Second, the online colleges are divided into 7 geographic regions, including Beijing-Tianjin, East China, North China, etc.

Finally, samples are selected. The sampling process emphasizes both the reasonable selection of different categories of schools and the balance of their regional distribution. The following rules are followed: (1) If there are several schools in the same area, random sampling is conducted. (2) Specialized colleges are selected based on region while aiming to balance the different specialties within the same region. In accordance with the above principles, 29 online colleges were ultimately selected, as listed in the following table.

Table 1  Selected Pilot Online College Platforms 

                Area
Category
Beijing-Tianjin
East China
Northeast 
China
Southwest
Northwest
Central China
South China
Comprehensive
Peking University
Sichuan University
Southwest University
Wuhan University
Sun Yat-sen University
Arts and Sciences
(Normal)
Beijing Normal University
Northeast Normal University
Southwest Normal University
South China Normal University
Fujian Normal University
Natural Sciences 
University
of Electronic
Science and Technology of China
Southwest University of Science and Technology
 
China University of Geosciences
Liberal Arts
Renmin University of China
Specialized
Beijing University
of Aeronautics & Astronautics
Central Conservatory of Music
Beijing Foreign Studies University
Beijing University
of Posts and Telecommuni-
cations
Beijing Language and Culture University
China Agricultural University
Peking University
China University of Petroleum
Northeast Agricultural university
North
eastern University
Southwest Jiaotong University
South
western University of Finance and Economics
Chongqing University
North
western Poly
technical University
South China University of Technology
 
(Note:Due to space limitations, the university name is used in lieu of the name of the online college run by the university.)

Among the above online colleges, Northeast Normal University's online college uses the OPEN distance education platform (http://www.open.com.cn/). Adding the RTVU online platform, there are a total of 30 distance learning and management platforms, thus ensuring the representativeness of the sample base.

2.2 Category selection

The platform systems run by the aforementioned 30 institutions all can be divided into two parts. One is learner-oriented learning support systems, and the other is management systems oriented to various administrative personnel (administrators of teaching and academic affairs, resources, systems, and off-campus learning centers) and teachers. This paper focuses on content analysis of platform learning systems.

If a student account is used to log on to the platform, access to the platform learning system has three levels which are, sequentially: portal, personal space, and course space. A preliminary content analysis shows the following: (1) The numbers of platforms built with these three levels are respectively 30, 30 and 19; these three levels are universal. (2) All functions of the learning system are distributed across the home pages of these three levels; the three levels comprehensively embody the functions of the learning system. (3) Though there are some repetitions of functions between the three levels, they each have their own emphasis. The functional structures of the home pages are different, and the three levels are relatively independent.

Therefore, the learning system can be divided into the aforementioned three levels. The categories of content analysis are the functions and structures of the home pages at the three levels of portal, personal space and course space. Using the author's previous platform-related research as a reference, each level is divided into specific subcategories. For example, the portal category includes introduction to the college, study center, college news, college notices, recruitment and enrollment, personal space login, etc.[5] The personal space category, which spans enrollment to graduation, includes personal information, mailbox, login information, course selection, test appointment, forum, assignment, graduation thesis, etc.[6] These divisions are further confirmed by integrating the preliminary content analysis.

The following sections perform content analysis of the learning systems of the 30 representative domestic platforms. The functions and functional structures of the home pages at the three levels are statistically analyzed and classified. On this basis, the functional frameworks of the learning system and the corresponding management system are then summarized using grounded theory methods and a service-oriented approach. An optimized design for platform functions and structure is created based on human-computer interaction theory, forming a preliminary description of LSMS system theory.


II. Content analysis of the functions and structure of the learning system

This section contains a content analysis of the home page functions and structures at the three levels of the representative learning systems. The home page functions and structure at each level are summarized. The pros and cons of various functional structures are analyzed in line with human-computer interaction theory, thus laying the foundation for an optimal service-oriented design of the platform's functional framework and structure.

1. Portal columns and structure

The portal is the external public environment for the entire distance learning and management platform. Its core content lies not in function but in the service of information. Therefore, the following sections focus on content analysis and statistics of the columns, functions and column structure of the portal.