participation of community residents and that is characterised by extensive choices, autonomous learning, and sustainable development. It aims to maximise the efficiency of community education resources and the benefit to the residents, and to realise a vision of good community governance and the construction of a common spiritual home (Chen Nailin, 2013). In recent years, research has begun to analyse community education governance from the perspective of collaborative governance. Some scholars believe that collaborative governance is “a new approach to improve community education governance.”

1. The current state of community education governance in open universities

1.1 Phased results have been achieved in the collaborative governance of community education

1.1.1. Formation of a five-level governance system

Open universities, including open universities and radio and TV universities, began to get involved in community education following the establishment of Fujian Radio and TV University Community Education Centre in 2001 and the inauguration of Qingdao Community University at Qingdao Radio and TV University in 2003. After 16 years of exploration, a five-level community education governance system has been created, that is (1) community education guidance service centres in provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities under the administration of the central government, (2) community universities in cities with districts, (3) community colleges in counties and districts, (4) community schools in neighbourhoods and townships, (5) and study centres in residents’ and villagers’ committees. As of March 2020, as many as 280 prefecture-level city community education centres or community universities have been established by educational administrative departments (or with the approval of commissioning offices for public sector reform) in 28 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, most of which are in open universities. Using eastern coastal areas as an example, community colleges have been established all over China, largely with the help of open universities. Open universities have established community schools by leveraging their branches and study centres in neighbourhoods and townships. In cooperation with residents’ or villagers’ committees, cultural and sports venues, and local enterprises, community study centres or tutorial centres have been built in villages and residential compounds.

1.1.2. Explore multiple community education teaching models

Community education in open universities uses several different teaching models. For example, the service system, with community universities or colleges at the centre and an orientation towards communities, radiates from the inside out. Research and development projects are jointly completed at the provincial, prefectural, and city levels, representing a synergised operation model. There is also cooperation with enterprises and social organisations, which represents an attempt to make full use of modern information technology and to construct a teaching model based on “online and offline integration and school and community interaction.” This has broken through the bounds of conventional community education and the teaching model based on lectures and public activities. With the support of internet technology, creative activity platforms rooted in families have thus been established.

1.1.3. Carry out diversified community training and teaching activities

Community universities linked to open universities have integrated multimedia learning resources and strong teaching teams, and explored the socialisation of community education. At the same time, campus teaching facilities and rich education resources have been used to offer courses and organise activities on campus. Schools in Shanghai, Zhejiang, and Beijing have engaged in trial cooperations with social organisations with a view to expanding education methods and content by outsourcing and purchasing services through market mechanisms.

1.1.4. Create an initial structure for joint construction and governance and collaborative governance with multiple participants

Led and coordinated by the Party and government, community education in open universities has received different levels of support from different governmental departments. Governments at all levels have also increasingly recognised the importance and advantages of community education in open universities, and open universities have engaged in active connection, consultation, and coordination with government departments including spiritual civilisation offices, civil affairs, human resources and social security, culture, science and technology. They have joined hands in the community education governance of open universities in the areas of policy making, funds, and projects with gradual preferential discrimination. In the eastern coastal provinces and municipalities, a pattern of collaborative governance is gradually taking shape.

In sum, phased results have been achieved in the collaborative governance of community education in open universities, laying a good foundation for future sustainable development.

1.2 Major problems facing the community education governance of open universities

After many years of practical experience, great progress has been made in community education in open universities. However, China’s vast size often leads to great differences in regional culture and economic development, and the coverage of community education governance is uneven. Even in China’s vigorously developed eastern areas, the governance system and capacity construction still face a number of problems.

1.2.1 Unbalanced development levels

The objectives of collaborative governance are to improve community education governance and strive to develop community education. Uneven development is a common problem for various participants including government departments, social organisations, public institutions, troops, and individual residents. Taking social organisations as an example, those that fall into the categories of education, public interest, and science and technology are, in particular, an important force in promoting community education development and improving community education governance. However, the overall capacity of social organisations, which are often small in quantity and size and narrow in field, is extremely limited due to the lack of policy guidance and encouragement measures from the government. With regard to the community education carried out by open universities, social organisations often have limited involvement or cooperation, and do not have h awareness and experience to cooperate with one another.

1.2.2 Multiple participants with low coordination

Government departments, community education institutions, social organisations, enterprises, and individual residents constitute a number of subsystems that promote and extend community education and advance community governance. All the subsystems should form an orderly, cooperative, and coordinated system that works together towards common action by means of law, administration, science and technology, information, and public opinion. However, the multiple participants are often not very coordinated.

In many areas, leadership and coordination by the government is not enough. To some extent, there is a lack of policy and system guarantee due to the biased understanding and recognition of community education. The various departments involved do not always play their due leading role in publicity and promotion, coordination planning, defining strategic development objectives, macro guidance coordination, and policy guarantees. The specialised division of labour among different functional departments leads to their segmentation, and industrial barriers exist among them. There is great difficulty in information integration and policy coordination, and it is hard to create synergy between society and the government. Due to the unclear borders between functional departments, offsides, absences, and misalignments often occur. In many places, the education department is unable to take care of overall coordination on their own. Community education in open universities can be managed by all departments and is yet often managed by none.

1.2.3 Poor synergy in education resource integration in communities

Community education resources represent all kinds of education resources needed in the process of realising and implementing community education, including overt education resources such as materials, manpower and financial resources, and covert education resources such as sense of belonging, learning atmosphere, the social education system, and policies (Shen Guanghui, 2016). Community education in open universities now integrates culture, sports, science and technology, and other education resources, but there is still a gap when it comes to establishing public service platforms and promoting the sharing of quality education resources. The difficulty of integration lies in the grassroots neighbourhood, township, and villagers’ committees. Regional primary and middle schools, cultural centres, social work stations, and adult schools are underused for community education, and township and neighbourhood governments and people who sit on villagers’ committees, as participants in community education, need to be encouraged to take the initiative.

1.2.4. Low interaction inside the governance system

(1) Unbalanced development between the east and the west. Pursuing the balanced development of community education and providing the residents with education products and services of equal opportunities are key requirements for achieving equal education opportunities. Balanced community education should have unified planning for management operation, funding support, resource allocation, and team development, and realise relative balance when meeting residents’ learning needs and offering services. There is a major difference in community education in open universities in central and western areas of China in terms of basic operation capacity and development level, and the resources are not evenly distributed. Though some scattered and localised activities have been spontaneously organised among provincial and city guidance centres and community universities, such as the Forum of Community Colleges in the West and East, and the twinning of community colleges, there is no long-term overall planning or coordination.

(2) Weak coordination of the five-level governance system. Provincial and city guidance service centres for community education function more in terms of “service” than “management.” They have weak guidance and it is difficult to for them to give play to their role as “bellwether” in the five-level system. The manpower, finance, and materials in areas at or below county or district levels are under the management of local governments and education departments because of the management system. As such, their orders are not always headed, and the communities each act in their own way. This difficulty in achieving rigorous, standard, and effective coordination has seriously limited the system from giving play to its overall advantages.

2. Strategies and paths for community education development in open universities from the perspective of collaborative governance

2.1 Maintain concept coordination in order to lay an ideological foundation for collaborative governance

We must establish and adhere to the concept of coordinated development in order to achieve the sustainable development of community education in open universities. Firstly, establishing the development of community education is an inevitable choice during the transition period for open universities. The MOE’s Opinions on Successfully Operating Open Universities Well clearly states that Open universities should “try to become a new type of university serving lifelong learning for all.” This position has clarified that open universities must be the main body “serving lifelong learning for all.” Open universities should “provide extensive education for on-the-job staff, communities, the elderly, and new-type farmers, as well as all kinds of trainings by orienting themselves toward the grassroots, industries, communities, and rural areas, and highlighting their talent formation distinctions and educational operation characteristics.”

The Opinions on Furthering the Community Education Development of Nine Departments including the Ministry of Education promulgated in June 2016 underlined that “all provinces, cities, and prefectures can set up community education instruction institutions by relying on open universities, radio and TV universities, agricultural radio and TV schools, vocational schools, and community schools for science popularity to coordinate and guide community education work in their own areas.” It also emphasised that “the key leading role of county-level vocational education centres, open universities, radio and TV schools, and science popularisation schools in rural community education shall be brought into full play.” By November 2019, 25 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities had issued implementation opinions or action plans for promoting local community education, all of which emphasised giving full play to the important role of open universities in vigorously developing community education and accelerating the construction of a learning society. It is thus evident that community education in open universities is a key requirement and an important institutional arrangement and policy requirement of the Party and government.

It is also necessary to adhere to the concept of serving and satisfying everyone. The Decision on Some Major issues Concerning How to Uphold and Improve the System of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Advance the Modernisation of China's System and Capacity for Governance proposed the formulation of an education system serving lifelong learning for all. We must continue to give priority to developing education, focus on developing education that people are satisfied with, innovate education and learning method, and accelerate the development of a more open and flexible education system that is oriented to, suitable for, and meets the needs of everyone. The sustainable development of community education in open universities and the advancement of community education governance are necessary to develop education for the people and to shape an education system serving lifelong learning for all. This is also an important part of ensuring the people’s livelihood and achieving the modernisation of the education governance system and capacity.

2.2 Aim to coordinate objectives and formulate distinctive guidance for collaborative governance

With its orientation towards society and its characteristics of universality, lack of time constraints, and diversification, community education can be said to embody the ideology of lifelong education. The development and governance of community education is a major indicator of the integrity and improvement of the lifelong education system. To this end, the level of attention given to community education is a touch stone to test if the government and society have truly established a lifelong education ideology.

Vigorously developing community education and improving collaborative governance represent the public benefit goals of all participants, including open universities. In order to achieve these goals, the government should shape the governance system by leveraging extensive cooperation with its internal organisations, non-governmental organisations, and the general public, and to encourage cooperation and interaction between the government, society, and the market. Each subsystem should form an orderly, cooperative and coordinated system that coordinates with one another for common actions by means of law, administration, science and technology, information, and public opinion.

2.3 Focus on system coordination to offer a system guarantee for collaborative governance

The management system of community education refers to the systems and institutions in the organisation system, its structural establishment, the administrative subordination, the administrative authority, and the division of responsibilities related to community education (Chen Nailin, Zhang Zhikun, 2009). The community education operation mechanism mainly deals with the specific systems and laws used during the management process, and is a description and summary of the internal operation process of the management and organisation of community education (Liu Zongjin, 2019).

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China put forward the establishment of a social governance model based on collaboration, participation, and common interests. It was also indicated that “within the law-based social governance model under which Party committees exercise leadership, the government assumes responsibility, non-governmental actors provide assistance, and the public get involved.” Community education falls within the scope of macro education, relates to several departments in charge, and is tied to social construction and governance. Therefore, the Party building should be a fundamental guiding principle and government coordination must be dominant. Governments at all levels should strengthen coordination and planning, lay out a social development strategy, define objectives and tasks, create good guidance and coordination, solve major problems, provide a policy guarantee, and satisfy their residents’ needs (Chen Nailin, 2014). To this end, government departments should coordinate advancement measures and schools, social organisations, communities, and family individuals should engage in extensive participation. In this way, they can they work in coordination on an equal footing, bring their own advantages into play, and develop community education that satisfies people's needs.

The government plays the leading role in the improvement of the governance system of community education and takes responsibility for the coordination and leadership of the development of community education. The most important thing is to ensure that government departments are aware of the exclusive superiority of open universities in the construction of a lifelong education system. Such education plays an indispensable role in improving people’s livelihoods, serving a harmonious society, and promoting community governance. Governments at all levels should give impetus to the completion and improvement of the five-level governance system of community education in open universities. Provincial and city level community education guidance and service centres should assist the government and education departments in creating good top-down designs, and help the government play its leading role in publicity, overall planning, macro guidance and coordination, and policy guarantees. Open universities should define their “position,” upgrade their “stance,” and strengthen their “guidance.” They should offer a good service, and take the initiative to get in touch with government departments, assist and promote the formulation and improvement of the community education management system, and establish supervision, evaluation, and assessment mechanisms. Policy and funding support is necessary in order to advance the formulation of a mutually-supported community education development model with the coordination of the government and equal collaboration and consensus between the many departments.

The key to improving the five-level governance system lies at and below the county and district levels. County-level community colleges should focus on substantial and standardised construction. In certain places with poor educational conditions or weak aspirations, other non-governmental participants can be mobilised to fully integrate local education resources. Multiple township, neighbourhood, and villagers’ and residents’ committee community education resources, such as cultural centres, social work stations, and adult education institutions, can be utilised to give play to the initiative of multiple participants in community education. Under the leadership of township and neighbourhood governments and educational departments, education and cultural resources can be integrated to set up community schools or study centres and to facilitate the lifelong learning through one venue with multiple functions. In townships, promoting the transformational development of adult education schools has become one of the most important carriers of community education in rural areas for open universities.

2.4 Develop coordinated processes to promote the orderly operation of collaborative governance

In the course of community education development, there will always be contradictions and problems. It is necessary to strengthen coordination and collaboration and to continue to advance collaborative governance.

First it is necessary to establish funding input. The establishment of a community education input mechanism must be the result of thorough communication and the joint efforts of several different parts of society. Firstly, the financial departments should increase conventional funding to community education in open universities and have it included in the government’s basic public education services if permitted by financial resources. Under the leadership of the government, a host of basic support closely tied to community education development, including daily funding, resource construction, facilities, and team building, is provided (Li Jun, Jia Fan, 2019). Secondly, it is necessary to apply for other special funding from government department projects. By way of service purchase, special appropriation for business can be applied for from spiritual civilisation offices, civil affairs offices, and human resources and social security authorities, as well as agricultural work commissions, women’s federations, youth leagues, and working committees for the care of the next generation, such as training projects for social workers and people from villagers’ and residents’ committees from civil affairs departments, employment and entrepreneurship projects from human resources and social security departments, and teenage training projects from working committees. It is possible for open university community education institutions to get actively involved in these projects and trainings. As such, both services and funding resources can be expanded.

The difficulties presented by a shortage of funds can be mitigated by relying on social strength and by drawing on support for socialised community education services from industrial and specialised social organisations, community social organisations, and private social work institutions. For example, enterprises can offer funding and sponsorship and individual donations can be sought out. Market mechanisms can be introduced to absorb institutions and foundations for community education projects. Efforts should be made to establish a mechanism dominated by financially conventional funds for business and supported by special project funds and social support.

The next step is to establish a teaching and management team. In 2004, the Ministry of Education stated in Several Opinions on Promoting Community Education that it was necessary to “build a management and teaching team adapted to the needs of community education consisting of backbone full-time and part-time staff members and essential part-time staff members and volunteers.” In June 2016, the Opinions on Furthering the Community Education Development of Nine Departments including the Ministry of Education underlined the need “to improve the professional level of community education workers,” and “to deploy full-time managers and teachers of community education to community education colleges or centres.”

Teaching and management teams can be staffed with the help of social organisations. As a third party independent of the government and society, members of social organisations come from all walks of life and have different professional background and skills. It is possible to find a solution to the shortage of teachers by attracting people from social organisations to join the community education teaching team, and they can give community education users lectures, explanations, and tutorials in their spare time.

A standardised and innovative team of knowledgable volunteers should also be built. A thorough survey should be conducted in order to gain a clear understand of the human resources situation. Retirees with special skills, university students, middle school students, and other able people from the communities should be called together for training. They should be managed with a strict, standardised registration system.

This is a model based on equal consultation, coordination, innovation, and resource sharing. The bellwether role of community education in open universities should be brought into play to open resources up to the communities. Both non-degree education course resources and degree education multi-media course resources can be integrated into community education. The diverse needs of community members should be analysed from the perspectives of locality, age, profession, culture, and learning ability in order speed up the construction of newly-added courses. The libraries, computer classrooms, sports facilities of open universities should be fully open to communities. Based on equality and consultation, the resources of other community education participants should be fully used and shared. For example, primary and middle schools, enterprises, public institutions, and non-governmental organisations should be open to the communities. Cultural, sports, science and technology authorities, as well as youth leagues, women’s federations, trade unions, and other departments should be united to bring their existing educational and cultural venues such as libraries, museums, science museums, cultural centres, youth activity centres, women activity centres, and workers’ homes into use by community education. Channels for invisible resources should also be expanded. The civil subjectivity of community residents should be mobilised and utilised to build a digital learning public service platform, to make full use of modern distance education technologies, and to offer a range of education services by closely policy orientations and local economic and social development needs.

2.5 Maintain coordination of purpose to ensure collaborative governance effectively benefits the people

The Party and government aim to develop good quality, equal community education that people are satisfied with around a people-centric philosophy. This is also the purpose of community education in open universities. Those who get the greatest benefit from community education are the community residents. Community education, as a macro type of open, compatible, and inclusive education, must uphold a resident-centric education philosophy, serving ordinary residents and, in particular, disadvantaged residents. Only with the extensive participation and interaction of community residents can community education develop with vigour and vitality.

2.5.1 Bring the advantages and capabilities of social organisations into full play

Open universities should positively engage in cooperation with social organisations for mutual benefits and win-win results.

The involvement of social organisations can be a solution for dull learning contents and stiff methodology. It is helpful to give play to the role of community education in serving people’s livelihoods by relying on social organisations to leverage the strengths of their personnel and mechanisms, to improve quality and service level, to offer rich and colourful community education activities, to enrich the supply of community education, and to meet the needs of the residents to receive education, learn about the arts, and improve their overall quality.

2.5.2 Enrich learning content

Community education is carried out in a diversified, lively way based on the coexistence of professionalism and entertainment, life and work, and social and economic development and the arts (Ye Zhongmin, Xiang Deping, 2015). Community education should increase the proportion of content related to citizens’ attainments, science and technology, law-based society, and entrepreneurship and reemployment. Improving the quality of life of community residents paves the way towards development, modernisation, and services.

2.5.3 Create innovative methodologies

With regards to the learning methods used by community education in open universities, in addition to conventional class-based learning, the superiority of the cultural philosophy that “All radio and TV universities nationwide are part of one family” can be used to organise visits and study tours. In the same city, activities such as community art walks and talent shows can be carried out to encourage new methods of team-based, experiential, and online learning. Rural areas and currently urbanising areas are prioritised with the focus on communities, serving people’s livelihood and meeting their needs (Chen Nailin, 2014). Community education is carried out in grassroots communities to establish learning service circles, learning communities, homestead classrooms, and study rooms, to send community education to community residents’ doorsteps, and to meet the needs of the people for lifelong learning.

2.5.4 Introduce market operation mechanisms

Open universities can cooperate with enterprises and social organisations with a high degree of specialisation through entrustment and service purchasing. The efficiency and effectiveness of the market economy can be borrowed to improve the work capacity of teaching staff in community education, to enhance the vigour and vitality of community education in open universities, and to elevate the efficiency and quality of community education.

About the author: Zhou Yanjun, former executive vice director of the MOE Research & Training Centre for Community Education

Reprinted from No. 2 Volume 2020, Community Education in China

Exploration into Teaching a Distance Art Programme -
 A Case Study on the Traditional Chinese Landscape Painting Programme

Tang Yingshan, Han Yi, Xie Jun, Huang Yan, Wang Zhengdong, Yang Yao, Xiao Tingting, Yu Shaoping, Cui Ming

Abstract: Through the China National Arts Fund’s online project, a traditional Chinese landscape painting programme, 1,286 absolute beginners across the nation are taught landscape painting. The project makes an in-depth exploration into learning environment construction, course design, online learner support, and teaching process management with regards to the particular demands of online painting instruction. Attention is given to integrating teacher strengths from different regions to form a collaborative teaching team with a clear division of labour. This online teaching support helps students make clear progress even during a short period of learning, while maintaining their satisfaction with the course. The successful implementation of the project proves the key role of learner support played by online tutors in ensuring the quality of online teaching, and the important guarantee of process management in realising online teaching objectives. It is an important way for open universities to improve teaching quality by integrating the advantages of teachers inside and outside the system, and thus enhance the development of teaching teams. The system of open universities all over the country is blessed with inherent advantages for non-degree educational programmes. However, it is necessary to study further how to meet the needs of society by fully leveraging fully online teaching.

Key Words: landscape painting, online teaching, learning environment, course design, learner support, teaching team, teaching process management, non-degree programme

I. Introduction

Along with socio-economic development and greater consumerism, there is a growing social demand to convey love through self-cultivation of arts. The improvement of society’s aesthetic taste and artistic accomplishment cannot occur without art education. However, the development of popular art education is hindered by multiple factors, such as cost, teachers, and venues. Extending the scope of popular art education and improving educational results through innovation has become a crucial problem to address. With the State Council’s approval, the China National Arts Fund (CNAF) was established in December 2013. CNAF offers funding to support art development mainly in four aspects, including creative production, publicity promotion, collection, and learner development.

Online education provides brand new solutions for scaling the training of arts professionals. In December 2016, the Open University of China (OUC) submitted an application for its Appreciation and Creation of Traditional Chinese Landscape Painting and Moodle Platform Project (hereinafter referred as landscape painting project). Reviewed by CNAF, the landscape painting project was approved as a 2017 funded project for the purpose of art communication, exchange, and promotion. The project is one attempt to explore effective solutions to outstanding problems in popular art education: by leveraging educational technologies such as the Moodle platform and mobile app, numerous learners are taught traditional landscape painting by a network of professionals.

There exist many problems to solve in online art education. The first is public benefit, extending art instruction to a geographically scattered student base. A teaching network can be utilised to meet the learning needs of a large number of students. The second is related to efficiency: targeted teaching design can enable adult students who learn in their spare time to achieve clear progress. The third issue involves overcoming difficulties in the practice of diverse online teaching interactions, and coming to an understanding and mastery of painting techniques through teachers’ online instruction and students’ hands-on practice.

From May to July 2018, a Moodle-based online course on traditional Chinese landscape painting enrolled 1,286 students nationwide. During the nine week course, the teachers and students left more than 444,800 access records on the learning platform and nearly 52,000 discussion records in the BBS and WeChat group, achieving an overall completion rate of 59.6% of the learning tasks. In the phased questionnaire survey, the number of students who indicated they were “satisfied” and “extraordinarily satisfied” with the course combined to exceed 85%.

II. Practical Exploration

In light of the fact that the students are absolute beginners–sometimes lacking online learning experience–and also expect results after a short course, the project team custom designed the course’s environment, curriculum, learner support, and process management.

(I) Learning Environment Design

1. Principle of Minimalism

The project’s students were primarily adults with a weak foundation in education: 82.01% of them had never studied traditional landscape painting, and 65.95% of the students had never participated in online learning. As such, it was necessary to minimise the complexity of the learning environment to help students focus their time and energy on the course content. A minimal unified design was designed (See Figures 1 and 2), with the online courses presented on both the web page and the app in a fixed mode. In the design of the mobile application in particular, the interface contains only two options: functional and task areas. Only four buttons are located in the function area: the Chinese characters for “credits,” “rank,” “information,” and “me” respectively take students to an overview of accumulated credits, ranking, additional information, and an individual centre. In the task area, a large, dark-coloured, circular button labeled “Week N” indicates course progress and links to a course description for that week which introduces learning contents and requirements to students. Small, black, circular buttons labeled with the days of the week–these are located in between each “Week N” button–link to daily learning tasks. In this way, each week’s materials are simple and easy to follow.

Figure 1 Learning Environment of Moodle Webpage

2. Convenience

Figure 2 App Learning Environment

The biggest difficulty in implementing “the landscape painting project” is that students were unable to agree on a fixed study time. The overwhelming majority of students were working students, while the retired accounted for only 21.84%. As a result, 60.6% of students said it was difficult to dedicate time to their studies; 49.89% chose to study on weekends, and 67.88% could only study in the evening. Nonetheless, the learning environment must facilitate study and progress for all learners. The app was developed on the Moodle platform, with a WeChat group organised for virtual classes. The three-in-one connection offers students the opportunity to learn anywhere and anytime, so that students can conveniently study even in fragmented periods of time. Due to their lifestyle, 94.53% of students reported learning via a mobile internet equipment. At the same time, the landscape painting learning app was designed to be compatible with interactive media and live broadcast. In this way, the app meets the learning needs of the overwhelming majority of students, facilitating even fragmented study.

3. Interaction

Teachers’ online tutoring is extremely helpful to students enrolled in online courses. As such, interaction in the distance learning environment is becoming an increasingly prominent research topic (Wang Zhijun, et al. 2016). Teaching painting requires extensive practice, with the proportion of time spent in theoretical study to hands-on practice often being 1 to 4, or even 1 to 5. Extensive practice exercises increases the demands on both the quantity and quality of teaching interactions. In order to meet these elevated demands, the learning environment of “the landscape painting project” was meant to guarantee convenient teacher-student interaction. Whether via computer or mobile device, teacher-student interaction was possible at all times. The system improves interactive efficiency by solving problems particular to BBS and WeChat, as well as those common among live broadcast tools. The completely interactive function of the system provides convenient support to teacher-student exchanges throughout the implementation of the entire project, and has become a major feature.

4. Intelligence

Online teaching applies data-rich online technology to teaching. Big data will bring about three core changes to learning: real-time feedback on learning will be informed by data collected in a timely manner, the individual needs of each student will be met, and learning content and methods will be optimised through predictive analytics. Because the learning environment of “the landscape painting project” is based on Moodle, it has a perfectly built-in function to collect data. Based on detailed teaching data from Moodle, the project team converts the specific learning behaviour of each student into accumulated credits through system parameters, ranks students by the number of accumulated credits, and evaluates their learning behaviour, thus generating individualised and timely feedback on learning behaviours. Such individualised feedback becomes a positive incentive for students to achieve their educational goals.

(II)Course design

1. Choosing and organising content

In order to meet students’ psychological expectation of making progress in a short period of time, concise and fast methods directly related to the course theme were designed to help students achieve their goal of completing the coursework in a short period of time.

The first tactic was to abridge traditional teaching content. A comprehensive landscape painting course usually includes three stages: copying, sketching, and creating. Different schools have slightly different arrangements for the three stages. While some emphasise the three-in-one arrangement, giving equal teaching time to copying, sketching, and creating, others give decreasing priority to copying, sketching, and creating in turn, with less class hours for each stage. However, the three stages are an indispensable part of landscape painting learning as a whole. Due to the limited time in “the landscape painting project,” much content from the comprehensive system had to be cut. In addition to the reduction of theoretical content, only content related to copying was retained, with both sketching and creating eliminated to ensure the fulfillment of teaching objectives. Copying, as a basic skill, where the study of landscaping begins. The copying of landscape paintings in specialised institutes usually lasts several semesters, totaling over 300 class hours. Limited by the project’s course length, copying was further simplified to include only the parts necessary to complete works.

The second method involved making an overall plan of the learning process. In order to enable students to master the most basic skills necessary to complete a painting in the shortest possible time, the project team organised course instruction in the chronological order of how a beginner creates a landscape painting. The entire course was divided into nine units, with each unit lasting one week. In the first week, students are trained “to think like a painter.” They are required to master basic methods of observation, as well as learn the painting tools and the methods of drafting and outline sketching a copy of a landscape painting. One key is borrowing the concepts and techniques of Western paintings, to introduce the concept of proportion to traditional Chinese landscape paintings, to fully leverage adults’ ability to think abstractly and re-construct spaces, and to help students determine an overall framework. In the second week, students learn expression methods through brush and ink in Chinese paintings, and they are required to master the basic techniques of landscape painting, including outline drawing, ax-cut texture stroke, ink touch, brush dyeing, and adjusting an outline and stroke. After two weeks of study, students are able to copy an entire work. In their third week, students learn how to appreciate Chinese paintings. What they have learned during the first two weeks is strengthened as they become more proficient in the techniques of modeling, as well as brush and ink, by comparing the differences between Eastern and Western paintings. In the fourth week, students focus on learning how to draw trees and leaves, as well as the strokes of mountains and stones. This enables them to feel the unique expression of space and light in Chinese paintings, as well as the artistic concept and style of landscape paintings. By this point, students have learned every composition principle and technique of landscape paintings. Further study consolidates and improves their technique through continued practice copying classical paintings. In the fifth week, they copy Ni Yunlin’s “Lonely Pine Trees by Flowing Mountain Stream,” expressing the trees, leaves, and stones in light ink. In the sixth week, students copy Wen Zhengming’s “Album of Landscape Paintings” in order to grasp skills related to touching up scenery, people, trees and stones using ink. In the seventh week, they copy Shen Zhou’s works to work on sketching outlines using inky brushes. In the eighth week, they copy the eighth painting works of Wang Meng’s “Painting Book of Springs, Mountains, Wind, and Rain” on ten separate pieces of paper (28.3cm x 40.5cm) to master horizontal composition, light ink strokes, and adjusting outlines and strokes with ink. In the ninth week, they learn to copy Huang Gongwang’s “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” to master horizontal composition and the technique of ax-cut texture stokes with brushes and ink. After four weeks studying techniques and five weeks copying, the students will have completed copying one painting each week. At the end of the ninth week, most of the students are able to master the basic techniques of landscape painting, and to finish copying high quality works (See Figure 3).

The third strategy involves determining appropriate evaluation criteria. Most of the students participating in the project begin learning landscape painting with zero foundation. Because the skill level they attain after such a short period of study may be limited, there are no unfairly high standards demanded of students. Their learning is predominated by copying small paintings or parts of larger paintings; prioritises the mastery of basic techniques, and focuses on the integrity of the paintings. No high standard requirements are made with regards to details like the subtlety of brush and ink, and the accuracy of expression. If students complete each week’s copying exercise, they meet the minimum standards of the course.

2. Design of learning path

Figure 3 A Student’s Works Upon Completion of Course

The core of online teaching lies not in content, but the design and application of course instruction (lv Jingjing, 2015). Standard design of an online landscape painting course ensures a clear and smooth structure, which enables students to make progress even in the context of independent learning. The course is divided into nine units, with the system automatically pushing the current learning unit to students according to the fixed weekly teaching schedule. The course’s content provides a clear path to learning segmented by exercises for daily study accompanied by text descriptions. Videos are watched from Monday to Thursday, the tasks of each unit are finished on Friday and Saturday, and a live broadcast occurs on Sunday. Each week’s study follows the same pattern to help students quickly resume their studies, beginning to learn effectively in the shortest possible time after entering the learning space.

Figure 4 Learning Process of the Landscaping Painting Course Units

Let’s take the first week of the course as an example. The teaching objectives of this week are to master basic observation methods, drawing tools, and the methods of draft sketches and outlining in copying landscape paintings. The learning guide describes the teaching content and study requirements. Next, four micro-videos separately introduce how to copy and draw drafts, what draft specifications are, and “outlining” techniques. At the end of each video, daily exercises are assigned to students. After four days of video instruction, students must finish painting a draft on Friday. The tutor finishes going over painting drafts before Saturday, and the teacher in charge of the subject broadcasts live to all the students on Sunday. Moreover, a BBS is also set up to ensure teaching and learning exchange is possible at all times. The arrangement of the learning process takes into consideration both standardisation and flexibility. Besides finishing the assignment within a given timeframe, every other element is simply an instructional suggestion, and students can choose the appropriate time to integrate their study into their daily routine.

3. Connective design of teaching process

The organisation and management of online learning is relatively looser than that of face-to-face class instruction, which leads to a low completion rate of online learning. MOOC has been hot in the field of education in recent years, but students’ high dropout rates remain an avoidable problem. Coursera research shows that the overall completion rate of all courses is less than 10%, and trending downward. To maintain students’ enthusiasm for learning, a connective design is applied to landscape painting online instruction. The first step is to organise virtual classes with a fixed class roster. Maintaining stable teacher and student relationships creates a learning environment which helps students overcome loneliness in individual study, improving their overall experience. Second comes presenting teaching resources in the form of micro-video. In “the landscape painting project,” 97.22% of students participate via mobile device. Against a mobile and fragmented learning background, micro-video becomes an ideal way to present online learning resources. The teaching videos of the landscape painting online course are short clips (about five minutes in length) around particular knowledge points, presented along with the content which needs to be mastered each day. The concise medium of micro-videos facilitates students retaining control of their autonomous learning progress by making use of their fragmented time, and may also prevent the course’s overall schedule from exceeding students’ cognitive load capacity. Another feature of connective design is to automatically evaluate each student’s learning performance. The system sets certain points for students to log in, watch videos, post, complete homework, and so on. Credits are then distributed for students logging in, watching videos, posting, finishing assignments, and other activities within the system, and are then ranked by group. Such timely feedback prompts and consistently encourages students throughout the entire learning process. The fourth tactic is to intersperse objective tests throughout videos: when watching the videos, students must complete multiple choice or judgment questions in periodic pop-up quizzes before they can resume watching. These objective testing exercises can help the students consolidate what they have learned, deepen their understanding, and focus their attention on course content. The fifth strategy reinforces a drive to complete the course task by task. With the weekly standardised painting assignments, students have positive reinforcement to finish each assignment. The sixth suggestion is organising rich teaching activities. Diversified activities are held to break the boredom of study, including a course-wide painting competition or assessing each class’ accumulated credits. The winners of these contests are then given certificates of merit.

(III) Learner support

There is now strong consensus that teachers supporting students is at the core of online teaching. Core tutoring strategies which promote learning include encouragement, listening, asking questions, and feedback (Feng Xiaoying, 2012). Teachers' emotional support can minimise the risk of student burnout; teachers should provide students with emotional support (Zhao Chengling, et al. 2018). When it comes to studying in “the landscape painting project,” there are two main difficulties. The first is to understand and grasp the learning content; though the videos only last five minutes, it’s very difficult for students to grasp each technique. The second is to improve ability through extensive practice. It takes about 8 hours to finish each week’s assignment, which is a challenge to students who can only study in their spare time. To address these issues, tutors support students through five methods:

1. Guidance

Three-in-one online course includes BBS, mobile application, and a WeChat group, providing a seamless and comprehensive support system. Teachers conduct tutoring in three forms: questions and answers at any time, online interaction on a fixed schedule, and regular instruction which addresses centralised feedback. Tutors help students especially with their study methods. Students can ask tutors whenever they have questions, with an especially responsive period arranged from 8-10 pm to improve communication efficiency. At regular intervals, tutors also summarise the course instruction up to that point. A general discipline inspector assesses course activity, then submits a representative sample of student issues along with teaching topic suggestions to the chief responsible teacher of the discipline. The chief responsible teacher then provides a teaching summary over live broadcast, explaining difficult points, answering frequently asked questions, and commenting on examples.

2. Breaking down tasks

The weekly painting assignment is a comprehensive assessment for students, who are required to use brush and ink techniques flexibly, stressing the changes of brush power and ink colour to achieve a balanced composition. Beginners are often at a loss for how to begin such tasks. Tutors help students with their difficulty sorting out the correct order of painting steps, to break down a complex task into relatively easy portions. When the students complete each portion, they can combine them into a natural and complete work.

3. Demonstration

In the teaching of painting, it is often not easy to use the written language to adequately describe the essentials of motion and the flavourful features of brush and ink. To address difficult teaching points, tutors record demonstration micro-videos and put them in the WeChat group to help students understand the gist of brush use. Many of students’ problems can be solved through video demonstrations in the WeChat group.

4. Companion

The sense of loneliness in online learning is the main reason for a decrease in positive learning experiences, and it ultimately leads to learning failure. The process to complete a landscape painting assignment becomes even more demanding for students. Having a teacher as an online companion can help students remain on track with their learning progress.

5. Encouragement

Students begin with no or little foundation, and have little time to learn. Teachers’ positive encouragement plays a clear role in students' persistence with study. This can take the form of teachers positively evaluating students’ efforts, praising and guiding them, and complimenting even little amounts of progress. Teachers can actively respond to students’ study habits and encourage their enthusiasm for learning.

(IV) Teaching process management

In line with “the landscape painting project’s” teaching requirements, professional qualified teachers are recruited, and teaching teams made up of teachers familiar with a rapid instruction of landscape painting. Meanwhile, teaching managers are also sent to tutorial centres established in areas where students are concentrated, so as to provide learning support in the form of teaching and management. In the process of project implementation, close attention is paid to find and solve problems in a timely manner, in order to guarantee smooth implementation of the teaching project.

1. Teaching team construction

“The landscape painting project” has attracted 1,268 students nationwide to participate in the learning. The project team established eight tutorial centres in Xi’an, Harbin, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Fuzhou, Chengdu, Hohhot, and Beijing. These eight centres are home to a total of 28 classes, each with 40-50 students. The project team employs 35 teachers to offer online student support, with most experienced in tutoring calligraphy and painting. Moreover, they have a profound understanding of how to simplify the content, decrease the number of details, and pursue overall learning achievement. However, 72.73% of these teachers have never participated in online education before. The project team guides them on how to tutor, helps them to familiarise themselves with the online teaching environment, and introduces basic methods of assignment revisions.

To organise individual teachers into a teaching team with a clear division of labour and reciprocal coordination, the project team is made up of a flexible structural design, with teachers in different roles deployed in the proportion of 1:2:7:28.

                                                     Figure 5 Organisation Structure of the Teaching Team

The “landscape painting project” teaching team is led by an experienced teacher specialised in landscape painting. There is one chief team inspector and one chief discipline inspector who assist the lead teacher. The chief team inspector coordinates all the members in the team group, checks on work attendance at various positions on a daily basis, and organises and deploys teacher resources. The chief discipline inspector monitors the teaching of each class, assists with teaching, and gives the chief responsible teacher timely feedback regarding any issues. There are a total of 35 online tutors covering 28 classes of about 50 students in each class. Four classes form a group with one leader and vice leader. They are in charge of everyday inspection of their own group, assist teachers in the group in teaching, and take the place of teachers absent from their work. First of all, such an organisational structure puts in place the tutorial task of online teaching and ensures that each student has fixed teachers and classmates. The teaching environment shaped by stable virtual classes helps the students to persist in the learning process. Secondly, the leader and chief inspectors can effectively cope with unexpected conditions and ensure an orderly teaching process.

2. The support and service system that values both teaching and management

To strengthen the organisation and management of course learning, the project team provides each teaching class with a class counselor. The class counselor is always paired with the same students, which facilitates offline exchanges. Similar to the tutors, 52% of the class counselors have had no experience in online educational projects. The project team provides them with guidance to help familiarise them with the online teaching environment, master use of the platform tools for learning records and -up analysis, and to look up students’ assignment submissions.

The construction of the project’s management team follows the teaching team. There are a total of 28 class counselors. They take charge of checking students’ class attendance, hand out learning documents, compile assignment and data statistics, and give feedback to the responsible persons in the tutorial centres. There are eight people in charge of the tutorial centres, and they check the work of the class counselors every day, as well as substitute for class counselors who are not available. Two assistant chief inspectors inspect the learning in each class and report problems to the chief inspector every day. The sole chief inspector is in charge of project management and decision-making. The management team and teaching team cooperate to form a complete support system (See Figure 6).

Figure 6 The support and service system that values both teaching and management

3. Procedure control

The teachers and students of “the landscape painting project” are geographically scattered, so guaranteeing standard procedures is necessary to ensure teaching advances at the same pace. This order is maintained by releasing content via the network. The project group keeps a close eye on teaching progress via Moodle teaching data. Meanwhile, every teaching group is required to submit course reports each week, and focus on the number of people participating in the course and submitting assignments. A regular meeting is held each week to judge the state of teaching, to study the countermeasures to solve the existing problems, and to strengthen targeted supervision of individual students and managers who fall behind the scheduled progress. Frequently occurring problems result in investigations into teaching practices, which may result in changes to best practices. For example, when a particular course segment was too difficult, the project group made a decisive adjustment to the number of assignments. In the above example, a subsequent questionnaire showed the percentage of students who say they couldn’t complete the assignment on time decreased from 11.13% to 5.99%. Thanks to the rigorous process control, the project maintained stable teaching processes.

III. Discussion and thought

“The landscape painting project” has achieved desirable teaching results. Based on assignment submission, nearly 60% of the learning tasks have been completed, far ahead of the less than 10% completion rate of MOOCs. Two questionnaires reveal that approximately 85% of students are satisfied with the teaching quality, and 96.09% of students indicate they wish to enrol in other similar online courses. After their study in the project, most students have the ability to complete basic versions of their works, a significant improvement over knowing nothing about landscape painting.

Figure 7 Comparison of a Student’s Works between the First and Ninth Weeks

“The landscape painting project’s” operating process is similar to the teaching organisational model of the Open University of China (OUC). The project further deepens our understanding of the OUC’s “Six-Network Integration” concept. “The landscape painting project” in itself is a non-degree project, and as such serves as a successful and useful reference for the organisation and implementation of other projects.

1. The teaching service of open education should be based on providing learning resources with learner support at the core.

The successful implementation of “the landscape painting project” is grounded in not only providing students with quality learning resources, but also offering targeted teaching service. Individualised teaching service is key to helping students achieve effective learning. The teachers’ online support is the most valuable part of online education, and it is essential to stimulate students’ learning behaviour. The construction of learning resources replicable as a one-time investment can be utilised repeatedly. In contrast, teaching support has to take consideration of pertinence. It offers students individualised service, which is not replicable, and requires a great deal of manpower and financial investment. These factors should all be taken into full consideration in the overall teaching design.

2. The process management of open education is an important guarantee to realise the teaching objective.

“Putting students first” does not mean handing control of the learning process over to students. Genuine “putting students first” strengthens process intervention and helps students with process management. Learning is the act of breaking away from comfort zones, and the experience of learning is usually challenging. It is difficult thing for most students to insist on a positive learning environment. Targeted learning process management is essential for the success of teaching. One-sided emphasis on students’ self-management may pose risks of failure to educational projects. Few online learners have the ability to self-manage. In this case, “putting students first” in a real sense must apply classification management to students. The students who can keep up with the preset learning progress are encouraged to learn autonomously. Those who are weak in self-management and are unable to keep up with the pace of teaching will benefit from stronger teaching management which urges them to complete their studies, rather than let them go on their own way. The high completion rate of “the landscape painting project” directly hinges on the overall management of the project team and the micro-supervision and encouragement provided by the teachers.

3. Scientifically integrating teachers’ strengths into the system and strengthening teaching team construction are important ways to improve teaching quality.

The initial “landscape painting project” proved that integrating internal and external resources into the system to build online teaching teams is an effective way to strengthen teaching staff construction with a small investment and to quick effect. There is an unbalanced problem in OUC teaching staff construction. There remains an insufficient number of teachers inside the system, and a surplus outside the system. Likewise, teachers are rare in remote areas, and abundant in central cities. Strengthening the construction of online teaching teams utilises idled teaching resources outside the system and takes full advantage of teachers located in different areas. Teachers in central cities are responsible for maintaining a professional level of instruction, while teachers in remote areas are in charge of direct communication with the students. The online and offline advantages complement one another to form a synergy of blended teaching styles.

4. Insights from the successful implementation of “the landscape painting project” as applied to the development of future non-degree projects

(1) To think more about the agreement between project design and social needs. The need for non-degree education is always interest-driven; interest is the best teacher. Students’ active participation in the learning process is positive. That interests and hobbies can achieve a high level of professional standard cannot be said to be the same; what can be achieved in interests and hobbies can never be on par with professional work. How can specialised teaching “enter ordinary people’s homes”? The first way is to control properly the difficulty of teaching content. Students are required to master content that corresponds to amateur and non-professional learning. The second is to reduce standards in learning evaluation for amateur learners. The third is to properly control the project cycle. The longer the project lasts, the greater the students’ time input, the more difficult it is to insist on studying, the bigger the risk of failure. A balance should be struck between completing the course, the learning content, and the students’ time input – a balance based on an accurate market investigation.

(2) The broad expectation of non-degree education to be developed through online education. The need of non-degree education comes from broader social applications, and differs from specialised teaching in universities. Both students and teachers are scattered across all social strata. It is possible to effectively match the diverse student needs with appropriate teaching ability by organising a teaching project via a network and making full use of online instruction. Moreover, the organisation and management of online education can integrate large scale social strengths to implement geographically distant courses and meet the education needs of society at scale.

(3) To reconsider the basic conditions of non-degree online education. Teaching elements across all aspects of non-degree education project may differ from those of degree education. Open education students are primarily young, with most of them possessing solid technology literacy. The course’s onboarding guide is enough for them to adapt to new aspects of online learning. In contrast, non-degree education also serves the elderly, which presents unique challenges to consider. Teachers, meanwhile, are from all walks of life, and many are unfamiliar with online instruction. To ensure the successful implementation of an online teaching project, the design of the learning environment should be simplified to lower requirements regarding users’ technology literacy, and training should be strengthened to minimize the negative impact of the digital divide.

(4) To fully leverage the OUC offline system’s advantages to form online and offline synergy. Though the application of networks in education shows the great potential of online education, the role of offline cannot be ignored. Offline instruction is irreplaceable in terms of academic support, leading to blended online and offline instruction becoming the most widely accepted teaching form. In terms of non-degree support, offline services have incomparable advantages over online, for example in student recruitment, distribution of learning tools, task supervision, communicating emotions, and so on. The OUC is not only blessed with rich online teaching experience, but also natural advantages in its extensive offline system. The OUC will have the upper hand by fully leveraging the system’s offline advantages to carry out non-degree education.

Works Cited:

Feng Xiaoying. 2012. Strategies of Online Tutoring: Tutors’ Ability of Teaching Dimension [J]. China Educational Technology (8): 40-45.
Lv Jingjing. 2015. Research on New Connotation of Blended Learning in Open University: An Enlightenment from SPOC [J].Journal of Distance Education (3): 72-81.
Wang Zhijun, Chen Li, Han Shimei. 2016. Research on Interactive Analysis Framework of Learning Environment in Distance Learning [J] Distance Education in China (12): 37-42.
Zhao Chengling, Li Hongxia, Jiang Zhihui, Huang Yan. 2018. Eliminating Online Learners’ Burnout: Study on the Influence of Teachers’ Emotional Support [J]. Distance Education and Online Education (2): 29-36.
About the authors:
Tang Yingshan, a professor and dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the Open University of China (100039).
Han Yi, a professor and director of director of the Quality Supervision and Evaluation Centre (100039).
Xie Jun, a doctor and lecturer of the Experimental School at the Open University of China, and corresponding author of this article (100039).
Huang Yan, president of Harbin Radio and TV University (150001).
Wang Zhengdong, a professor and vice president of Zhejiang Radio and TV University (310030).
Yang Yao, a lecturer, and Xiao Tingting, a teaching assistant, of the Faculty of Humanities at the Open University of China (100039).
Yu Shaoping, a guest professor and director of Yu Shaoping Painting and Calligraphy Centre of Research Institute of Painting and Calligraphy Art Education at the Open University of China (100039).
Cui Ming, a research assistant of the Quality Supervision and Evaluation Centre at the Open University of China (100039).


Abstract: The global MOOC movement developed steadily in 2019. International platforms such as Coursera maintained growth in the number of courses and microcredentials. A number of new educational products or service models have also been created this year.

Learner Support at Korea National Open University and the Open University of China: a Comparison

Sun Hongfei1, Ji Ruifang2

Abstract: Learner support involves guidance for autonomous learning provided by distance-education colleges and universities, and plays a significant role in the success of distance learners. This paper compares the experiences and practices of Korea National Open University (KNOU) and the Open University of China (OUC) in terms of learner support, including tutorials, counselling, financial assistance, student mutual aid, and student organisations and activities. It analyses the similarities and differences of the various kinds of learner support offered at the two universities. The research shows that the two universities have a lot in common in terms of the contents and overall forms of service, but also that there are significant differences in their specific practices. Suggestions are finally made for changes in learner support at colleges and universities providing distance education in China based on the analysis provided.

Keywords:Korea National Open University; learner support; tutoring; student counselling; student mutual aid

Learner support can improve the quality and effectiveness of distance education, and is an important element of successful learning. With more and more attention being paid to the quality of degree continuing education, distance-education colleges and universities have made many reforms to teaching and to learner support. The OUC has made changes to online teaching, teacher management, and student-affairs management in an effort to provide better learner support and to improve the quality of both teaching and services.

KNOU was founded in 1972. It was the first distance-education university in Korea, and is the only national open university there now, offering degree education at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and comprising 13 provincial schools and 35 study centres nationwide. It employs about 3,873 staff, including 2,990 part-time assistant teachers (Wang Xueshuang, 2015), and has about 137,000 students (KNOU, 2017), with over 90 percent of them being on-the-job students. It offers diverse, individualised, flexible and meticulous learner support that helps students complete their schooling and enhances their overall performance, abilities, and social responsibility.
Scholars such as David Sewart and Alan Tait have proposed that learner support should include collective teaching, tutoring, self-help groups, counseling, question–and-answer sessions, peer support, social activities, financial assistance, and student associations (Ding Xin 2008, pp. 101-110). Investigation has shown that tutoring, counselling, financial assistance, student mutual aid, and student organisations and activities have achieved a mature level of involvement in learner support.

KNOU and the OUC have a great deal in common in terms of educational purposes and teaching models. This paper looks at six key connections in the learner support at the two universities, summarises their common experiences and practices, and analyses the differences, and reasons for them, in an effort to help open universities in China offer better learner support.

I. Tutoring

Tutors are especially important as a means of learner support in distance education (Richard Freeman et al., 2008, p. 130). This paper analyses tutoring and its management at both universities, and compares them.

KNOU employs three kinds of tutors: tutors at provincial universities, online tutors, and tutors who are on university faculties (Yao Laiyan et al., 2015, p. 149). Tutors at provincial universities are mainly responsible for face-to-face tutorials; online tutors give online tutorials, and are similar to teaching assistants; and faculty tutors are usually part-time teachers from other universities, and conduct face-to-face and offline tutorials. Recently, provincial and faculty tutors have been increasingly interchangeable, and a new category, “academic tutor”, has come into being. Details are given in Table 1.

Table 1
Job Descriptions of KNOU Tutors


In line with the division of labour in teaching, educational units at various levels of the OUC employ teachers with different roles. For each specialty, course leaders are assigned to the headquarters, course coordinators are assigned to the branches, and course tutors are assigned to the study centres (China Central Radio and TV University, 2006). Tutors are mainly employed at regionalstudy centres, and are the main group responsible for direct tutoring. They give face-to face tutorials at study centres, answer questions online, and evaluate assignments. The online aspect of their work is becoming more and more central throughout the OUC.

Table 2. Job Descriptions of OUC Tutors

It can be seen that the two universities have a lot in common when it comes to tutoring. Both offer online and offline instruction; both offer face-to-face tutorials at the study-centre level; both assign online tutors to educational units above this level; in both tutors give tutorials, answer student questions, organise learning activities, and so on; and both monitor the performances of tutors and administrators, as well as the satisfaction of students.

In addition, however, there are some differences in the job responsibilities of tutors at the two universities based on their situations and operations.

First, they serve different target groups. Each category of tutor at KNOU serves a specific student group, such as new students, transfer students, online students, or students with greater general-education needs. In contrast, the two categories of OUC tutors generally serve all the students of a given major or course without more specific classification.

The second difference is in the courses they serve. The tutoring at KNOU is strongly related to the course categories; for example, online tutors and provincial-university tutors are assigned to online courses, and general-education and specialised courses, respectively. At the OUC, on the other hand, the connection is not so direct.

The third difference lies in the tools used to give online tutorials. The online tutors at KNOU give direct tutoring on the online platform, while faculty tutors give tutorials through a special tutoring system. In contrast, the two categories of tutors at the OUC both give tutorials via questions and answers on the learning networks.

The fourth difference is in the job requirements. Due the differing tutorial workloads corresponding to different students and courses, each tutor at either university has different numbers of students and time requirements. Each tutor at KNOU is in charge of more students than his peer at the OUC, with more specific requirements in terms of tutorial time and frequency. At the OUC, however, there are no unified requirements when it comes to work time and frequency.

The fifth difference is in job requirements. The tutors and lecturers at KNOU are clearly classified. The tutors have no responsibility to give lectures; this is up to professors or part-time teachers. Moreover, tutors do not usually go over assignments (Hyo-Soon You et al., 2009). In contrast, the tutors at OUC study centres give face-to-face lectures, and the course coordinators of the teaching teams give online video lectures, and usually grade assignments.

Ⅱ. Student Counselling

The Student Services Centre exists at KNOU to deal with a variety of student affairs, not just academic ones, and give corresponding support. Attached to this centre is a call centre which offers telephone counselling. It takes and makes calls, monitors student satisfaction, and so on.

KNOU’s counselling services cover enrolment, registration, courses, examinations, graduation, career development, health, information technology and other topics over the phone, online, and face-to-face. Of these, career development offers information on job searches and career planning, gives training lectures, and helps students via both online and offline counselling. Students can either access online consultations through the university website, or get them offline by participating in psychological testing given at the university’s headquarters in Seoul, at a psychological-counselling workshop, or in group consultation. Health consultations offer information and services related to health and medical care, and cover basic health information, as well as assistance with first aid, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Students can obtain information for free by logging onto the university website.

The Distance Reception Centre can be found in the OUC headquarters to answer student question about distance education. Some provincial branches have also set up call centres to offer their own consultation services. These offer information and receive complaints concerning enrolment, admissions, registration, course selection, assignments and examinations by telephone, email, BBS, and instant messaging. They also gather and analyse data on learning processes and return visits (Hao et al., 2011).

Both universities have established relatively complete consultation services, and have a lot in common in terms of how these services operate. However, the student-counselling services at KNOU are more diverse, covering consultations on career development, health care and information technology. The OUC does not yet offer services on career development and health care, while information-technology services are the responsibility of the technical-support department.

Ⅲ. Financial Assistance

Scholarships exist for a variety of student groups at KNOU. They include internal and external scholarships, depending on their sources, and the internal scholarships are further divided into the three categories: tuition exemption, tuition reduction, and cash awards.

The reduction or exemption waive part or all of the tuition fees and school supporting association fees1 , and are awarded for excellence or to members of the student union, social-security recipients, welfare recipients, members of low-income families, and graduates returning for more schooling. Cash awards include student assistantships and university development-fund or press scholarships, with certain amounts of cash being distributed at regular intervals. External scholarships are funded by the government or other institutions, and mainly consist of national scholarships. Some of these scholarships are set up by the university in accordance with the requirements of the funder.

Table 3. KNOU Scholarships
(KNOU, 2017)

The OUC has set up four types of scholarships, and financial aid for students in the “Long March Belt” educational poverty-alleviation project, with university funds. Corresponding scholarships and other financial aid exist in all branches and study centres. The names of the OUC scholarships and other financial aid, as well as the qualifications of recipients, are specified in Table 4.

Table 4. OUC scholarships and other financial aid


Both universities offer scholarships to a variety of students. KNOU has more sources of scholarship funding than the OUC; they include governments, enterprises, and other institutions outside the university, as well as the university itself. Its scholarships are more diverse, and have more recipients. The prize winners also include student-union leaders, social-security recipients, members of low-income families, and others, but are not offered for academic excellence. More OUC scholarships involve cash as opposed to tuition-fee reductions or exemptions, and some students receive student subsidies.

IV. Student Mutual Aid

KNOU maintains that most of the difficulties students face are ones they can help each other with, and because of this it has given older students responsibility for helping younger ones. This has become one of the most outstanding characteristics of the university’s learner support.

The older students help the newer ones get accustomed to the environment and educational approaches of the university. Those who have completed two years of studies, or graduated from the university, are qualified to become student tutors, and only students who have been at the school for less than one year, as well as transfer students, can be paired with them. Usually each student tutor has about 10 students to mentor, dealing with any questions they may have about courses and campus life. Provincial universities and study centres also give face-to-face tutorials, and organise student activities (Kinee, 2011). A student tutor meeting certain conditions can get two volunteer credits and related certification.

Such guidance enhances the quality of support services, and is popular with all the students involved. Investigations have shown that the service enhances the interpersonal skills of student mentors, enables new students to quickly adapt to university life, improves performance, and builds friendships. Above all, it has significantly reduced the dropout and suspension-of-studies rates of new students (Kinee, 2011).
No such service is offered at the OUC, and there is less interaction among students of different years. On the other hand, each study centre offers channels for student in the same class to help each other. For instance, the head teachers of the study centres set up QQ or WeChat groups to facilitate this, and course tutors organise group-study activities during face-to-face tutorials or after class, or arrange online group discussions via BBS.

V. Student Organisations and Activities

Both KNOU and the OUC have a variety of student organisations to organise both curricular and extra-curricular activities, and to create a positive, friendly and harmonious campus atmosphere by relying on the autonomy and self-management capabilities of their students.

1. Student organisations

The student organisations at both universities include student unions, student associations and study groups (KNOU, 2017). Details about the three categories of students organisation are given in the following table.

Table 5. Student Organisations at KNOU and the OUC

As Table 5 shows, both universities have established three categories of student organisation, each with roughly the same objectives. However, there are still differences. First, KNOU has established a student-union system that covers the headquarters, provincial universities and teaching facilities, while the OUC student unions mainly exist in local study centres; second, learning communities account for the largest proportion of student associations at KNOU, while interest communities do so at the OUC, which has no religious communities; and third, study groups at KNOU are organised by students, who are free to join them, while those at the OUC are organised by tutors and have relatively fixed memberships.

2. Student activities

Both universities encourage and support diverse curricular and extra-curricular activities to promote student interaction and their all-round development. What’s more, both offer online and offline activities, with the provincial universities and study centres organising more offline activities and the headquarters more online ones, and both support student activities by providing venues, guidance, funding, and computer technology.

There are also differences in the student activities that take place at the two universities. First, the organisers are different. Most of the student activities at KNOU are organised by the student unions or associations; some are launched by administrative departments, but organised by student unions. Meanwhile, activities at OUC headquarters and branches are usually carried out by administrative departments, while activities organised by study centres are carried out with the help of student unions. Second, KNOU encourages students to participate in social activities and services by giving them up to two credits per semester for doing so. At the OUC, academic-prize-winning students are given credit for academic activities, but not for volunteering. Third, KNOU headquarters provides funds to outstanding community activities, while funding comes mainly from study centres at the OUC, and only rarely from the headquarters and branches.

VI. Causes and Lessons

We have seen that KNOU and the OUC are both similar and different in terms of learner support. For the major aspects of this support their services are similar, with both paying attention to integrating online and offline services via information technology. However, KNOU pays greater attention to enhancing its operations, and makes use of information technology to a greater extent to provide students with diverse and individualised services. The tutoring is more targeted, the counselling more diverse and meticulous; the financial assistance is more extensive, and the use of older students as mentors is a well calibrated system. The system of student organisations is more sophisticated, more support is given to student activities, and the university offers new students more diverse services.

The root causes of these differences are the different management systems and operations of the two universities. KNOU’s provincial universities are its internal departments, and the headquarters has direct control of them; there are fewer educational levels. Therefore, the headquarters has more responsibility to coordinate tutoring, and is able to participate directly in services. A review of the OUC has shown that the headquarters, branches, schools and study centres cooperate in running the school. The headquarters is unable to manage the human, financial and material resources of its lower levels directly, given the vast number of schools spread over a vast territory and with many different levels. For a long time, the headquarters has been mainly responsible for the planning, guidance and design of support services, and less so for their day-to-day operations. Support is mainly the duty of study centres. As a result, the university service teams do not have a unitary mandate. The support services of the OUC differ from those of KNOU in terms of diversity, individual character, and degree of meticulousness.

Neither distance-education nor open universities in China usually manage or operate their study centres directly; they mainly cooperate in running the schools. The support services in the headquarters of these universities are similar to those at the OUC. Therefore, lessons can be learned for future support services at distance-education and open universities, and the OUC in particular, by contrasting key support-service areas of KNOU and the OUC.

The first is to integrate standard services and offer them online.

Distance-education universities should promote coordinated management of support services by standardising study-centre services. The universities should set up online support-service portals that give students access to the services each study centre offers, including tutoring, counselling, and information about student activities. At the same time, service standards must be laid out, and compliance with these of every study centre ensured.

The second is to provide diverse and individualised services.

Distance-education universities should tailor their services to the different student groups they serve in terms of tutoring, counselling, funding assistance, organising community activities, promoting student mutual aid, and helping to solve learner difficulties. Furthermore, they should assist students with their needs in terms of professional development, first aid, social services and leadership training. In particular, universities should focus on helping students adapt to their new environment in all the aspects mentioned.

The third is to offer diverse and standardised tutoring services.

Distance-education universities should provide online face-to-face targeted tutoring to different categories of student groups and covering a variety of types of course, with particular focus on new and online students. They should set up web-based tutoring teams to make up for tutor shortages at rural study centres. Furthermore, they should formulate standards to help determine who is to be tutored, the number of students, and how often and how long online face-to-face tutoring sessions should be.

The fourth is to integrate online and offline services via information technology.

Distance-education universities should optimise their services through information technology and the integration of online and offline services. They should provide both online and offline counselling by telephone and other means to give immediate in-depth mental-health and career-development advice face-to-face. Moreover, they should design online and offline activities to facilitate student participation in activities. In addition, they can provide ways to bring students together, both online and offline, for mutual aid and other purposes.

The fifth is to enhance student mutual aid.

Distance-education universities should encourage student interaction and mutual assistance. Universities should establish student unions, extend them to each study centre, provide student associations with financial and venue support, and encourage the students to manage themselves. They should borrow the practice of having senior-grade students or graduates give guidance to new arrivals via information technology. Furthermore, they should set up special scholarships for student-union members, offer credits to seniors giving guidance services, and encourage students to interact and engage in mutual aid.

About the Authors:

1. Sun Hongfei, a Master’s-degree holder and research assistant, is deputy director of the Academic Affairs Department at the Open University of China, No. 75 Fuxing Road, Beijing, 100039, 13811053897, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
2. Ji Ruifang, a Master’s-degree holder and research assistant, is on staff at the Learning Resource Centre, Beijing Open University, No. 4 Zaojunmiao Road, Haidian District, Beijing, 100081, 13693323827, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


1. The school supporting association fee was initially established to have parents assist in the construction of the university, with the fee as a financial back-up. Later this fee became one that students had to pay (Yang, 2000).

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Strategies and Logic for Continuing Education Reform in the New Era

Wang Yongfeng, OUC

The year 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up in China. Great changes have taken place in the education field in China over the past 40 years and Chinese education has now entered the middle and upper echelons of education around the world. Great progress has also been made in continuing education. However, we must also acknowledge that problems still exist in continuing education and that its position as the weak link of education remains unchanged. In a recent special interview with a journalist from People’s Daily, minister of the Ministry of Education (MOE) Chen Baosheng underlined that “Preschool education, special education, online education, and lifelong education are still weak links, and there are still gaps in education between rural and urban areas and between regions, schools, and groups.” Minister Chen’s statement is a reflection of the status quo and problems in the continuing education field. Throughout the history of the 40 years of reform and opening up, reform has been the power behind the development of, and a consistent topic for the practice of, continuing education in China. As far as degree continuing education is concerned, the reform of continuing education has always been a work in progress, from the establishment of the Radio and TV University and the system of “self-taught examination” to the implementation of “modern distance education project” and the establishment of the Open University.

Today, continuing education is at a new historical starting point where it is faced with a new situation, requirements, opportunities, and challenges. This paper makes fundamental propositions for continuing education reform in the new era in order to explore the relevant logical starting point, core path, and preconditions for reform by focusing on the logic and strategic issues of continuing education reform for the new era. It aims to establish “the proper access” to advance reform and explore a new path for continuing education reform. It also aims to share and learn from peers in academic circles, as well as act as a reference point for relevant decision-makers, researchers, and practitioners.

I. “Developing high quality continuing education that people are satisfied with” is the fundamental proposition for continuing education reform in the new era

Reform is the key to solving all problems in continuing education and implementing the decision of “improving continuing education” raised in the report of the 19th National Party Congress. Reform is necessary in order to develop high quality continuing education that people are satisfied with as part of the pursuit of “people-centric” value. Only reform can help continuing education to realise quality development.

1. “Improving continuing education” is a requirement and logical principle for the reform and development of continuing education

The report of the 19th National Party Congress stated that, “We will improve continuing education, step up efforts to build a learning society, and promote the well-rounded development of all our people.” This is the first time that the word “improvement” has been included in the Party’s top documents concerning continuing education; previously, the wording was a variant of “develop continuing education” or “step up efforts to develop continuing education.” The proposal of “improving continuing education” indicates the Party and the state’s new understanding of and requirements for continuing education. It is the logical principle and strategic direction to promote continuing education reform in the years ahead, and also marks that continuing education in China has since entered a new development period. The core feature of this development period is achieving the transformation from multiple and large scale development to high quality and intensive development.

A review of the history shows that 1978 was the start of the first “new era” for the development of continuing education in China. A radio and TV university system covering urban and rural areas all over China came into being after 1978 and plays an important role in continuing education in China to this day. The new decision made about continuing education at the 19th National Party Congress in 2017 has initiated the second “new era” for continuing education in China. “The second new era” of continuing education presents both opportunities and challenges. It kicks off against a background in which China has become the world’s second largest economy, when China is moving closer to the world’s central stage, when China is stepping up its efforts to transform itself from a large country to one with powerful human resources, and when mass higher education has become universal. Whether in terms of meeting the need for lifelong learning for all in order to promote balanced development in education, and improve human capital and the overall performance of the nation or in terms of the strategy of building a powerful education market in response to the people’s desire for a better life and to serve the Chinese dream of realising the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people, continuing education has embraced the new situation and requirements. It is faced with new missions and tasks.

2. Realising “high quality development” is the key to making rational choices and a scientific plan for the strategy of continuing education reform

In order to answer questions such as how to advance continuing education reform in an effective way, how to make a plan, what to start with, where the problems lies and what the difficulties may be, it is necessary to touch upon the design, choices, and implementation of the strategy of continuing education reform. The plan for and choices surrounding the reform strategy are a strategic issue in and of themselves. The strategy is closely related to the success and failure of the reform in terms of its results. A realistic reform strategy can achieve the expected results, whereas an unrealistic reform strategy may affect the results and progress of reform and even cause losses. Therefore, the issue of reform strategy needs to be taken into consideration from the perspective of strategy.

The most important factor in the scientific design and rational choice of the reform strategy is to choose the right focus, foothold, and starting point. “Quality” is the core “key word” for all the topics of today’s reform and also “the strong note of the era” and strategic base point for the development of continuing education reform. We should adhere to the principle of “high quality development”, establish the idea that “only high quality is really good”, and enhance the collective sense that “continuing education should be high quality education.” This is the fundamental standard by which we should judge and choose specific reform measures, and it is also the way for us to write effective article of continuing education reform. The realisation of high quality development should be the core objective of advancing continuing education reform. We must insist on quality first and make it a core part of our evaluation. The outstanding problems and systematic obstacles that restrict the quality development of continuing education must be accurately identified and solved. This is a shortcut for evaluating and making decisions about the reform strategy of continuing education.

II. The logical starting point of reform is to understand continuing education as “a separate type of education”

The advancement of continuing education reform should begin with establishing a logical starting point. The first is to understand and grasp the concept and meaning of continuing education, in order to clearly understand its positioning and boundaries. In the past, reforms swung without positioning and they were left as they were without much progress. This may be related to the failure to grasp the inherent characteristics of the object of reform from the very beginning or the failure to establish the boundaries of reform.

1. Continuing education as an independent “education type” has been defined from a legal perspective

Article 17 of the Education Law of the People’s Republic of China states that “China practices an education system comprised of preschool, primary, secondary and higher education.” Article 20 states that “China practices Vocational and continuing education and the development of various forms of continuing education is encouraged by the country in order to give citizens the chance to receive proper education in politics, economics, culture, science, and business, to promote the recognition of different kinds of learning results, and to promote lifelong learning for all.” In line with these relevant articles, further analysis shows that continuing education is a different kind of education in juxtaposition with school education and vocational education. Continuing education as an independent “education type” has been confirmed and solidified. Although they all fall into the category of “education”, school, vocational, and continuing education are clearly defined in terms of labour division and obviously differentiated in terms of functional positioning, training target, training objective, education form, education contents, and institutional system. For example, continuing education serves all citizens, which is what makes it fundamentally different from school education mainly oriented towards the school-age population.

Based on the above analysis, this paper defines “continuing education” as a separate kind of education within China’s education system. The term “continuing education” as used in this paper, if not specifically noted, is automatically recognised as including degree and non-degree continuing education. The relevant polices and measures raised in the research, and the relevant viewpoints and conclusions made, if not specifically noted, are also automatically recognised as being applicable to both degree and non-degree continuing education. This perspective is a cognitive prerequisite for this paper to study and explore issues pertinent to continuing education reform.

In order to advance continuing education reform and plan a reform strategy, it is necessary to further explore the differences and connections between continuing education and other kinds of education based on the well-defined concepts and connotations of continuing education. The first is to analyse and understand the differences between continuing education and school and vocational education by viewing them as different education types and to establish that they are in fact not subordinate to each other or intersecting with each other but equal to each other. The focus should be on understanding the different education systems that they practice. The second is to grasp the connection between them by keeping in mind that they are all just different “types” of education. They operate within the same education system, just with different functions and division of labour. There is no great gulf between them and students from each type of education can, in theory, be mutually recognised, interconnected, and transferred through credit, school registration, and degree i by following certain rules or agreements.

2. It is necessary to establish what continuing education is and is not

According to the related articles of Education Law, there should no longer be any doubt as to “what continuing education is” and “what continuing education is not” once we have a deep understanding of the position of continuing education as a “separate kind of education”. However, it may be necessary to take specific conditions into consideration. For example, can higher degree continuing education at the undergraduate and junior college level be included in higher education? Open universities fall into the category of continuing education but can they fall into the category of higher education? It is not always easy to find the answers to these questions.

The National Outline for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020) indicates that “Continuing education is an educational activity oriented towards all members of society after their school education, particularly adults, and is an important part of the lifelong learning system.” This is the latest definition of continuing education made in national documents. This definition is linked to the connotation of continuing education described in the Education Law, just from a different perspective. In order to have a good understanding of this definition, we need to clearly define what school education is in the first place. Does school education refer to “education provided by the school,” “education run by school” or something else? This paper will need to answer these questions.
In fact, such an understanding of school education will not suffice. For instance, there is almost no argument on the positioning of open universities in continuing education. However, this also means that open universities are no longer considered “school education” in line with our understanding of the Education Law. Nevertheless, the open university is indeed a university, and it provides and runs education. Therefore, an appropriate understanding of “school education” should be “when a person receives full-time education in various types of schools (campuses) at all levels as a formally registered full-time student.” Only when “school education” is defined in this way can we have a better understanding and grasp of the definition of continuing education put forward in the national education outline, and understand that the positioning of open universities as continuing education is indeed true to facts.

In response to the above questions, this paper hereby proposes a simpler definition. “Continuing education” means “individuals who continue to receive education.” The word “individual” underlines that the majority of learners are part-time registered students or on-the-job students; the word “continuing” emphasises the latest time calculated for one’s completion of receiving full-time education in school (campus) as a formally registered full-time student; the word “education” covers all kinds of new knowledge, new skills, key capacities, and overall performance, mainly referring to all kinds of high quality part-time education for the purposes of promoting individual professional capability, satisfying their own hobbies, and upgrading their degree to get diplomas and degrees (note: part-time education as mentioned here doesn’t exclude full-time learning or represent quality standard different from that of due full-time education).

Based on the simple definition of continuing education, not all of the “school education” currently included in higher education is continuing education. Likewise, higher degree continuing education at the undergraduate and junior college level is not (or does not belong to) “higher education” or “vocational education; conversely, higher education and vocational education don’t include higher degree continuing education. In particular, we should highlight that a “self-taught” examination system exists only as a kind of examination system instead of a form of education. Therefore, self-taught examinations and continuing education are not “on the same level.” These definitions and conclusions are of great importance in understanding this paper’s upcoming discussions and logic.

3. Considering the internal classification of continuing education from different perspectives

It is necessary to grasp the internal classification of continuing education from the following perspectives in order to advance its reform.

(1) From the perspective of learning contents and results, continuing education can be divided into two categories: certificate and non-certificate continuing education. Certificate continuing education can be subdivided into different categories according to the certificates the learners get. Broadly, it can be divided into two categories: degree and non-degree continuing education. More specific divisions lead to many specific categories (see table 1).

It is necessary to point out that some degree continuing education programmes are not necessarily allowed to apply for or grant degrees based on the consideration of this kind of classification. On the contrary, relevant courses from some non-degree continuing education programmes can also be granted credits and they are not necessarily all “non-credit courses.” It is up to institutions (universities) to decide whether degrees are granted without academic degrees or credits granted without degrees.

(2) From the perspective of different learning approaches, continuing education can be divided into distance (network, online, correspondence) continuing education, face-to-face (centralised learning in communities, auditing in the classrooms, and night classes) continuing education, and blended continuing education.

(3) From the perspective of different types of learners, continuing education can be divided into continuing education for on-the-job personnel, continuing education for the unemployed (retired), continuing education for professionals and technicians, and continuing education for other groups, such as continuing education for civil servants, workers, farmers, and military personnel.

(4) From the perspective of school operation, continuing education can be divided into continuing education run by schools and continuing education run by non-schools (social continuing education and training institutions or industries and enterprises). The schools can be subdivided into full-time schools engaged in continuing education, such as open universities (RTVUs), adult universities, and universities engaged in part-time continuing education, such as regular universities (including regular undergraduate universities and tertiary vocational universities). Regular universities offer continuing education and serve the social public mainly by setting up relevant continuing education schools or conducting continuing education training projects or give courses inside their relevant departments.

(5) From the perspective of talent development, continuing education can be divided into professional (occupational) capacity oriented continuing education, technical skills oriented continuing education, academic (innovative research) oriented continuing education, and continuing education oriented towards the improvement of citizen performance. Of these, professional (occupational) capacity is an advantage and characteristic of continuing education, technical skills is the weak link, the academic orientation is somewhat neglected, and the citizen performance improvement orientation is an area of growth.

III. The core route of reform is to practice problem-oriented “combined boxing” integrating top-level designs and key breakthroughs

The core of a scientific reform strategy for continuing education is to answer the question of what we should do. This paper asserts that the core path should be based on outstanding problems and difficult system and institution problems. It should adhere to the integration of top-level designs and overall planning with key breakthroughs and part priorities and practice a kind of “combined boxing” aimed at fixed strategic targets in response to the current state of continuing education.

1. A review of the existing problems in general and in part

Great progress and achievements have indeed been made in continuing education in China. However, an in-depth analysis reveals that some achievements can also be regarded as problems. Enrolment scale is one such example. 2.2961 million students enrolled in online degree education at the undergraduate and junior college levels in the 67 pilot regular universities in 2016. Such large enrolment has put pressure on the universities and made it hard to ensure the quality of talent development. Therefore, an analysis of existing problems in continuing education has to be made from the perspective of both grasping the outstanding and fundamental problems and further understanding hot issues that are drawing attention from leaders, social public, experts, and students.

First, there are quite a few problems, contradictions, and challenges in continuing education. These problems include unbalanced and inadequate development at the top level, uncoordinated and asynchronous development of degree and non-degree continuing education at the middle level, and inaccurate positioning, low quality, bad reputation, poor quality, unclear characteristics, insufficient vitality, and weak teaching team at the bottom level. This reform aims to solve these problems and remove these obstacles. To this end, more attention should be paid to finding out “the problems behind the problems”, discovering the complicated relations and connections between different problems, phenomena, and causes, and identifying the systematic and institutional causes of these problems. Overall, this will allow us to find a “one stop” solution to a range of problems.

The overall existing problems are mainly caused by a lack of unified top level design and a lack of systematic coordination at the national level. This is a fundamental problem restricting the reform of continuing education and also the root of a number of problems, such as incomplete laws and regulations in the field of continuing education, the imperfect leadership system, backward guiding ideology in school operation, and insufficient funds. Compared with other types of education, such as higher education and vocational education, continuing education is seriously lagging behind. Although continuing education has a long history and has a solid foundation and rich experience in system building in terms of practical exploration and innovation of its models, progress on the construction of a unified system with long-term guiding significance at the national level is basically at zero. To date, no special continuing education laws have been promulgated at the national level and no relevant special department regulations, development plans or daily management regulations have been issued to coordinate the overall development of continuing education (including degree and non-degree continuing education) at the MOE level. There is a lack of common understanding and effective system support for coordination between the MOE and other relevant commissions, industries, and local authorities with regards to the business and management of continuing education. The lack of special law and regulation systems leads to insufficient support for the reform and development of continuing education. This weak coordination has restricted long-term development.

Second, the scale of degree continuing education at some regular universities is too big to be brought under control. The past few years have seen an excessively rapid increase in the scale of online education enrolment at a number of individual pilot regular universities with low value diplomas, a low number of academic degrees, and low student success rate. Problems such as redirection of funds, the transfer of rights to school operation, and difficulty in effective supervision of teaching behaviours are becoming increasingly apparent and have drawn attention from the public and the media. These have become hot issues and focused problems in the domain of continuing education. It is difficult to try to settle the problems facing degree continuing education in regular universities using traditional thought and usual practice. In terms of implementation strategy, after the issuance of the nation’s top level designs on continuing educationm the reform of continuing education in universities can no longer wait. Instead, it should be planned and deployed simultaneously with the overall top level design for continuing education. Temporary measures may also be acceptable in some cases. Any of this will work only if the starting point is to solve practical problems.

The problem of low quality degree continuing education in some regular universities that has recently become apparent is mainly caused by a “dual track” operating system. Incomplete and imperfect systems and institutions that can ensure and upgrade quality are also a direct cause of these problems. These issues mainly present themselves in the following six respects. The first is that the existing school running system and the requirement of “quality first” have nothing in common, which is favourable to the expansion of enrolment but unfavourable to the improvement of talent development. Many people in society and the media are concerned about this. The second is that a scientific, reasonable, unified, and effective management system for quality and supervision has not yet been established. The relevant quality standards and regulatory systems are imperfect and the policies and regulations are divided. This is embodied especially by the “examination free entrance” admission system. The third is that government public service mechanisms and platform construction need to be strengthened, and there is no available normalised and standardised long-term innovative mechanism. The fourth is that the clearly incomplete and unbalanced fund input system. In face of a sharp increase in funds for the average student in full-time regular higher education, students of degree continuing education have never had such average student expenditure. The fifth is that the tuition system is not rationally or scientifically designed. Tuition fees remain long unchanged and the low fees cannot satisfy the need to upgrade talent development or to cover the cost of school running. The sixth is that there is no simple, easy, direct and effective incentive mechanism available. Although some incentives are written in policies, few have been implemented.

2. The purpose of top level design lies in stepping up efforts to formulate a new national system of continuing education

The construction of a “national system of continuing education” is not a new issue. “Advancing the construction of a national system of continuing education” was proposed early on in the 2011 Work Outline of the Ministry of Education. To this end, this paper asserts that the core objective of top level design for continuing education reform is to construct a new national system of continuing education from the perspective of exploring its reform strategy. This is a fundamental system innovation aimed at ensuring the future long-term development of continuing education. It is necessary to first clarify issues at two levels with regard to the construction of a national system of continuing education. The first is to clarify the construction strategy of national system of continuing education. The second is to clarify the framework and essential factors of national system of continuing education. This paper discusses these issues based on thorough learning and full implementation of the MOE’s work in combination with the new requirements for, and strategies of, continuing education reform in the new era.

The first is to clarify the construction strategy for a national system of continuing education. Although the issue of a national system of continuing education was put on the official agenda as early as in 2011, the MOE has not given further details on the specific meaning, advancement strategy, and construction path of this system. Today, continuing education faces a new theme and environment and the construction of a national system of continuing education should naturally keep pace with the times and make positive innovations. With regard to the construction strategy for this system, we can first set out to organise the research and design of the framework and essential factors of the national system of continuing education, and then organise tools to advance the specific construction and implementation of the system. In the long run, the goal is to establish the content of the national system of continuing education and solidify it through national continuing education law. If there is legislative difficulty in the short term, we can also act according to our ability seek the implementation of a national system of continuing education by way of decree of the State Council or regulation of the MOE. We will do what we can do first, make positive explorations, and advance in a steady way in order to accumulate experience and promote legislation at the national level when conditions are mature.

In addition, we will promote research, resource integration, and talent discovery in the field of continuing education in order to boost cross-functional communication and coordination, the arrangement and summary of local experience, and international cooperation and exchanges. The ultimate goal is to drive the consistent modernisation of the governance system and governance capacity of continuing education through the construction of its new national system. This will provide systematic and institutional guarantees and support for the development of continuing education with Chinese characteristics at the national level, lay a foundation for realising a new continuing education management system with complete systems, school-running standards and forceful supervision, and shape a new continuing education development pattern with reasonable scale and structure and optimised layout.

The second is to clarify the framework and essential factors of a national system of continuing education. This paper hereby presents a framework overview of the national system of continuing education (see figure 1).

The following are discussions on the ten essential factors affecting a national system of continuing education at both the school running level and supervision level.

First, essential factors at the school running level, which include:

(1) Establish a new national school running system for continuing education and promote the integrated development of different forms of continuing education in order to find their respective positions and demonstrate their respective advantages. In order to position continuing education as a separate type of education, we should cancel the existing “adult higher education” system and its corresponding institutional system and establish a new school running system of degree and non-degree continuing education under the new lifelong learning concept. A rational division of labour and positioning between regular universities, adult universities, and open universities (RTVUs) in order to offer degree continuing education, gradually promote regular universities and bring into play their teaching advantages in different disciplines, and provide high quality non-degree continuing education oriented towards all members of society.

(2) Establish a unified national “examination-free entrance” system for continuing education and enact “autonomous enrolment, admission according to ability, tolerant entrance, and strict graduation”. Continuing education is open education oriented to all citizens; the option to receive continuing education is both a need and a right. To this end, it is necessary for continuing education to practice a learner-centric examination-free entrance system. On one hand, educational institutions should scientifically and appropriately admit students according to their actual abilities; on the other hand, from the perspective of “quality first”, the government should set a maximum enrolment scale for educational institutions.

(3) Establish a national system for the evaluation of degree continuing education graduates and promote the transfer of focus from “degree” to “capacity”. This system not only directly tests the students themselves but also indirectly reflects the talent development capacity educational institutions. In practice, this system can be implemented by a qualified third party social institution approved by the Ministry of Education under its leadership and management. The evaluation results will be one the most important references for evaluating the quality of educational institutions, and should be pegged to specific policy levers such as funding, resource allocation, entry and exit, and awards and appraisals.

(4) Establish a new national teacher management system for continuing education and foster high quality teaching resources. We will pay attention to the laws and characteristics of continuing education in light of the spirit of the “Opinions of the Central Party Committee and the State Council on Comprehensively Deepening the Reform of Teacher Team Building in the New Era” and establish a new dynamic and open continuing education teacher management system oriented towards society. Practical ability and actual contributions will be upheld as the first principle in post assignment, professional title evaluation, award evaluation, and professional development. The focus should be on creating a high-level full-time and part-time teacher rank that can be developed and implemented during the course of deepening reform, overcoming difficulties, and imparting knowledge.

(5) Establish and improve the national policy guarantee system for continuing education to make up for the supply-side weaknesses of continuing education reform. Continuing education, which is positioned as a separate type of education and is oriented towards serving and meeting the lifelong learning needs of all the citizens, should not merely be taken as a kind of theoretical discussion. It should become the basis for real legislation deployment, policy supply, resource allocation, fund input, project arrangement, organisation leadership, and organisation structuring. Positive efforts should be made to establish a special leading body and budgetary fund account for continuing education in order to ensure the position, benefits, and expectations of continuing education within major reforms, important policies, and key projects on the future of national education.

Second, essential factors at the supervision level, which include:

(1) Establish a national quality standard for continuing education. Firstly, standards are needed to uphold and realise the high quality development of continuing education. The construction of standards should integrate international experience and build upon it according to China’s national conditions. It is also necessary to coordinate degree and non-degree continuing education and reciprocally support unified standard and highlighted features. This standard will help in unifying the concept, enhancing common understanding, drawing a clear distinction of the base line, and encouraging innovation to create a fair environment. As a result, it will be possible to set an industrial model and drive the initiative in learning from each other, catching up to the most advanced level, and helping the less advanced through comparison. The construction of national quality standards should cover all the factors affecting the quality of continuing education, including specifications and index descriptions on all the aspects of education and teaching, all the links of talent development, and all levels of human, financial, and material resources.

(2) Establish a national evaluation system for continuing education. Following the establishment of a national quality standard of continuing education, the establishment of a matching national quality evaluation system will help to realise the unification of quality requirements, implementation, and evaluation. The MOE can take the lead in organisation or delegate power to relevant evaluation agencies to enable the regulation of quality evaluation of continuing education institutions all over China, and to publicise the evaluation results. Evaluation is an important measure for the educational administrative departments to advance reforms to streamline administration, delegate powers, improve regulation, and strengthen services. It is conducive to promoting self-discipline in the industry and to realising the entry and exit of the industry. Any continuing education institutions evaluated as unqualified should be rectificated or suspended. A third social party should be actively introduced to participate in the evaluation and factors such as learners’ learning satisfaction, students’ performance after graduation, and employer evaluation should be included in the evaluation results.

(3) Create an overall qualification certification system for continuing education. People who have passed all of the specific certification items can receive an overall qualification certification and be given certificates. These specific certifications include a number of items, such as operation conditions and facilities, level of information technology, disciplines, specialties (projects), courses, credits, certificates, degrees, and teachers of continuing education institutions. In view of certification, the voluntary acceptation principle should be practiced (although, in principle, all state-run continuing education institutions must be involved). Certification results should be publicised as a mechanism by which people can evaluate and choose continuing education institutions. Specific certification implementation can be undertaken by a qualified third party with the approval of the Ministry of Education. In addition, certification shall be given to courses and credits at continuing education institutions, which will also help to lay the foundation for the construction of a national credit bank.

(4) Establish a unified and complete certification system for national continuing education. Continuing education, as a separate type of education, should have a special, unified national certificate system, which mainly deals with unified national continuing education credit certificates (requirements: completing the fixed courses for degree or non-degree continuing education and meeting the credit requirements); course completion certificate for non-degree continuing education (requirements: completing fixed single continuing education courses) and project completion certificates (requirements: completing a set of fixed continuing education courses); special completion certificates, graduation certificates, and partial completion of degree continuing education certificates; and degree certificates (only given to people who reach a certain academic level or professional technical level). Of these, the most difficult to innovate is degree certificates for continuing education, although this could also become a highlight of continuing education reform, for example by leading the innovative exploration of an associate bachelor degree system for continuing education and a professional technical degree system for continuing education.

(5) Establish a national information management platform for continuing education. Due to its large service group, numerous management departments, various forms of education, flexible learning methods, and multiple school-running subjects, continuing education has made no breakthroughs in building a unified continuing education management platform and corresponding information system at the national level for years. Nevertheless, this task is indispensable in order to push forward continuing education reform. It is also a major link in the national system of continuing education. With this in mind, it is necessary to make full use of modern information technology, positively apply the emerging technological achievements of internet, big data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and block chain, and accelerate the establishment of a unified national information management platform. The information statistics system built on this platform will provide data analysis services for scientific decisions in the domain of continuing education with the aim of bringing modernisation, informatisation, convenience, and intelligence to the field of continuing education.

3. Key breakthrough should begin with prioritising the launch of the systematic and institutional reform of degree continuing education in regular universities

At present, the quality of degree continuing education in some regular universities has become an issue for the entirety of continuing education reform and the quality of online degree education at some pilot universities is a particular headache. A rational judgment should be made between quality and scale, and between economic returns and social benefits in order to promote continuing education reform in the new era; otherwise, it will be hard to advance reform. In order to implement the spirit of the 19th National Party Congress and adhere to the “quality development” principle, the main task for future reform is to abolish the dual track operation system of running schools, thus eradicating the system “same school with different qualities” and reshaping the quality of degree continuing education at regular universities. This paper puts forward the following six strategies for targeted implementation, targeted reform, and prioritised development by integrating the relevant system and institutional barriers and restrictions that have an impact on the quality of degree continuing education of regular universities as mentioned above.

The first is to reform the education system. Degree continuing education should be established as a part of talent development in regular universities in order to gather degree continuing education and full-time higher education under the “same major” as in regular universities within the same discipline (faculty and department). An education system for degree continuing education in regular universities “with the discipline as the main body” should be established for students of both continuing education and full-time higher education in the same major in order achieve “learning in the same school, taught by the same teachers, following the same standard, reaching the same quality, obtaining the same certificate, and getting the same degree”. Once such a reform is made, some regular universities will be able to continue to evaluate the necessity and feasibility of degree continuing education.

The second is to reform the internal and external management system. The development principle of “quality and benefit first with unified policy” should be upheld in order to gradually explore the establishment of standardised and perfect, scientific and rational, and unified and effective degree continuing education management system in regular universities, and to promote the realisation of a centralised management by specialised departments and guidance with respect to different classifications. An evaluation of the quality of degree continuing education in regular universities should be made as early as possible. In line with the spirit of streamlining administration, delegating powers, improving regulation, and strengthening services, the unified examination system of online education in pilot regular universities should be cancelled as soon as possible. We should rely on information technology approaches to strengthen the management of teaching behaviours in degree continuing education, as well as supervision during and after the process. A flexible and open learning and teaching management system should be established according to education law and the needs of the students. Regular universities should also be given more autonomy and power to make decisions.

The third is to innovate the public service system. The public service mechanism and service support platform should be constantly improved by building industrial organisations and expert think tanks serving degree continuing education in universities. We should also organise collaborative innovation research targeted at major issues. A development foundation and project should be set up for continuing education teachers and management staff in universities in order to support the improvement of their professional level and capacity. We should organise the evaluation of excellent achievements and the exchange of experience in degree continuing education in universities. We should set up a channel and mechanism for reporting problems and proposing suggestions. A special continuing education management agency should be established to strengthen policy coordination and public services.

The fourth is to reform the investment mechanism. It is necessary to create a rational fund investment standard for degree continuing education in regular universities by making a scientific calculation of the total costs and expenses needed for talent development with reference to the existing regulations on continuing education fund investment for full-time students of higher education from the MOE and investment for professional technicians from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. A diversified fund input guarantee system should be established in order to unify factors such as national-level finance input, self-financing, social sponsorship and donations, and tuition fees paid by students. The realisation of the “zero breakthrough” of fund input for degree continuing education students in regular universities will alleviate the problem of unbalanced, inadequate, and unfair expense input among different types of students.

The fifth is tuition reform. Concepts such as public welfare, dynamic adjustment, evidence-based fees, value for money, mutual voluntary basis, and consideration of fairness are used to establish a tuition system for degree continuing education in regular universities. It is up to the university to design its own tuition system and the fees and policies can’t go into effect until they are recorded by the department in charge of tuition fees. The scientific establishment of rational fees is not only necessary to cover school running costs and meet minimum quality requirements; it also reduces the burden on students. Students of continuing education and full-time higher education from the same major in the same year can be charged different fees in accordance with the actual situation. In principle, tuition fees for continuing education students may be higher than that of full-time students.

The sixth is to improve the incentive system. A more effective learning incentive system directly oriented towards individuals receiving education should be explored. A system of allowing paid learning leave could be practiced for staff members of enterprises and government institutions who take an active part in degree continuing education. Incentives to reduce individual income tax or give direct subsidies should be made. Policies for tax exemption and reduction or direct subsidy are given to employers whose employees take part in continuing education. A “learning coupon” system for citizens to receive continuing education should be explored and can be used to pay for or offset some of the tuition fees for degree continuing education. The advantages of the credit bank system should be brought into play in order to realise credit recognition and transfer between degree and non-degree continuing education and among different degree continuing education institutions so as to shorten the duration of learning and reduce repetition. Finally, customised, targeted incentive measures correlated to the immediate interests of learners should be created. For example, the results of degree continuing education can be pegged to the appraisal of professional titles or act as points towards household registration for migrant workers.

IV. The prerequisite of implementing reform is emphasising the improvement of matching guarantee measures by gaining supply-side strength

In terms of “one point deployment and nine point implementation” the key is to begin implementation only after the blueprint for reform has been drawn. No matter how good reform logic is and no matter how realistic the strategy is, they are merely ideas as if not put in place effectively. With this in mind, the implementation of reform is more important. However, without matching guarantee measures it is difficult for even the best designs to be advanced for practical effect. Therefore, seen from the perspective of supply-side reform, whether or not guarantee measures can be put in place is a prerequisite for effectively implementing a reform strategy for continuing education. These guarantee measures refer to work expenses, project focus, organisational leadership, and progress.

1. Ensure that work funds for reform itself are put in place first.

It is necessary to increase funding for the reform of continuing education, in particular, an average student funding system. It is also necessary to reach a consensus on legislation, leadership, and financial expenditure, which will take time. However, in the early planning period, things like relevant top level design, system construction, and project launch all require funds. If there are no clear funding channels or guarantee of funds, it will be difficult to achieve the expected results. Therefore, putting in place launch funds is a prerequisites for planning and implementing reform.

2. Continuing education shall have its own “double first-class” project.

At present, the “double first-class” (“world-class universities and world-class disciplines”) project is being implemented with the coordination of the state in the field of higher education. This major strategic decision is of great significance in improving the overall strength, international competitiveness, and quality of higher education in China. In order to speed up the advancement of continuing education reform, the launch of a “double first-class” project in the domain of continuing education is just as important. With reference to practice and experience, it is up to the central and local governments to coordinate the financial arrangements and select the universities that are expected to become world-class continuing education universities for key construction. If the “double first-class” project of continuing education can be implemented, it will improve the conditions of lifelong learning for all, providing better quality education resources, higher level education services, and fairer learning opportunities. At the same time, continuing education reform will be highlighted in order to facilitate the creation of a reform blueprint.

3. Strengthen the organisational leadership of continuing education reform

The coordinated advancement of continuing education reform is a complicated new project. The reform ideas put forward in this paper deal with multiple underlying problems. Since is involves many different sectors, the success of reform requires powerful organisational leadership. Therefore, it is recommended to establish a leading group for continuing education reform at the national level under the leadership and guidance of the leading group for national education system reform. This group will be mainly responsible for coordinating the leadership, decision-making, design, organisation, implementation, coordination and evaluation, of continuing education reform. An office will be set up under the Ministry of Education under the jurisdiction of the leading group. Day-to-day tasks will be undertaken by relevant existing departments (offices) of the Ministry of Education. If, in future, specialised institutions for continuing education can be set up, then the relevant work will be undertaken by this special agency.

4. Define a timetable and roadmap for reform

A necessary condition of the success of reform is to coordinate and plan the timetable and roadmap for reform. The year 2018 is the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up, and it is expected that this will be a key year for the launch of major reform measures. This year will boast a richer reform atmosphere and people’s acceptance of reform will be upgraded, so it is a favourable year to initiate major reforms. Therefore, we should lose no time in planning continuing education reform, prioritising the launch and implementation of a batch of key reform projects and measures in an effort to promulgate the overall scheme of continuing education reform in 2018. The focus should be on launching the “double first-class” project for continuing education, issuing a list of the first batch of universities for project construction, and promoting the direction of reform. In 2019, the implementation of relevant reform projects and measures will be comprehensively launched in line with the reform scheme, in order to advance institutional setup, function adjustment, and staffing. In this way, we can steadily press ahead with the “double first-class” construction of continuing education and lay out the underlying system and institution reform of continuing education.

By 2020, a new national continuing education system will have taken shape, the quality ecosystem of continuing education in universities will have been improved, reform breakthroughs will have been made, and the development of continuing education in China will be favourable. Continuing education, school education (referring specifically to higher education), and vocational education will become like the three legs of a tripod. The positioning and concept of continuing education as a separate type of education will become deeply rooted in people’s minds. In terms of degree continuing education, a number of universities with distinct Chinese characteristics will emerge to enter the ranks of the world’s first-class continuing education universities. In non-degree continuing education, new modes and new methods of continuing education continue to emerge. Remarkable progress has been made in meeting the need for diverse, individualised life-long learning.

V. Conclusion

This paper explores and discusses the logic and strategy of continuing education reform in the new era, based on the author’s years of observations as a frontline worker and researcher of continuing education. The information obtained shows that reform has become a top priority for continuing education and a major government concern. Many of the ideas and thoughts presented in this paper only represent the ideas of the author but they are a good starting point. During the course of study, the author gained insight and guidance from relevant leaders, experts and colleagues. In the future, issues pertaining to continuing education reform will remain a hot topic and continue to present problems. The construction of a national system for continuing education, the improvement of degree continuing education in universities, and the other issues discussed in this paper require further exploration, in-depth discussion, and practical test. The issue of the quality of continuing education has become a much-discussed topic in the media and in society as a whole. The writer predicts that more and more people will be interested in the development of continuing education reform and be willing to contribute more wisdom and strength to improve continuing education and together create a better future for continuing education.

(The original title: On Logics and Strategies of Continuing Education Reform in the New Era the 2nd Issue of 2018 Lifelong Education Research)

About the author:

Wang Yongfeng is a deputy director and associate research fellow at the Department of Business Development of the Open University of China. He is a doctor of education and a part-time research fellow at the Education Science Research Institute of Jiangsu Open University, where he is mainly engaged in research into continuing education policies and educational strategy plans.

Foundation project:

The 2017 key project “Research on National System Construction for Continuing Education” (2017-133Z) under the planned adult education research project of the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan of the China Adult Education Association.


Research on a Teaching Competency Standard for Teachers in Open Universities

Feng Liguo, Liu Ying

Abstract: The core task in the construction of open universities during their transition from radio and TV universities is to improve teaching quality. The key to this task lies in building teaching teams, which is also the foundation for the enhancement of teaching competency. By mobilising distance education experts, teaching and administration representatives from the educational system of open universities, outstanding practitioners, and people in charge in the relevant functional departments, a number of research methods, including literature research, professional task analysis, group roundtable meetings, and expert interviews have been deployed to extract professional teaching tasks for teachers in open universities. Based on these professional tasks, a competency model for teachers in open universities has been built and standards for the teaching competencies of teachers in open universities have been formulated. This provides a fundamental basis for teaching development and the construction of teaching teams in open universities. The typical teaching tasks can be divided into three respects — teaching preparation, teaching implementation, and teaching development — which can then be further subdivided into nine secondary tasks and 46 tertiary tasks. It is necessary to have 47 abilities in the three dimensions of ethics and values, professional knowledge, and skills and abilities (which includes general abilities and distance teaching abilities).

Key words: teachers in open universities; typical tasks; competency model; competency standard; distance teaching

I. Research Background

Open universities are a new type of educational entity supported by information technology. They are an important force in promoting equal access to education and shaping a lifelong education system and learning society. According to statistical data from the Open University of China 2013 Education Statistical Yearbook, there were 77,234 employers in the open university educational system (including teachers, administrators, technicians, service personnel, and researchers). Among them were 47,586 full-time teachers and 35,156 part-time teachers, adding up to a teaching staff of 82,742. Such a large team of teachers is the basic human resource to ensure the teaching quality of open and distance education in the open universities. Technological progress has brought about not only changes in teaching and learning models but also a series of changes in terms of teaching media, learning materials, teaching communication model, and the learning environment. Teachers in open universities have changed from correspondence teachers to course leaders and tutors and they are on their way to becoming online teachers in the internet era. This change of roles is sure to create new challenges and impose new requirements on the teachers’ competencies. Several Opinions from the Ministry of Education on the Overall Improvement of Higher Education Quality in March 2012 clearly mandates the “improvement of teachers’ professional level and teaching competencies.” The key to improving teaching quality lies in teachers’ competencies; open and distance education is the major operating model of open universities. The employment and training of qualified open distance education teachers is one of the priorities of the construction of open universities and the improvement of education and teaching. What are the required qualifications for teachers in open and distance education? What qualities match the teaching tasks of open universities? What teachers are eligible to teach in open universities? Where should we start in order to improve the teaching ability and level of teachers in open universities? All of these questions point to the same answer, that is, the teaching competency standards of teachers in open universities. Today, the transition of radio and TV universities and the construction of open universities are in a critical quality-centric period, and there is a great need for standards to conform to the competency models and teaching competencies of teachers in open universities.

II. Research ideas and methods

(I) Research ideas

Teachers in open universities are a group instead of just a kind of position. Teachers with different roles work together to complete teaching tasks. It is inevitable that there will be lots of repetitions and omissions in the research on the teaching competency standards of the teaching groups in open universities from the perspective of various teacher roles and responsibilities. Moreover, during the open university construction process, teaching operation mechanisms are constantly being adjusted and teachers’ roles constantly optimised. Nevertheless, the teaching tasks of open and distance education are relatively stable and it is the responsibility of teachers to complete all the teaching tasks. Therefore, this research sets out to analyse the teaching competency standards of teachers engaging in typical teaching tasks (hereinafter referred to as typical tasks) in order to construct a complete system of standards for teaching competencies that are highly applicable, flexible, and expandable.

Typical tasks originate from the following three aspects. The first is teaching theories of distance education. These are the basic teaching rules that all distance education institutions must follow, including course development, teaching implementation, support, and other basic teaching tasks. The second is the tasks the teachers have to undertake in the existing teaching process. These include various specific teaching rules such as teaching process management regulations and job specifications for different kinds of teachers in the open university educational system. The third is regulated or newly-added teaching tasks. With the regulation and optimisation of the educational system and the open university teaching model, it is necessary to regulate some of the teaching tasks and add new content in order to advance the teaching reforms.

Once the typical tasks have been established, each task is analysed and competencies for each task are laid out. The competencies are then added together, repeated items are merged, and similar items are adjusted in order to formulate a dictionary of competencies. The competency dictionary is then summarised and classified in order to shape the competency model. Finally, a description is provided for each competency item in order to form the competency standards as shown in Figure 1.

(II) Research methods

This research uses literature research, typical task analysis, group roundtable meetings, expert interviews, and several other research methods.

Firstly, literature research was conducted on the CNKI database using the key words “open universities” and “teaching competencies.” 1,358 relevant references were found. Analysis focused on documents from the last five years, leading to the following major research conclusions. Chen Li et al (2012) put forward four dimensions for the qualifications of tutors in distance education: society building and maintenance, learning guidance and facilitation, technology integration and support, and activity design and organisation. Li Shuang et al (2014)used questionnaires and interviews to conduct an in-depth investigation into the competency requirements for course tutors at Beijing Open University. They defined the core, key and auxiliary abilities of course tutors by evaluation the importance and relative time-consumption of different competencies. The actual competency level of on-the-job staff is also inspected through self-evaluation. Yang Sujuan et al (2009) argue that technology has become an implicit part of distance education and a required competency for distance education teachers. As far as distance education teachers are concerned, it is an orientation to further research into interaction competencies on how to strengthen interaction activity design, process management, and effect evaluation from the perspectives of competencies in technology, management and organisation, teaching design, and teaching evaluation. Zhang Shaogang et al (2013) looked at the three roles of teaching, management, and technology personnel and formulated the Standard Framework for Distance Education Practitioners starting from the core business of distance education. They divided the competencies of different kinds of personnel into specialised competencies and general competencies. Zhang Zhuo et al (2014) formulated a competency model for distance education teachers based on behavioural event interviews. The model includes five differentiation competencies and 22 threshold competencies. Of these, the three differentiation competencies of “team collaboration”, “communication and coordination ability”, and "organisation and management ability” make up the management dimension. Therefore, it is necessary to have strong skills in team collaboration, communication and coordination, and organisation and management in order to be an outstanding distance education teacher. It is clear that most research is focused on the competency framework, quality model or the role of an individual teachers’ teaching ability and that there is a lack of competency research based on the teaching operation mechanism and typical tasks of open universities and that there are no specific referable research results.

Next, during the analysis of typical tasks and the research and formulation of competency standards, the research group first worked out a discussion paper based on an analysis of distance teaching theories and related research, and the teaching and faculty management systems and tasks of outstanding teachers, and then brought together stakeholders for guided brainstorming, collective roundtable meetings, and workshops. From July 2015 to November 2016, the paper analysed 294 systems and documents on teaching management and faculty management from the OUC headquarters and its branches, schools, and study centres, and organised and analysed the typical teaching tasks that the teachers are required to complete. 170 outstanding OUC teachers, responsible people from the headquarters’ teaching and teaching management departments, representatives of the educational system, and faculty and teaching administrators were organised for collective discussions on typical teaching tasks and competency standards of teachers in open universities.

Finally, in December 2016, 33 experts from inside and outside the educational system were invited to discuss and revise the typical teaching tasks and competency standards of open universities by way of distance interviews and group discussions.

During the research process, typical tasks were revised six times, and 64 tasks across four aspects (teaching preparation, implementation, evaluation, and reflection and research) were adjusted to 46 items across three aspects (teaching preparation, implementation, and development). The competency standards were revised eight times and 64 items across the two dimensions of general and specialised abilities were adjusted to create 47 items across the three dimensions of attitude and value, specialised knowledge, and skills and abilities.

III. Typical teaching tasks of teachers in open universities

The typical teaching tasks in the research represent all of the teaching tasks undertaken by all of the teachers engaged in the teaching of majors and courses at open universities. They are not divided by role or position. The typical tasks of teachers in open universities are divided into three aspects — teaching preparation, implementation, and development — which are further subdivided into nine secondary tasks and 46 tertiary tasks.

Teaching preparation (see Table 1) refers to preparations made before offering open and distant degree education majors or implementing non-degree education projects, including prophaseargumentation, team building, the design of various schemes and proposals, and the construction of courses (teaching design, development of multi-media resources, online course construction, the building of teaching teams etc.). It is the preparation before organising and implementing teaching process for students.

Teaching implementation (see Table 2) refers to all tasks that are part of the process of organising and implementing teaching for the students, including proficiency tests and entry-level education for new students, various course-based teaching activities, teaching tutorials, learner support, and learning evaluation, as well as the implementation, organisation, and evaluation of practical teaching at the major level, and teaching feedback and examination aimed at improving teaching quality.

Teaching development (see Table 3) refers to tasks that teachers of open universities carry out or participate in in order to improve their teaching ability and level, including analysis of and reflection on teaching tasks, targeted teaching and academic research, and participation in teacher training and further education.

IV. Competency model for teachers in open universities

A competency refers to the specialised knowledge and special skills an individual or a group should possess in order to fulfil certain responsibilities, as well as external expressions such as enthusiasm, emotions, and attitude in completing the activities. It also covers the implicit knowledge and skills that will help the individual or group handle future challenges (Liu Yuan et el, 2001). As a profession, it is natural that teachers in open universities should have qualified competencies to do their job. The competency model in this research refers to the competency structure required for the professional positions assumed by open and distance education teachers in open universities.

The typical teaching tasks defined above form the basis for the research and development of a competency model and standards for teachers in open universities. In combination with the “iceberg model” and TPACK competency model for teachers in the field of human resources, all competencies necessary for teachers to finish each task are identified and combined for the purpose of analysis, adjustment, eliminating duplicates, merging, and classification. In this way, we obtain the competencies and competency model.

The competencies of teachers in open universities lie in three aspects (see Figure 2)

● Ethics and values: This refers to the basic ethics, attitude towards, and values of open and distance education, including basic professional ethics and political accomplishments, professional needs and motivation, and recognition of the core educational philosophy and school running values followed in open universities, and the necessary responsibility and enterprise.

● Professional knowledge: Teachers should have specialised knowledge of their discipline in order to teach their students and impart knowledge to them. They should have basic education and teaching knowledge to teach and impart knowledge, as well as knowledge of how open and distance education is different from traditional face-to-face campus education.

● Skills and abilities: These are the competencies necessary for teachers in open and distance education to teach, including general abilities and distance teaching abilities. General abilities refer to those necessary for various teaching roles in open universities. Distance teaching abilities are related to specific teaching tasks; they are the core skills and abilities necessary to complete professional tasks.

V. A teaching competency standard for teachers in open universities

Teaching competencies were summarised and researched from the perspective of five different aspects, “design ability”, “expression and interaction ability”, “organisation and implementation ability”, “teamwork”, and “innovation and teaching ability,” as well as ethics and values, professional knowledge and general abilities based on typical teaching tasks in open universities within the framework of competency model by learning from the competency dictionary in management. A total of 47 competency items necessary to complete the typical tasks were thus formulated. The 47 competency items make up the teaching competency dictionary for teachers in open universities.

(I) Ethics and values

Ethics and values (marked with A in competencies, totalling four items) include teachers’ professional ethics and political accomplishments, professional needs and motivation, their recognition of the values of open universities, as well as their responsibility and enterprise (see Table 4). It is necessary to pay special attention to the teachers’ level of identification with the cause of lifelong education cause and their awareness of adult learner support. The target audience of open universities is on-the-job learning adults, the educational orientation of open universities is lifelong education, and the education support open universities offer should meet the learning needs of learners and the needs of industries and enterprises for talents. Teachers at open universities are not only practitioners but also leaders and demonstrators of the concept of lifelong learning. At the same time, teachers are required to obey the ethics and norms of online exchanges in the web-based teaching mode, so as to create a civilised, harmonious, friendly, and positive online environment.

(II) Professional knowledge

Professional knowledge (marked with B in competencies, totalling three items) includes knowledge of and ability to apply a professional discipline, and basic knowledge of education and teaching in distance education (see Table 5). The training objective of open universities is to cultivate practical professionals and high quality labourers. Therefore, teachers don’t necessarily need top level research abilities but they do need to be able to keep up with new developments and have application and practical abilities. As a new type of university, there is a great difference between the teaching laws of the open and distance education offered by open universities and those of face-to-face campus education. To this end, teachers in open universities must have basic knowledge of open and distance education, in particular basic knowledge of adult learning characteristics, course development, learner support, online teaching, and the operation of the educational system.

(III) Skills and abilities

1. General abilities

General abilities (marked with C in competencies, totalling five items) include the basic qualities of education and teaching, basic information technology abilities, learning and research abilities, programme implementation and monitoring abilities, and communication and coordination abilities (see Table 6). Based on the teaching operation mechanism and the relative level of separation between teachers and students in open universities, teaching tasks at open universities cannot be completely fulfilled by teachers from just one category. Teaching of one course is jointly carried out by teachers from various job positions through division of work and coordination. As such, teachers at open universities often play different roles. It has been mentioned above that teachers in this research are not subdivided according to their roles and that the competency standards represent a selection of all the competencies necessary for various kinds of teachers at open universities. Teachers with various roles need to have different capacities to finish different kinds of teaching tasks. Thus, general abilities are the basic skills and abilities required for all kinds of teachers at open universities.

There are two points to be explained here. The first is that “basic information technology abilities” refers to the ability to use common software that teachers of different education types must have in the information era. Furthermore, the ability to use information technology is essential for teachers in open universities that are supported by information technology. There are special competency items for this respect within the distance teaching ability. The second point that needs to be explained is the communication and coordination ability. Distance teaching tasks are completed with the mutual coordination of technicians, administrators, service providers, and various different teachers instead of by a single teacher. This is why the ability to communicate with different people and to collaborate with other teachers with the open university educational system is so important.

2. Distance teaching abilities

Distance teaching abilities (marked with D in competencies, totalling 36 items) include design ability (10 items), expression and interaction (four items), organisation and implementation (10 items), teamwork (three items), and innovation and teaching research (eight items).

With regards to the design ability (see Table 7) required by teachers in open universities, attention needs to be paid to three aspects in particular. The first is the correlation between the industry and market. This is where the need stems from and is also the starting point to meet said needs and offer distance teaching. The major source of funds for most open universities is tuition fees and consideration must be given to both economic return and social benefit when designing majors, programmes, and courses. The second is information technology and teaching media. During the design of all teaching implementation, course resources, and teaching activities consideration needs to be given to the reasonable and effective application of information technology and teaching media. The third is redesigning courses and programmes according to the actual organisation and implementation of teaching. All the teaching designs during the course of teaching preparation are made by open universities based on offering a major to all students throughout the country, whereas teaching implementation is targeted at specific students in a specific class. Thus, it is necessary for tutors to redesign the teaching process in line with the students’ knowledge, learning habits, and the actual teaching conditions.

Teachers in open universities should be able to both express themselves and interact effectively (see Table 8) during course development and the teaching process. Online teaching is the main teaching method in open and distance education, and the ability to interact across this distance interaction is a peculiar skill necessary for teachers in open universities. The skills and strategies related to how to interact with the students online, for example listening, raising questions, and giving feedback, are key indices in judging outstanding distance education teachers. Printed materials, whether paper teaching materials or online texts, have to be written with warmth and with the language and tone of face-to-face communication.

With regard to organisation and implementation (see Table 9), it is necessary to emphasise three points. The first is project management. Whether in terms of the construction of courses and resources or the construction and operation of the teaching teams, it is necessary for teachers to manage the project. A project management system is frequently used by the open universities to ensure quality, and the timely and economical completion of teaching tasks. The second is technology application. Whether it is a teaching platform or other information technology tools, teachers are required to be able to use appropriate technologies to pass on learning content and organise learning activities. The third is motivation, progress control, and process management and support for adult learners. Adults need to learn autonomously and the encouragement, guidance, feedback, regulation, and supervision of the teachers are crucial.


Teamwork (see Table 10) is of special importance to teachers in open universities. The design and development of majors, projects, and courses, and the organisation and implementation of the teaching process all rely on a team. There are core groups for teaching research at the major level, course groups for course construction, and course teaching teams for course teaching. The teams not only carry out teaching and but are also a major component of faculty development. The responsible staff on teams at the level of teaching in open universities are all teachers, including teachers with different roles and managers, technicians, service providers and researchers on the horizontal axis and the division of labour between teachers of different roles at different levels in the educational system on the vertical axis. Therefore, teachers must have the ability to cooperate to lead and develop teams.

It is necessary for open universities to continuously explore and innovate. Even though open universities have technically been in existence in the form of radio and TV universities for 38 years (calculated based on the establishment of China Central Radio and Television University), they are constantly developing. The capacity for innovation and research (see Table 11) is a required competency for teachers in open universities to push forward teaching reform. Analysis  of and research into student behaviours is not only the base for teaching design but also the base for the cause of open and distance education. This is especially true in terms of the exploration and cultivation of potential needs, which is of great value for open universities in providing education services oriented towards the market and the society. Teachers must be able to think systematically in order to solidly establish teaching. The tracking and innovative application of new technologies is also an inherent requirement for employed teachers. Teachers need to conduct teaching research, analyse teaching data, and reflect on the teaching process in order to improve teaching results and level; the ability to analyse teaching data is especially important. Behavioural data on teaching and learning will be generated and stored in the teaching platform during the process of online teaching, and excellent teachers will make use of this data to reform teaching. Whether in the course teaching team or throughout the entire system, teachers need to be able to effectively summarise teaching experience, solidify teaching results, absorb teaching reform experience, and employ teaching reform achievements.

VI. Conclusion

This papers uses multiple research methods, including literature research, typical task analysis, group roundtable meetings, and expert interviews, to define 46 typical tasks in the three aspects of teaching preparation, teaching implementation, and teaching development. It then develops a competency model and competency dictionary for teachers in open universities through analysis of the competencies need to complete typical teaching tasks. It specifies forty-seven abilities in the competency standard of teachers in open universities from the three aspects of ethics and values, professional knowledge, and skills and abilities (including general abilities and distance teaching abilities). The teaching competency standard for teachers in open universities raised in this research can provide basis and reference for the university running system of open universities in their employment and introduction of teachers, teacher allocation and assessment and evaluation. It is able to promote the professional development and teaching ability improvement of teachers in the university system and provide fundamental basis for the teacher competency cultivation system made up of ability evaluation, ability certification, the cultivation of young and distinguished teachers, teacher training (including further study on course development), and others.

The disadvantage of this research is that the competency standard formulated is not yet equivalent to the teachers of various roles in open universities. However, the current school running system of open universities is in the process of reconstruction, and the reform of teaching mode and the operation mechanism inside the university system are still in exploration. There are also problems of “old city renovation” and “new city construction”, contradictions and challenges in faculty building. The issues are not defined as for the category and structure of teachers in the university running system, their responsibilities and divisions of labour, and allocation standard. They need to be further adjusted, defined and institutionalized. Our next focus of research is to formulate competency standard for teachers of various roles by building on this teaching competency standard. It is our expectation that the consistent researches on competency standard of teachers in open universities can promote the professional development of distance education teachers and serve the overall improvement of teaching quality of open universities.

Chen Li, Feng Xiaoying, et al. 2012.Study on Qualifications of the Role of Tutors in Online Learning Guidance [J]. China Educational Technology, (7):58-73.
Li Shuang, Zhang Yanxia, Liu Yongquan. 2014. A Survey on Tutors’ Competency Needs and Status in Beijing Open University [J]. China Educational Technology,(12):59-66.
Liu Xuan, Yang Sujuan. 2010. A Review of Research on Teacher Competencies in Distance Education[J]. Distance Education in China,(5):39-43.
Yang Sujuan, Liu Xuan. 2009. Research for Teachers' Competency Elements in Distance Education on the Basis of Grounded Theory [J].China Educational Technology, (11):34-38.
Zhang Shaogang, Wang Ying. 2013. Standard Framework for Distance Education Practitioners.
Zhang Zhuo, GaoJinjin, Chen Yiwen. 2014. Constructing and Testing A Competency Model of Teachers in Distance Education[J].Chinese Journal of Ergonomics,(3):47-50.

About the authors:

Feng Liguo, assistant research fellow, director of the Teacher Development Centre, The Open University of China
Tel: 13811884196
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Add: #75 Fuxing Road, Haidian District, Beijing100039, P.R.China

Liu Ying, lecturer, Teacher Development Centre, The Open University of China
Tel: 13661263797
Email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Add: #75 Fuxing Road, Haidian District, Beijing100039, P.R.China


Exploration of VoiceThread Activity Design in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language

Jiang Zilu



VoiceThread is a web tool integrating multimedia and teaching content. In a web-based teaching environment, student and teacher-student interactions are often restricted by space and time. However, the VoiceThread tool enables more effective Chinese language teaching exchanges and interactions in a web-based environment. This article discusses how to design learning activities with VoiceThread within the context of three communication modes. The design principle is guided by the three modes of communication, targets 21st century skill standards and ACTFL skills, and is based on an interactive teaching method. This article presents categorised example activities for each communication mode, and discusses the skill standards involved in these kinds of activities the interactive strategies applied.

Key Words: VoiceThread, three language communication modes, teaching activity design, strategy

Traditional language teaching is inseparable from the learning of text, for they are the major channels of language learning. But now, the development of network media technology makes it possible for language teaching to be supported by other media. Learning can take place via video, audio, and multiple other dimensions. The different ways of learning not only enhances the learning outcomes, but also meets the various needs of learners and keep them attracted.  Many teachers are also gradually introducing web tools to assist with language teaching, such as the websites that enable recording function . However, many of these tools only provide a single function (Holland, 2010). By contrast, students need not only multiple stimulations from image, audio and video, but also a platform that enable communication, cooperation, and interaction among their learning group. VoiceThread is such a software; it gathers multiple types of media, and involves students in learning topics through discussions, while at the same time establishing a good group learning environment.

I. What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread can integrate text, picture, PPT, and video. Learners or teachers can add comments on the current page via microphone, telephone, camera, keyboard text, and doodling, which provide sufficient opportunities for online oral exercises and various asynchronous interactions. Meanwhile, teachers can also respond to students’ comments orally or through text. VoiceThread can be used on any browser or Apple mobile device.

There are both free and paid versions of VoiceThread, which can be subdivided into K-12, higher education, and business learner versions. The free account offers three free works and 75MB of storage space, as well as 30-minute of comments. Upgrading to a personal account costs only USD 79 per year, and includes fifty student accounts, with no other limitations on the number of VoiceThread works. In addition, users have the right to access and customise its own educational homepage. Teachers can create students’ accounts without their e-mail address, and divide different students into groups .

II. How to creat a VoiceThread?

As VoiceThread has different versions, this article only focus on the working procedures in personal account.

1. Account registration and creation


The first step is to log into, and register via email. After logging into the account, click ‘Create’ to enter the editing interface where you can upload videos, pictures, and other learning resources. Because the uploaded PPT format may possibly contain displaced Pinyin tones, teachers are advised to convert PPT files into PDF format before uploading (Holland, 2010).

2. Add comments

Click the “+” icon just below the page to add comments by ways of text, video, telephone recording, or other files. When a comment is started, it will come up with a recording countdown box. If you are not satisfied with the results, you can re-do it. Once satisfied, just click “save.” It is worth noting that the brush tool works while recording or screen-printing. Once you select a coloured brush, you can write notes on your work page. Teachers can use this function to show key points while making explanations. Likewise, teachers can also incorporate this doodling functions in students’ learning activities in VoiceThread.


Student comments appear on the left side of the page, and can be deleted by editors. A private reply function exists for teacher-student and student-student interactions. Clicking the “lock” icon makes the comment a private reply; only the owner can see or hear the comment. Teachers can use this function to evaluate students’ oral comments and make suggestions for revision.


3. Shared links

After work is completed, it can be shared with students through links. Once students log into their accounts, they can make comments on VoiceThread. In addition, the work can also be embedded in students’ other online learning platforms, such as Moodle, Blackboard, and so on.


VoiceThread’s recording function helps auditory learners, the pictures and texts embedded may assist visual learners, and the Doodling function makes it more attractive for kinesthetic learners. The creation of a VoiceThread does not require advanced technology knowledge and skills. The clear instructional steps may reduce technological barriers to the network environment, and also make it easier to carry out teaching and learning activities.

III. Exploration of VoiceThread activity design for teaching Chinese as a second language 

1. Design concept

The purpose of incorporating VoiceThread in language teaching is to provide a platform for students to do oral practices and communicate with their partners. In essence, it may help to improve students’ communication skills with second language.

(1) Guidance from thethree modes of language communication

Language communication is divided into three modes: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational (ACTFL, 2003). The interpersonal mode emphasises two-way interpersonal communication. Learners receive “comprehensible input” first and apply it in information exchange through direct oral or written communication, which involves listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. The interpretive mode is a one-way communication that includes listening, viewing, or reading. Learners receive outside information and interpret it within spoken and written communication. The presentational mode focuses on speaking and writing skills, presenting through oral or written communication.  The three language communication modes are highly related to teaching the following four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

The three communication modes also provide guidance in the activity design and skills training in language activities. For example, teachers can design conversation activities, making comments, and information exchange in the interpersonal mode; Examples of the interpretive mode includes audio-visual comprehension exercise, cultural appreciation, text reading, and so on; the presentational activities can be delivered through story-telling, role play, making reports, writing news to the school newspaper, etc..

 (2) Goal of skills standards

In 2011, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) worked jointly to formulate a “21st Century Skill Map,” which put forward requirements for training language skills, and gave examples of relevant language proficiency. The 21st Century Skill Map explained the need to train for the “4C learning capacities”: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Effective “communication” requires learners express themselves clearly in spoken and written language and can use language to communicate with others, such as enquiring, instructing, and persuading, even in the multilingual environment. In terms of expression, learners go from short sentences to coherent, long sentences and paragraphs; they develop from sentence recitation to informative descriptions and recounting events with regard to the content expressed; the topics they discussed begin from the most simple and familiar daily topics to more complex ones that cover different fields . “Collaboration” requires that students have some ability to communicate in the first place, and have the capacity to fulfill their responsibilities to the team, so as to contribute toward the team reaching its common goal. Learners are required by “creativity” to approach a problem from multiple perspectives with originality, and bring new ideas to communication with others. “Critical thinking” means that learners can reason, analyse, and come up with substantive questions when understanding problems.

ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines describe tasks that can be completed by students at each language proficiency level, along with related content, contexts, accuracy, and types of talk (ACTFL, 2012). In the form of languages, novice learners mainly use expressions and separate sentences learned, intermediate learners use both independent sentences and a chain of sentences, though mainly at sentence level, and advanced learners can link sentences into paragraphs. Advanced learners are also able to use language in the past, present, and future tense, while intermediate learners mainly use present tense. In talking types, all learners have the basic ability to make descriptive introductions, recount events, express ideas, enquire, and reply. Advanced learners have more conversational skills. For instance, they are able to connect different viewpoints, use roundabout interpretations, and make illustrations. When designing VoiceThread learning activities, teachers can set the skill standards as the goal, integrating conversation types and tasks into different levels of learning activities in line with the requirements of each level. In this way, students will grow to use the correct words and sentence structures, increasing the level of their language expression through greater accuracy and consistency.

 (3) Interactive teaching strategy

Chen Zhiquan (2003) used Chinese language teaching as an example to further explain and illustrate the interactive teaching strategy mentioned in the book “Design for Cooperative Interactions,” written by Robin Fogarty (1990). Chen outlined twelve interactive teaching strategies: 1) Lecture & Question;2) Survey; 3) Partner Activity; 4) Think Aloud, with one question and one answer; 5) Think-Pair-Share, wherein students exchange different viewpoints and improve their ability to express in arguments; 6) Tell/Retell; 7) Group Activity; 8) Observer Feedback; 9) People Search; 10) Wraparound; 11) Human Graph, wherein students discuss topics in groups, expressing and defining their own viewpoints; 12) Jigsaw. The interactive comprehensive teaching method highlights “learning-centre,” which not only follows all teachers’ guidance, but also enhances student participation as the main part of learning. He highlights language communication in different cultural context and emphasises “integrated skills.” According to Wang Xiaojun, “Only when integrated skills  are improved can language ability be developed” (2005, p.109). The purpose of language learning is communication, and the use of multimedia communication tools like VoiceThread is all the more conducive to facilitate teacher-student and student-student interactions in the network environment. Through an interactive strategy, VoiceThread learning activities design should be oriented towards students’ integrated skills while focusing on language learning . It will be more natural to build language competency on the improvement of integrated communication skills.

2. Examples of VoiceThread activity design

According to the three modes of communication, the author also categories VoiceThread activity into three types: interpretative, interpersonal, and presentational. The following examples illustrate activities corresponding to each type, and introduce related skills training and interactive strategies.

 (1) Interpretative

In interpretative activities, students understand, absorb, and internalise information mainly through listening and writing. They accept and understand language and culture in certain contexts. Activity examples are as follows:

a.Pinyin and new words teaching

Skill training: to understand and learn new words, and to practice pronunciation, etc.

Interactive strategy: Lecture & Question 

Before class,teachers can provide online lectures for new learning content, and have students do pre-class exercises that help them prepare for class activities. Teachers can record lectures, and VoiceThread makes lecturing simpler. Thy only needs to upload a PPT, and add a recording to each page of the PPT. Even if there are errors in the recording, a second recording can be immediately made to save time in post-editing. At the same time, students can also make their own recordings while listening to the teacher’s, in order to better compare their pronunciation and answers to the exercises on the current PPT page. Furthermore, if the teacher uses video recording, students can see the teacher’s lip movement while they pronounce words.



b. Language structureexercises

Skills training: mastering correct language structure

Interactive strategy: Lecture & Question 

Effective language communication can’t be achieved without appropriate language structure, which can be taught through direct/explicit communication (Zhang Ni, 2011). Teachers should make targeted language structure requirements . They can first explain language points and ask students to apply the language structure into sentences or context.

Draw and state where your home is located.
in the east of ……Draw and state where your home is located.

  in the west of ……

  in the south of ……

  in the north of ……

My home is in the east of the U.S.


a. Viewing, listening,and speaking about culture

Skills training: language, culture, comparing and contrasting cultures

Interactive strategy: give feedback on information related to text, photo, or video content.

Please take notes while watching the video. Write down the difference between celebrating Spring Festival in the past and now. E.g.

In the past, most people would set off fireworks and firecrackers.

Now, some people don’t set off fireworks during the Spring Festival.

In addition to comprehension exercises after the video content, other activity designs can be developed. For instance, to design a tourist route after watching several video clips on tourism; after watching a video clip on banning plastics, students may summarise the policies in the video and discuss whether environmental protection policies are practical in the context of local realities; to watch videos of a family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve and learn the expressions for toasts; to watch videos of the Mid-Autumn Festival, and compare it with Thanksgiving Day, then discuss their similarities and differences.

 (2) Interpersonal type

The interpersonal mode involves two-way communication aimed at mutual understanding. Students can make themselves understood in conversations, comments, exchanges of information, and opinion statements mainly by listening, speaking, reading, and writing. During the course of communication, they can collaborate to fulfill the same expression tasks, in addition to their assigned tasks. The author divides interpersonal activities into the following priorities: expressing views, discussion and comments, interviews, and role cooperation.

a. Expressing views and comments

Skills training: oral/written communication expressed in paragraphs, to state opinions and give examples

Interactive strategy: Think Aloud; Human Graph

I agree/don’t agree……

I think it’s best not to……

I don’t think …….is good/ I think……is a good idea


There are several advantages to doing so……

It’s good/ It isn’t good

First, Second, Third

to retain Chinese characteristics


for example

to take…… for example

summarise viewpoint



  1. At least 80 words.
  2. sentence pattern:

Please use at least five expressions and two sentence patterns:

build, remain, traditional, architecture, characteristics,change, integrate, to one’s surprise, familiar, strange, indeed, tourist, everywhere, to……

 V. can tell by V.  /V. can not tell by V.  V. have had done sth.…,but for

b. Discussion and comparison

Skills training: oral/written communication in paragraphs; stating views; comparing and contrasting; Analysing the problem from multiple perspectives; exchanging new viewpoints; and getting informed by different perspectives.

Interactive strategy: Think Aloud; Human Graph; Think-Pair-Share

A.  free travel
time: three days and two nights

transportation: soft train sleeper

cost: 1988 yuan/adult; 899 yuan/child

 (excluding admission tickets at scenic spots)

food: free choice of restaurants on extra pay

accommodation: four-star hotels

shopping: optional

sightseeing: admission ticket reservation service available for self-guided visits

route: making plans on your own

B.  tour group

time: three days and two nights

transportation: airplane

cost: 2288 yuan/adult; 1899 yuan/child

 (including hotels, three meals and admission tickets)

food: three meals arranged by the travel group

accommodation: three-star hotels

shopping: about three hours

play: guided by tour guide

route: Shilin of Dali ---- Santa of Shilin ---- ancient Lijiang City

summary topic sentence

I think…

I think……

I don’t agree/agree with…

to me…….

details/advantages and disadvantages

to make a comparison in some aspect

in……a is not as good as b

With regard to …. .a is much/a little……than b

compared with a, b is more……

by comparison, b is more……


C. Interview

Skills training: oral communication, description of steps, enquires and replies.

Interactive strategy: partner activity

A:  Hello. I am in     , and I’m going to       . Can you tell me how I can get to      ?

B: First…


  Go straight…

   You will find a…

    ** is right beside/opposite you

d. Role cooperation

Skills training: oral/written expression ability using sentence groups; impromptu replies; using creativity to develop dialogue; using natural language to connect dialogues; and  making information within dialogue clearer by applying suitable conversation skills, such as roundabout interpretation and additional inquiries.

Interactive strategy: group activity

 (3) Presentational type

The presentational mode emphasises speaking and writing abilities, and mainly focuses on  expressing their own thought, describing events, and explaining things. It is a one-way presentation. Examples of these activities are as follows.

a. Story description

Skills training: oral/written expression using sentence groups; expression with paragraphs; using appropriate transitional connectives; and mastering different tenses.

Interactive strategy: group Activity; tell/retell

“the best plan”

b. Report

Skills training: oral/written expression using sentence groups; the ability to describe and introduce using paragraphs; using appropriate transitional connectives; mastering different tenses; comprehensively utilising knowledge and culture learned.

Interactive strategy: tell/retell

Skills training: oral/written expression using sentence groups; the ability to express using paragraphs; choosing appropriate connectives, sentence structure, and expressions to make expression more consistent; define topic sentences, and make statements clearer using logical words.

Interactive strategy: tell/retell


in saving energy

in using new energy

in recycling rubbish

Driving a car wastes more energy than taking a bus.

Driving a car is rather a waste of energy.

Taking a bus doesn’t necessarily waste more energy than driving a car.

Compared with driving a car, taking a bus saves more energy.

Taking a bus more often than driving a car can save energy.

We should save as much energy as possible, for the energy of the earth is not inexhaustible.







be careful

Taking a bus is good to reduce emissions.

Taking a bus contributes to emissions reductions.

Littering is bad for the environment.

Littering is bad for environmental protection.

Littering will cause environmental pollution.

for example

take……for example

It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect the environment.

Environmental protection begins with me.

Environmental protection begins with small issues / trifles.


not only……but also……

besides…,  also…






save water; save electricity; litter

Taking a bus is environmental-friendly.

 IV. Conclusion

The use of VoiceThread combines both teaching content and several kinds of media technology, diversifying interactions in Chinese language teaching in the web environment. The natural online interaction facilitate the activities for three modes of communication and its various function may meet the need of different learner styles. The article began with the introduction of three modes of communication, and then provided 12 teaching VoiceThread activity examples. It’s hoped that it can be used as a tool to develop students’ language ability through improving their communication ability. Examples given in this article are far from complete, and will be made more perfect in future.

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About the author:

Ms. Jiang Zilu is a Chinese language instructor at the Chinese Language Centre of the Open University of China. She taught at the Confucius Institute of Michigan State University (CI-MSU) from 2013 to 2016. CI-MSU is the world's first online Confucius Institute, co-founded by the OUC and MSU in 2006. While at CI-MSU, Jiang undertook the work of Chinese language instruction, designing online courses for local high school students, as well as researching online flipped classes and language instruction. Jiang gained rich, first-hand experience in utilising educational technologies to support and enhance interactions in online teaching environments.


Learning Behaviours in Massive Private Online Courses and Their Influencing Factors¹:
Data from the Open University of China

Shi Lei, Cheng Gang, Li Chao, Wei Shunping

The Open University of China

Abstract: This study collects data from 54,228 distance learners enrolled in 57 Massive Private Online Courses (MPOCs) at the Open University of China (OUC) in the autumn term of 2015. Descriptive and correlation analyses were conducted based on more than 56 million learning behaviour logs created by these students during their online learning. Drawing further upon data from other sources, including tracking teaching processes, interviews with both staff and students, and the online learning status of OUC students as well as their interactivity with the courses , the study sets out to identify the features of student learning behaviours and the factors that influence them. The findings show that MPOC learners vary considerably in their engagement. Most students only care about assignments and texts that are directly related to course assessment and often rush through learning activities. In contrast, students of well-organised and well-supported courses tend to spend more time online and be more engaged. The findings also suggest that instruction from teachers and learner support effectively facilitate interpersonal and human-machine interaction in terms of assignment submission, test completion, and forum participation but negligibly increase the use of learning resources. Effective management mechanisms and adequate course design are also found to be influencing factors. The implications of these findings for the OUC are discussed in relation to course development, instruction and learner support, and management.

Keywords: Massive Private Online Courses; Massive Open Online Courses; learning behaviour; learning analytics; Open University of China; online courses

I. Introduction

With the increasingly wide use of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), their shortcomings in terms of learner support, tutoring, teaching design, and teaching-learning interaction have become gradually apparent. In response to the limitations of MOOCs, MOOC-based DLMOOC (Deeper Learning MOOCs), SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses), MPOC s(Massive Private Online Courses), and other new teaching models have gradually come into being. Of them, MPOCs have become one of the leading formats among current distance educational and training institutions due to features such as private ownership, fee payment, class grouping, and matched tutoring teams, and their capacity to offer targeted teaching contents, organised teaching processes, and individualised learner support to online learners.

Since its beginning in 2013, the OUC has developed a number of MPOC courses that incorporate teaching support, learning, testing, and assessment based on the Moodle learning platform. There is a significant difference between MOOCs and the OUC online courses in terms of the students’ choice of courses, course development, teaching model, and learner support. Firstly, all the learners on the OUC online courses are students registered for degree education at the OUC. They are of a similar educational background and level, and the objectives of course teaching are compatible. Secondly, the OUC online courses are designed for OUC students, incorporating resources, learning activities, learning evaluation, and learner support. They are online degree education courses for effective completion of the entire process of learning, activities, and assessments. As far as the specific design is concerned, choices can be made on the types of activities, and methods and proportions of examinations according to the course characteristics. Thirdly, with regard to teaching and learner support, the OUC offers “multi-process, blended, and team-based” learning guidance, support, and promotion by relying on the teachers in its headquarters, branches, and branch schools. In other words, the teachers on the teaching team offer online and offline blended teaching; online teaching mainly represents the organisation and implementation of online teaching assessment, the completion of course assignments and tests based on online courses, and offline teaching mainly represents face-to-face tutorship and the final term examination, depending on the course. In the autumn term of 2015, there were a total of 57 courses, 169 classes, and 1,871 teaching groups on the OUC learning platform. Each class is divided according to each course offered in each branch and the teaching teams are divided according to the different study centres for each class. A total of 54,228 students are involved in blended learning based on online courses.

This paper studies data from the online course behaviours of students of the Open University of China (OUC) in the autumn term of 2015. Analysis is made based on the characteristics of the online learning behaviour of OUC students, the students’ learning results, and the factors influencing them by collecting data on the students’ learning behaviours as recorded in the platform logs. The paper gives further explanations about the learning behaviours and offers relevant teaching and learner support suggestions in order to improve course teaching design, optimise the teaching process, and promote the teaching and learning of MPOC courses by tracking teaching processes and interviews with both teachers and students.

II. Literature Review

“Online learning behaviour” refers to a range of traceable activities recorded when using online learning platforms, including logging in, browsing, interaction, and retrieval. Compared to research materials such as self-administered questionnaires and interviews, these activities truly reflect the entire online learning process. As a result, great attention has been paid to them by researchers in the relevant fields. In the early 20th century, researchers tried to analyse learners’ online learning behaviours from the original Web access logs. In their research, Zaïane&Luo (2001) conducted an analysis of 420,000 original Web access logs and created generalised laws of the students’ behaviours, such as the most-visited modules and the obvious links between the visited modules. However, the mined information from the Web logs had its limitations. With the improvement of the online learning platform, more researchers began to consider how to obtain and analyse richer learning behaviour information from the structured background data. For example, researchers from Taiwan attempted to analyse the learning archives from structured courses in line with the SCORM norms (Su, et al., 2001). American scholars Hung and Zhang (2008) tried capturing behaviour log information from the LMS’ backstage data base, classified the students’ characteristics, and summarised their daily learning behaviour modes. Most of the analyses of learning behaviours in this period fall into the category of small sample research of a small number of courses and classes. Research on massive online courses with larger sample sizes was rather rare.

After the year 2012, educational research institutions in China and abroad began to turn to the field of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Overseas research includes analyses and forecasts of MOOC learners’ behaviour characteristics, interactions, and course completion rate, and course development improvement, teaching process intervention, and other aspects in accordance with the learners’ behavioural characteristics. In particular, foreign universities including Harvard and MIT have collected and analysed course behaviours from platforms such as Coursera and edX. Chinese research is mainly focused on online learning engagement, learning behaviour analysis and achievement forecasting, learner classification, and exploration of online learning models. For example, Li Shuang and others put forward six dimensions for a learning engagement analysis framework;Jia Ji and others conducted a comparative study on approximately twenty data indexes of the Peking University courses offered on Coursera, and they indicated a positive correlation between learners’ achievements and the time they spent online, the frequency with which they watched videos, and browsed and downloaded resources, and their forum participation;Zheng Qinhua et al (2016) conducted an overall analysis of 14 mainstream Chinese MOOC platforms and pointed out the current problems with MOOCs, such as the single teaching mode, delayed learner support and tutorials, unsatisfactory interaction, deep learning deficiency, and low learning quality and completion;Ma Xiulin et al (2016) conducted empirical studies on the teaching effects of MOOCs and SPOCs, and indicated that SPOCs were superior to MOOCs with regards to resource construction and customised support. Guo Wenge et al (2015) put forward design and operation methods for MPOCs, and indicated that it was highly probable that MPOCs would represent a future development trend for MOOCs. Wei Shunping (2012) conducted a learning behaviour analysis of one of the OUC’s MPOCs in an attempt to discover more learning behaviour characteristics from the perspectives of learning time, learning activities, teacher-student interaction, learning resources, and test results.

Based on the above research, this paper focuses on an analysis of learning behaviour in the MPOC teaching model. It studies learning behaviours from more than 56 million data instances at the OUC in the autumn term of 2015 in the hope of identifying new features and the factors influencing MPOC learning behaviours through interdisciplinary and trans-regional data analysis. The aim is to provide evidence for all educational institutions to optimise the design of MPOCs, improve teaching implementation, and upgrade the teaching level.

III. Research Design

(i) Research sample

Based on the previous research on the evaluation of online learning behaviour, learning performance model of online courses, and data model of learning analyses, and drawn upon the original data from the learning platform logs in the 2015 autumn term of the Open University of China, data are collected and extracted from course information, student information, teacher information, learning process behaviour and teaching process behaviour etc. Of these, the behaviour data related to learning process were classified according to the students’ learning actions and categories mainly completed online. There are 14 data items across seven categories, including online learning time, frequency of various behaviours, resource utilisation, forum posting, assignments completed, tests completed, and online learning results. The behaviour data for the teachers is mainly collected from three major online teaching behaviours — online tutorial engagement, tutorial methods, and course development — and includes 14 data items in six categories: frequency of various behaviours, online teaching time, forum posting, assignments assessed, internal memos, and course resource renewal. These data items are based on the online course resource category, learning tasks to be completed, and major teaching and support services, including principal learning behaviours of learners’ online learning, learning process and teachers’ principal teaching and tutorial behaviours. Table 1 includes the data items and their specific descriptions. Over the course of data arrangement and collection, incomplete and abnormal behaviour data logs are excluded.

(ii) Research methods

Using applied data statistics and visualisation, cluster analysis, correlation analysis, association rules, and other data analysis and mining techniques, the learning behaviour data from the OUC 2015 autumn term was analysed in order to understand the online learning behaviours apparent in the OUC’s online courses, to mine the relations between and among the behaviour data, and to establish the factors influencing students’ learning behaviours in the OUC’s MPOCs.

An understanding of course development and teaching was gained by tracking the course teaching process. Further analyses of the teaching process were made in order to mine learning behaviour features and to improve course design in combination with quantitative analysis.

A number of tutors and students were interviewed in order to supplement and revise the research results. Explanations of some of the learning behaviours were made by integrating actual teaching experience and practice, and relevant suggestions for instruction and learner support were made.

IV. Research Process and Discussion

(i) Features of students’ online learning behaviour

1. The distribution of time spent learning online

Figure 1 is a tendency chart of the days the students spent learning online based on the learning behaviours recorded on the learning platform in the 2015 autumn term. It can be seen that most students learned online for just one day and that only 14 students learned online for more than 40 days. Among the students, the maximum number of online learning days is 59 days. Based on the number of weeks offered for each course (each course is offered over approximately 10 weeks, excluding examination week), the students clearly spend fewer days on online learning, and many of them spend one day or several days on completing the items for their achievements, such as assignments and scored tests. Only a few students maintained long-term online learning. Though much attention has been paid to the rich learning resources and learning activity design of the OUC’s online core courses, in practice the overall online utilisation rate of MPOCs doesn’t make a big difference to the overall online utilisation rate compared with that of MOOCs if there is no follow-up teaching organisation or complete support service system. Students don’t necessarily conscientiously insist on learning through online network courses just because they are formally registered and have paid for admission.

Figure 1 Tendency Chart of Students’ Days Spent Learning Online

2. Comparative analysis of various learning behaviours

The behaviours of the students are of significance in understanding their learning features. The students’ preferences are identified through an analysis of their various behaviours in order to provide evidence for course design and teaching implementation. Figure 2 is a comparison chart of the mean value of four categories of different behaviours (the average value of the behaviours is the average of all the students’ clicks on each course) from the 57 courses on the learning platform for the OUC’s 2015 autumn term. It can be seen that the rarest behaviour is resource browsing, followed by behaviours related to interpersonal interaction. The best click rates are found among other categories of behaviours such as course entries, navigation, and results queries.

Figure 2 Comparative Chart of the Average Value of Various Behaviours

Note: ①The horizontal and vertical coordinates represent course codes and clicks, respectively

To be more specific, scored assignments and tests get the most clicks. Figure 3 and Figure 4 are examples of one public compulsory course and one special core course, respectively. The Figures show the most clicks on the courses’ top ten items. The Figures demonstrate that the interpersonal interaction and human-machine categories of behaviours account for most of the clicks; the top four ranking items are almost all formative assessments (namely assignments), it is the similar case with most of the other courses.

Figure 3 Clicks on Items within OUC Course A

Figure 4 Clicks on Items Within OUC Course B

By integrating course practical teaching and interviews with teachers and students, we established that most online courses have few activities in the interpersonal interaction category, such as assignments and forums, and that the design of course navigation and learning pathways is complicated. With regards to single course items, assignments receive the most clicks, but the overall clicks are less prominent. Furthermore, unclear course learning pathways also lead to repeated clicks of navigation items, which adds to the number of clicks on other categories of behaviour interactions. In the meantime, since degree education students won’t receive a score unless they complete their assignments and tests, they pay more attention to the tests and assignments which can help them obtain scores and less attention to items such as resource browsing.

3. Group distribution of students’ learning behaviours

K-means clustering analysis is used to analyse the students’ online behaviours and their days spent learning online, as shown in Table 2 and Figure 5. Excluding individual numerical outliers, the students’ online learning group is divided into four categories. As seen from Table 2, the total sum of learning behaviours positively correlates with an increase in online days, and Cluster 4 has the most online learning days and behaviours. If the class time is calculated according to 10 weeks in a term, the average length of online learning is 1.5 times a week, and there are 137 different learning behaviours each time. The students with a large number of learning behaviours account for only a small proportion, merely 0.28%. The days spent learning online for Cluster 1 is similar to those of Cluster 4, but the total learning behaviours are less than half of that of Cluster 4; the days spent learning online for Cluster 2 are slightly fewer than those of Cluster 1, and its total learning behaviours are about one third those of Cluster 1; the online learning days and learning behaviours of Cluster 3 are obviously decreasing, and its learning days are about one third of Cluster 2 and its learning behaviours only one fifth of Cluster 2. Figure 5 is a group distribution map of the online course students’ number of days spent learning online and their learning behaviours. The students with one log in or above in an average week account for less than 12% and most of the students log on to learn once in three weeks with an average of three learning behaviours.

Figure 5 Group Distribution of Online Learning Behaviours

Further analysis of the cluster results demonstrates that that the 57 courses of the other three clusters are distributed at random, with the exception of Cluster 4, whose students are all participating in the “OUC Online Teaching Team Pilot Course”. These courses have their own features. In terms of construction, the teaching team includes course leaders, tutors, class tutors, administrators, and technicians. There is an online duty roster, so that the teachers can answer questions raised by the students. In terms of teaching implementation, the role of the team members is to offer students timely tutorials and facilitate their learning. The class tutors, in particular, keep tracking the students’ online learning. They get regular notifications about assignment completion and take initiative to contact students in order to urge them to learn online and to submit assignments.

4. Course interaction

Figures 6 and 8 are descriptive schemes of the relationship between students’ human-machine interactions (tests) and interpersonal interactions (assignments and forum posts) as part of the courses. It can be seen that neither test completion, assignment submission nor forum posts are very satisfactory. The highest test completion rate and assignment submission rate for the courses is still less than 20%. The mean value of forum posts for many courses is 0-1, indicating that some students on the courses do not post any forum posts.

Excluding the 19 courses with no assignment design, the highest assignment submission rate among the rest of the 57 courses is 80.11%. There are nine courses with an assignment submission rate of 50%, accounting for 23.7% of the total. Excluding the six courses with no test design, there are 10 courses with a test completion rate of 50%, accounting for 19.6% of the total. 21.47 posts on the students’ forum represents the highest average number of posts; there are nine courses with an average of five posts by students.

By tracking the teaching activities of several courses with good human-machine and interpersonal interaction, and holding interviews with tutors and students, it can be seen that these courses are successful in both course design and the implementation of the teaching process. For example, some courses are provided with sufficient teaching staff , and some courses are included in the “OUC Online Teaching Team Pilot” project. The students are guaranteed effective and timely tutorial and learner support. Some courses are designed concisely and clearly, and the original flow layouts of the platform are generally maintained, which are well received by the tutors and students. Neither teachers nor students will get lost in the process of teaching and learning. For example, the flow layout is used in the OUC course Organisational Behaviour, and all the resources and activities are presented on the home page. There are no other designs except for learning content on the course page. It is very convenient for tutors to organise teaching or to add resources. Furthermore, it is easy for students to find what they need to learn effectively. Therefore, it ranks on top both in terms of the completion rate for assignments and tests and in terms of forum posts. It is easy to operate and the teachers and students praised its availability in the interviews.

From further observation of the course entries, it is found that downloads are offered for scored tests and assignments to make it easy for the students to finish assignments. The students can download and complete the assignments and scored tests offline. This is a common practice among students in many branches, especially those in less developed areas. Meanwhile, most of the classes have established QQ and WeChat groups, with which to conduct real-time and non real-time interactions. This leads to low forum use rates, accounting for the low levels of human-machine and interpersonal interaction on the platform.

Figure 6 Distribution Map of Test Completion Rates

Figure 7 Distribution Map of Assignment Submission Rates

Figure 8 Distribution Map of Students’ Course Posts

 (II) Analysis of the factors influencing learning behaviours

A comparative analysis of the students’ online learning behaviours from the course teaching team, teachers’ individual teaching behaviour, course operation area, teaching class size, specialty category, and course design was conducted. It can be seen that the teaching team and operation area have a clear influence on the students’ learning behaviours, the course design has a certain influence, and the type pf major and teaching scale do not exert an obvious influence.

1. The influence of the teaching team on learning behaviours

Of the 57 courses in operation on the OUC learning platform, seven are included in the “OUC Online Teaching Team Pilot” project (hereafter referred to as the “pilot courses”). Compared to the other 50 courses (hereafter referred to as the “non-pilot courses”), all the pilot courses are taught online with the support of funding and mechanisms. Specific team responsibilities and job assessment methods are created, and complete teaching teams made up of course leaders, tutors, class tutors, administrators, and technicians are organised in order to provide the students with all-round academic and non-academic support, including course guidance, distance or face-to-face teaching, assignment revision, and questions and answers, as well as assignment reminders, teaching affairs management, technical assistance, and consultation etc.

Figure 9 is a comparison chart of the average value of all the learning behaviour data for the pilot and non-pilot courses (the average value is the sum of the data items of each course divided by the total number of courses). It can be seen that the average value of each item for the seven pilot courses is higher than those of the non-pilot courses. Of these, the gap is greatest between the process learning behaviour data, such as the total sum of learning behaviours, the interpersonal interaction category of behaviours, other categories of behaviours, days spent learning online, resource use, activity use, students’ forum posts, tests completed, and test completion rate. The average values of the rest of the items are slightly higher; and the average values of assignments submitted, interactive assessment assignments completed, and assignments assessed by others are all very low (insufficient assignments designed for the course largely result in such situation, in particular the deficiency of assignments that require interactions and assessments) . In the course online achievements, the gap between the average values of the two kinds of courses is about 17.

Note: ① The average value is the sum of the data items of each course divided by the total number of courses. ② In order to be more intuitive, a comparison of the assignment submission percentage and test completion percentage was added.

Figure 9 Comparison Chart of the Average Data Values from the Seven Team-Based Courses and the Remaining 50 Courses

2. The influence of teachers’ individual teaching behaviours over learning behaviours

An analysis of data item correlation was conducted in order to understand the relevance and influence of various kinds of behaviour data. The influence of teaching behaviour over students’ learning can be seen from the correlation analysis of the behaviour data of teachers and students. Since the learning and interaction for the pilot courses are completed online, the seven teaching classes of the seven pilot courses (the pilot courses are offered only in designated branches with one teaching class per course) are used as the sample, in order to obtain a Pearson correlation analysis of the average value of the students’ behaviour data and that of the teachers’ teaching behaviour data. Table 3 shows the items that demonstrate extremely strong or strong correlative data.

The correlation analysis of Table 3 demonstrates the following:

➢ The teachers’ interpersonal interaction category of behaviours promotes interpersonal interaction between the students and improves the students’ rate of forum participation.
➢ Teachers provide learning support to the students and improve the assignment submission rate based on other categories of behaviours such as reading through the students learning behaviour data.
➢ Correcting assignments has a significant influence on the number of assignments submitted.
➢ When teachers post in the forum it encourages interpersonal interaction between the students and promotes the involvement in interactive assessments of assignments. Forum posts by teachers greatly encourage the students to study online for longer periods of time.
➢ Improving the teachers’ reply rate also improves the test completion rate and activity use rate, as well as the students’ online learning achievements.
➢ An increased rate of internal messages boosts interpersonal interaction between the students, including the number of words posted, and interaction with assignments and evaluations;
➢ The frequency of resource renewal correlates extremely strongly with the students’ test scores.

According to the above correlation analysis, other categories of teacher behaviours such as assignment revision and reading through the students’ learning behaviour data and learning logs have a clear utility in encouraging the students to submit assignments. Forum posts and internal memos can mobilise the students to participate in interactive assessment assignments and peer evaluation, and improve the students enthusiasm for interpersonal interaction. The frequency of replies and resource renewals influence the test category of activities and test scores, and the frequency of replies is strongly related to the students’ online achievements. Learning guidance and learning promotion behaviours effectively facilitate the students’ completion of assignments and willingness to post on the forum, and play an outstanding role in encouraging interpersonal and human-machine interactions and improving the activity completion rate. However, their role in encouraging the students to increase their browsing resource is not effective.

3. The influence of the course operation area on learning behaviours

According to an analysis of students’ learning behaviours in the course operation branches, the data from students in Chengdu and the Corps are the best. Table 4 intercepts part of the significant test results of the mean value of students’ learning behaviours for one course. It can be seen that most of the data items from Chengdu and the Corps branches are much higher than the average number and are higher than those of the other branches. Analysis of courses operated in the other areas shows the similarstatus. Further analysis and interviews show that Chengdu and the Corps branches pay great attention to online teaching and have created related teaching policies and assessment systems to promote online teaching and to increase the enthusiasm of both the teachers and learners. The smooth implementation of online teaching is ensured through training and teaching supervision in order to guarantee the quality of online teaching. We can see that the relevant policy support, systems, and faculty guarantees have an impact on learning.

4. The influence of teaching scale on learning behaviours

A number of courses were selected in order to conduct a significance analysis of the learning behaviours of students in different classes. There is no significant difference between the learning behaviour data of students in different classes. Therefore, there is no obvious correlation between the scale of the course and the students’ learning behaviours.The restrictions of various conditions may lead to a deviation in the analysis results. This is especially true with regards to the situation that the teaching classes of the course operation are distributed across different branches, and their teaching conditions, teaching staff, and polices may all cause a certain degree of deviation on the analysis results.

5. The influence of majors on learning behaviours

The 57 courses are classified into nine categories: law, education, economic management, science, engineering, humanities, biology, foreign languages, and administration. A significance test of the behaviour data from the nine courses shows that there are no major differences between the courses.

6. The influence of course design on learning behaviours

As mentioned above, courses that follow the original flow layout design on the application platform are popular with tutors and students, and exhibit strong human-machine and interpersonal interactions. In general, the behaviour data values for these courses are all relatively high. The teachers and students interviewed seem to prefer these kinds of courses.

The above analysis shows that learning guidance and promotion by teachers enhance online learning and, in particular, the support of an organised teaching team plays a large role in encouraging the students’ learning process. Great improvements have been made in terms of course interaction, the completion of tests and assignments, and course achievements. In the meantime, the teaching management level, policy support, systematic guarantees, and excellent course design of the branches where the students learn are also important factors in igniting and encouraging online learning. Therefore, teaching teams that exhibit efficient collaboration, timely learning guidance and support, good management mechanisms, and quality course design have a vital role in guaranteeing the teaching quality of MPOCs and improving the teaching level.

V. Conclusions and Suggestions

Based on the research and discussions mentioned above, a summary of the factors influencing the learning behaviours of the students of OUC online courses is made and suggestions are given for the course development, instruction and learner support, and management mechanism of the OUC’s MPOCs so as to improve course development and to improve the effectiveness of online teaching.

(i) Conclusions

1. The time spent learning is concentrated and the level of interaction needs improving

The online learning achievements of OUC students are directly related to whether they can get credits andcertificates. Therefore students have very clear online learning objectives: to complete scored assignments and activities. Therefore, most students complete scored assignments and tests online across several concentrated days without learning persistence and with low behavioural data access;The interactive tools and functions of the teaching platform are not fully used, and the learning guidance and promotion role of the tutors’ and class tutors’ is not given full play. Neither human-machine interactions nor interpersonal interactions are able to meet expectations yet.

2. Assessment learning is emphasised but the resource category of learning is neglected

As seen from the analysis mentioned above, it is rather low either in behaviour of browsing resources or resource utilisation, the completion rate of assessed assignments and quizzes tightly related to the final examination is good. Since at present the statistics for resource browsing and the duration of resource usage are not collectable in the learning platform, these parts of most courses are not included in the assessment, which leads to low clicks and poor browsing rates.

3. There is a significant relationship between the behaviour data of teachers and students. Timely support from teaching teams is a key factor in ensuring MPOC teaching quality

As seen from the correlation analysis, the behaviour data items of the teachers and students are highly correlated. Online teaching behaviours such as forum posts, assignment revision, and internal memos are significantly related to resource browsing, interpersonal interaction, human-machine interaction, and course achievements among the students. Guidance and promotion from teachers enhances the students’ online learning. The teaching teams have a clear influence on student learning behaviours. Timely tutorials and learning promotion support by the members of the teaching team effectively improve online learning engagement, course interaction frequency, resource browsing, and learning results, and ensure the teaching quality of the MPOCs.

In the pilot projects, all the course teams have organised academic and non-academic teams the meet the needs of course teaching with clear division of responsibilities and job mechanisms in order to offer the students online teaching, tutorials, and learner support that has remarkable effect.Teaching effects of the pilot courses are greatly improved in terms of course interactivity, procedural learning behaviours such as resource use, and the learning results.

4. Good management mechanisms ensure the smooth operation of online teaching

An analysis of the influence of course operation areas over learning activities shows that educational units with solid organisation, good teaching policies and systems, and sufficient teaching staff are of great importance in promoting online teaching and learning, and thus increasing their effectiveness remarkably.

5. Course design directs learning behaviours and concisely designed courses are generally popular with students.

Course teaching and page design do have an effect on learning behaviours. If the design of courses are inclined towards exploration and practice, the average value of interpersonal interaction category of behaviours among students is greater. If the courses are inclined towards lecturing, then the value of the resource browsing category of behaviours increases. In Figure 2, the average value of students’ log in, navigation, and other categories of behaviours is the highest. Further analysis shows that problems such as mixed course page designs, unclear navigation, and complicated learning paths disorient the students. The students have to return to the previous browsing page by relying on the navigation columns or click the navigation columns several times before they can find the relevant contents. By integrating the analysis on the influence of course designs on learning behaviour with practical teaching and interviews with teachers and students, we can see that tutors and students prefer simply designed courses. They generally don’t get lost in such courses, which is more favourable for tutors to organise teaching, and for students to look up resources and complete assignments. The data value of all students’ behaviours for these courses is rather high.

(ii) Suggestions

1. On course development

(1) Strengthen process assessment and ensure the consistency of assessments and course contents

Methods of online course assessment are to be ameliorated in order to improve the proportion of process assessment. Students can be guided to learn at regular intervals by way of increasing assessment on usual learning behaviours and learning processes, and increasing the proportion of interpersonal interaction assignments. The consistency of learning resources and assessment and teaching objective design should be ensured in order to strengthen the correlation between resources and assessments, so that students can use learning resources to complete learning objectives and assessments and thus increase the students’ resource use rate. At the same time, attention should be paid to designing courses that are concise, lively, and interesting, and strengthen the design of learning guidance content in order to arouse the students’ interest in course contents, improve the rate of resource access, and establish the teaching process.

(2) Optimise course design and improve platform function

The course designs should be further optimised based on learning behaviour data in order to unify and simplify the course page and layout. Course knowledge maps can be added in order to reduce the time taken looking up course contents and provide the students with good course experiences through column navigation with clear design and streamlined course learning paths. The course development process should be standardised in order to establish course development and resource upload criteria and facilitate the ability of the platform to record data on learning behaviours. Functions or tools such as report forms, push notifications, and real-time communication can be added to make it possible to achieve real-time learning query, teaching intervention, online teaching research, and real-time question and answer sessions.

2. On course teaching and support

(1) Provide a one-stop teaching team that meets the course teaching needs and ensures teaching quality

In order to meet the course teaching needs, full-time tutors and class tutors for each teaching class should be established in order to offer students individualized learner support and to solve their problems related to discipline, teaching affairs, and teaching techniques. A scientific, effective team work mechanism should be established in order to guide online learning and interaction, ensure teaching quality, and improve the effectiveness of teaching. The OUC has realised from the pilot work the importance of a diversified one-stop online teaching team to online teaching in this respect. Efforts should be made to promote and encourage the construction of a teaching team for each course and major.

(2) Provide timely teaching support and encourage the students’ learning process

Targeted teaching plans and support mechanisms should be formulated in accordance with the students’ behavioural characteristics, to arouse the students’ learning interest, and increase investment and engagement in the resource and activity categories of the learning process to create a balanced learning environment. The role of the teaching and mining team is to be brought into full play to guide and urge the students’ participation in process learning. For example, tutors should push the students to take an active part in posting on the forums and the class tutors should use internal memos, forums, emails, and phone calls to further encourage the students to complete their assignments and log on to learn. At the same time, platform functions such as badges should be developed in order to increase learning rewards and encourage the students’ learning process.

3. On management mechanism

(1) Transform the function and assessment mechanisms used by the teachers and strengthen teaching team construction

In the MPOC teaching model, course organisation and support are covered by the teaching team. This paper introduces the teaching team used by the seven pilot courses, made up of 1 + N members (one course leader and several tutors) and the course project system teaching operation method. To the courses with a huge number of students, the teaching team usually operates and implements teaching in the organisation form of N* (1 + N). The teachers’ assessment mechanism should change in accordance with the transformation of job responsibilities of various kinds of teachers in the team based on the the conditions of the MPOC. Assessment is no longer made based on individual teachers but on the overall teaching team. Within the teaching team, all of the team members will be assessed and rewarded or punished by the course leader according to their teaching and feedback from the students etc. In order to ensure that the needs of the students for teaching are covered, educational institutions should encourage the construction of one-stop diversified teaching teams that are in line with the features of each course in order to provide the students with individualised learning support. Meanwhile, the teaching units should study teaching systems and management mechanisms that may be suitable for the MPOC teaching model and provide policy support, and human, financial, and material guarantees for teaching implementation in the MPOC model.

(2) Strengthen teacher training and improve teachers’ capacity for online teaching and service

Teaching capabilities such as course teaching design, organisation, learning guidance, learning promotion, and technical support can all be improved through a range of training scheme organized for course leaders, tutors, class tutors, administrators, and technicians in order to offer the students a quality course experience and strong learner support.

(3) Share cases studies and guide the teaching processes with data analysis

Cases studies on outstanding course designs and team operation mechanism should be shared through meetings and workshops in order to learn from the experiences of others, upgrade the overall teaching level of the MPOC team, and improve the operation mechanism. The results of any behaviour data analysis should be provided to the course team in order to present teaching in an objective and all-round way, guide course teaching and operation, and ensure teaching quality.

This paper provides an overall, preliminary analysis of massive data from MPOCs, which does not make further explorations to the in-depth reasons of teaching, learning behaviours and phenomena. In the next stage, an analysis of teaching behaviour data shall be conducted from multiple perspectives and levels in combination with qualitative research. For example, further research should cover the behavioural features of various types of students; the influence of mutual assistance among the students over learning behaviours; the influence of the supervision and guiding functions of teaching behaviours on learning; and the role of teaching intervention by course leaders in the promotion of process learning, in the hope to continuously improving the MPOC operation mechanism and learning support model.

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Guo Wenge, Shen Xudong. 2015. MPOCs:The Design and Implementation of Massive Private Online Courses [J]. Modern Distance Education Research (1): 22-32.

Jia Jiyou,, Liao Jingmin, and Wang Qiong. 2014. Big Data Analysis of the Learning Behaviour and Effect of MOOCs: Study of Six Peking University MOOCs [J]. Industry and Information Technology Education (9): 23-29.

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Sun Hongtao, Li Qiujie, Zheng Qinhua. 2016. A Cluster Analysis of MOOC Interaction Patterns [J]. Distance Education in China (3): 33-38.

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Wei Shunping, Cheng Gang, Wang Lina, et al. 2016.Research on the Construction of an Evaluation Index System for Data Driven Online Course Implementation Processes [J]. Journal of Beijing Radio and TV University (2): 42-48.

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1. This paper is the research achievement of the 2015 key research project of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan of Beijing Educational Science “Research on Teaching Performance Evaluation System and Its Application in Massive Private Online Courses Based on Education Big Data” (project approval No.: AJA15233) and the 2014-2015 Youth Project of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan of the Open University of China “Learning Behavious in Massive Private Online Courses and Their Influencing Factors: Data from the Open University of China” (project approval No.: G14A0031Q).

About the Authors:

Shi Lei: master’s degree holder, assistant research fellow, Student Affairs and Teacher Development Centre, Open University of China
Add: #75 Fuxing Road, Haidian District, Beijing100039, P.R.China
Tel: 13311471462
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cheng Gang: Ph.D holder, associate professor, deputy director, Student Affairs and Teacher Development Centre, Open University of China
Add: #75 Fuxing Road, Haidian District, Beijing100039, P.R.China
Tel: 57519546
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Li Chao: master’s degree holder, engineer, Student Affairs and Teacher Development Centre, Open University of China
Add: #75 Fuxing Road, Haidian District, Beijing100039, P.R.China
Tel: 57519377
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Wei Shunping: Ph. D holder, associate research fellow, deputy director of the OUC Engineering Research Centre for Technology Integration and Application of E-Learning, Ministry of Education
Add: #75 Fuxing Road, Haidian District, Beijing100039, P.R.China
Tel: 57519371
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


*This paper is published in the issue No. 4 2017 (Serial No. 507) of the journal of Distance Education in China

Research on the i-Experiment Teaching Model in Vocational Education

Zhang Shaogang

The Open University of China 

Beijing, China

e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Wei Shunping

The Open University of China 

Beijing, China

e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Zhao Xuan 

The Open University of China 

Beijing, China

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Wang Mobin 

The Open University of China 

Beijing, China

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[Abstract] Online education and on-site campus education have been developing from separate to integrated. Through the construction of the i-Experiment Teaching Model for Vocational Education, “i” is connected with the “love” for knowledge and practice to explore a solution that integrates information technology with cultural education, in order to build an ecosphere of online platforms, course resources, human-based management, and learner support, and thus promoting the structural reform of vocational education.

[Key Words] vocational education; teaching model;ecosphere; online platform; experiential learning


Education institutions at all levels are advancing the profound integration of information technology with education. Relevant research on vocational education includes the following: (1) Informational teaching models are explored to accommodate vocational education and to demonstrate practical, competence-based training. Attention is paid to the comprehensive use of multi-media supported by modern information technology and based on the online environment, such as paper media, props media, audio-visual media, web-based media, blended media, and field practice. Attention is also paid to interactive learning, situational learning, and experiential learning, so as to equip the students with comprehensive professional abilities, particularly with regards to innovation and learning[1][2]; (2) Teaching platforms and resources for digitization are developed to suit vocational education, for example, the construction of a virtual and simulative teaching environment catering to practice and pre-graduation practice[3][4]; (3) In response to the requirements of vocational education digitization, challenges may be posed to teachers’ competency in digitized education[5][6][7]; (4) The construction and practice of an digital teaching management system that conforms to the laws of vocational education teaching[8].

These research projects attempt to address issues such as: (1) social discrimination, meaning that general education is superior to vocational education, and degree education is placed before skill training; (2) lack of funding for vocational education, insufficient input and poor school operating conditions; (3) teacher shortage, in particular those with dual qualifications; (4) lack of communication between second and tertiary vocational education, and general education and vocational education; (5) the necessary involvement of enterprises in vocational education, and the lack of a systematic guarantee for university-school cooperation leading to low initiative for some enterprises to participate in vocational education; (6) vocational education is managed by several departments, requiring systematic integration so as to optimize the management system and mechanism; (7) further improvement of the overall quality of vocational education. [9] 

The key focus is to promote the further reform and development of vocational education with the participation of teachers in scientific research and with the help of new technologies such as the Internet, big data, and learning analysis to optimize vocational education teaching models. Moreover, the breakthrough lies in class teaching and blended campus education. “i-experiment” is an educational teaching model that has come into being against such a vast backdrop in an attempt to reform vocational education teaching.


“i-experiment” aims to explore a blend of online and offline within the teaching paradigm of “using practical and theoretical methods to improve education and sharing school wisdom through online interaction”[10].

The concept of “i” is based in the English vocabulary. There are a number of words beginning with “i” that suggest the idea of information technology, such as iPad, iPhone, Internet, Individual, Interactive, Inform, Instruct, Integrated, Interesting, Idea, Ideal, Intelligent, Innovation, and Inspire. Its homonym in the Chinese vocabulary is “love”, which expresses feelings or actions such as admiration, respect, care, fondness, willing to help but unable to do so, love me, love my dog and many others. This homonym is used here to link the surface meanings of “i” and “love”, thus integrating technology and culture.

“Experiment” usually refers to an operation or action carried out in order to test a scientific theory or hypothesis. In its usage here it has four levels of meaning. The first is to reform learning approaches, with a focus on target orientation and problem orientation, as well as inquiry and experiential learning; the second is to highlight the use of both the mind and the body, presenting a vision of teaching and learning by doing, forming solutions to problems through individual and team thought, creation, design and other conceptions, and taking action; the third is to emphasize the scientific spirit; the fourth is to underline the full demonstration of wisdom, infinite creativity and their continuous realization to reach high-level achievements.

 “Online interaction” means people and things working interactively, including sharing innovative achievements online and getting online guidance from other parties.

To sum up the above concepts, the vocational education model constructed by “i-experiment” is interpreted as “learning through online activities, doing through lively cooperation, and getting pleasure through pleasant work”. In the era of personal media (we-media), platforms give each student the chance to fulfill their potential and display their knowledge, and to make individualized and practical achievements. Like-minded people with dreams throughout China and the world at large learn and help each other. Specifically, the “i-experiment” teaching model in vocational education focuses on online and offline cooperation and embodies the collective wisdom of teachers and students in learning activities from the perspective of teaching. It provides a connected teaching environment that emphasizes the maximum utilization of social education resources from the perspective of the teaching organization. Equal priority is given to the unification of sensibility and rationality from the perspective of the teaching approach. Therefore, the model can also be considered to be “constructing intelligent action”.

The technical implementation of the “i-experiment” teaching model can be understood through a “one-two-three-four-five” structure. One stands for one objective: the cultivation of learners with technical skills. From the perspective of the core of school management, learners are centered “to have all the students taught with what they want to learn, and put into practice and fulfill themselves with what they have learned”. An ecological and intelligent learning environment is also created to put learner support in place. Two stands for two dimensions: the interaction between the use of mind and hand, theory and practice, and knowing and doing. Learning by doing and experiential learning are highlighted for learners. Knowledge of the background, relevant principle and related techniques of an issue will enable the students to draw knowledge from case studies. Three stands for three links: the first link is online learning sharing by uploading words, photos or videos to the online “i-lab”; the second link is the online interaction of teaching and learning with possible choice of course resources and participation in discussion and mutual evaluation; the third link is basic practical experience, organized according to the needs of individuals. Four stands for four functions. The first is display. With a number of labs opened for “i-experiment” on the Internet, the achievements of the students and teachers can be exhibited in the corresponding labs. The second is evaluation and guidance. Expert teams are invited by each lab to comment on the works on display and to expand the knowledge of the teachers and students. The third is the course supermarket. Many related multi-media courses are dynamically added to the website, allowing learners to choose their requests. The fourth is to evaluate and redeem points. An evaluation system for learning results in each project lab is able to accumulate points for works submitted by individuals and groups through expert evaluation and display to other web users. Points are also accumulated through evaluation of course learners’ learning actions and learning results, and individual and collective points can be exchanged for relevant products or service. Five stands for support. The first is multi-functional online platform support, which satisfies the functions of uploading, downloading, saving, playing, searching, pushing, multi-terminal presentation, and one-stop services, among others. The second is support from the government and related educational departments. All the activities, as teaching activities for public benefit, are guaranteed sound and sustainable development under the instruction of the government and educational authorities and with assistance from the schools and relevant institutions. The third is support from industry expert teams. Under the instruction of the experts, the scientific nature and strong learning quality of the tasks is guaranteed. The fourth is support from relevant enterprises. Enterprises are encouraged to participate in public benefit activities, shaping a pattern where enterprises, schools, students and other relevant parties all win, while sharing wisdom, responsibility and benefits. The fifth is support of internship bases. Since learning is an interactive process, offline experiential learning has the ability to gather likeminded people and help them grow together.


The “i-experiment” online platform constructed during the research shapes the “i-experiment” series application websites and matching online resource systems based on the research achievements of the model.

The construction of the “i-experiment” platform is based on the educational resources of the Open University of China (OUC) and its cooperative vocational universities and enterprises for professional development and life skills in line with the principle of “serving the public and encouraging innovation”. This is achieved through a range of online practical education activities, such as i-creation, i-calligraphy, i-singing, i-apparel, i-ecological garden, i-3D printing, and i-digital, thus shaping a harmonious online and offline ecosphere for all participants, including teachers, students and the community. The trial website for the “i-experiment” online support platform is Figure 1 shows the technical route, overall framework and functional realization of the platform:

A.Overall system framework

The system will be made up of several modules that are loosely coupled with each other. They can work together or independently for step-by-step implementation within the project.

B.Functional structure of the platform

The major functions of the i-experiment master website cover the six aspects of openness, learning, course, action, management and services, as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Functional Structure of the i-Experiment Master Platform

“Openness” embodies the complete openness of all kinds of resources. “Learning” expresses learning activities, including plans, notes, tests, and communities. “Course” represents resources, such as famous teachers, books, and audio-visual programmes. “Action” signifies interaction. Both visitors and learners can participate in their favorite projects. “Management” emphasizes the reinforcement of standards to create a strong ecosphere. “Service” focuses on orientation to meet the diverse needs of different learners.

Efforts have been made to try to innovate some of these website functions. The first is the integration of the community education network. The function of integrating local lifelong learning networks and third party resources is to bring together outstanding resources, and to shape them for online learning through the metadata information of various local resources. In the meantime, corresponding learning records are obtained through methods such as data capture. The contents integrated include a special i-experiment network and local courses for lifelong learning. The second is single sign-on. The i-experiment website has a “community education” channel, which integrates and stores resources from local lifelong learning worksites and learning service programmes as well as links to skip ahead. When they visit “community education” courses and service programmes, learners can skip to relevant “local community learning networks” (or one of the theme websites of the i-experiment project). Though they have their own independent user system and verification mechanism, learners can visit all the relevant application systems once they have logged on the master website, obtaining synchronous learning records from the master website and the “local community learning network” (or one of the theme websites of the i-experiment project). The third is resource integration. The objects of resource integration include course resources, dynamic information and other learning resources from the “local community learning network” (or one of the theme websites of the i-experiment project). The core information of these resources is stored in the resource database and provided by the network in accordance with its standards. The integrated resources are released by the master website and pushed to the “local community learning network” (or one of the theme websites of the i-experiment project) via the interface.


With regard to offline experiential learning, the focus is learning by doing. The i-3D offline printing lab has been constructed as a pilot project as part of this research. 3D printing, aka additive manufacturing, constructs objects through layers of printing with special materials like metal powder, ceramic powder, plastics, resin and cell tissue based upon digital model documents. The construction of the i-3D printing lab, aimed at “the scientific popularization of 3D printing technology”, “user experience and practice of 3D printing equipment” and “3D design creation and innovation”, is a new type of experiential space (including an experience room and the i-experiment website) representing the functions of teaching interaction, design creativity, operation experience and product display.

The 3-D printing experience room consists of a guided tour zone, design zone, scan zone, operation experience zone and product display zone. Constructed by the community college, the room is equipped with a 3D printer, 3D scanner, high-performance desk-top computers and 3D printing materials, such as PLA resin, as seen in Figure 3.

The guided tour zone functions as a reception for guided tours. After watching micro-courses and listening to open lectures on 3D printing, learners gain an initial understanding of 3D printers and the printing process. In the scan zone, the 3D scanner is arranged for teaching, making 3D digital modeling, and 3D human body modeling in particular, possible. The design zone presents the complete 3D picture through PC software so that learners can change and adjust the data of the 3D model, and build new models using 3D modeling software. In the operation experience zone, learners can copy the sliced 3D model obtained by designing or scanning and printing it with a 3D printer, which can be completed individually or in a group. The printing process can also be observed from several perspectives. The product display shows the works completed by the learners and acts to strengthen interaction and exchange during the course of the 3D design and creation process.

As a supplement and extension of offline lab, the online 3D printing lab has various functional zones that match those of the offline lab. It has developed corresponding online columns and shares news and resources about the latest international 3D printing technology allowing learners to follow the latest development trends of 3D printing technology, participate in 3D competitions, view display products, obtain learning materials, download 3D models, or set up exchange groups.

At present, the construction of the open physical i-3D printing lab based at Zhongguancun School in Beijing’s Haidian District has been completed. It offers 3D printing training and services for society and plays a role in promoting the construction of an innovative urban area.


In line with the principle of “serving the public and encouraging innovation”, the i-experiment teaching model for vocational education cuts through campus walls to create a harmonious online and offline ecosphere. Projects such as i-DIY remake, i-plant, i-cooking skill, i-financial management, i-paper cutting, i-tourism aim to respond to the needs of work and life. A colorful blended learning network will be formulated with the support of the online platform, course resources, human-based management and learner support.

The 2010 National Outline for Medium and Long-term Education on Reform and Development states that information technology has a revolutionary impact on educational development. In order to make a substantial impact in the field of vocational education, it is necessary to realize the full integration of information technology with teaching, and conduct structural reform accordingly within the professional education teaching system and especially within practical teaching system. The “i-experiment in vocational education” raised in this research represents an attempt to reform practical teaching in vocational education. As a result of this research it is not difficult to image that the courses, classrooms, teachers and students of the future might be very different from those we see today.


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