Virtual learning broadens horizon

Updated: 2013-10-02 00:10

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

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Online courses are getting increasingly popular, Zhang Yue explores their growing appeal in China

Wang Yue, a 25-year-old in Shanghai, keeps shifting between being a teacher during the week and being a student on the weekends, since he learned about "Coursera" a year ago.

At that time, he was teaching in a private English training school in Shanghai and earned a "pretty good salary". But he felt dull and insecure.

"Teaching the same content and skills everyday, and even saying the same jokes every day was not interesting to me," he says. "As time passed, I started to feel a bit anxious and trapped, because I wanted to learn new things."

Having been in the job for two years, he was dying to broaden his knowledge. That was when he was introduced to Coursera, an online open course platform that was set up by two professors from Stanford University in 2012. Not only does the platform provide free courses from prestigious universities from around the world, it also provides a platform for teachers and students to interact with one another.

"My life after work was immediately, amazingly broadened," Wang recalls.

When he logged on to the Coursera website for the first time, he was so thrilled to see the name of the courses that he immediately subscribed to five of them.

But it did not take him long to realize that was too much of a burden.

"Each course came with certain assignments and examinations, and required concentration till the final examination, " he says. "Currently, I am doing two courses, one an introduction to finance and accounting provided by the University of Pennsylvania, and one on teaching for learning.

Wang speaks excellent English, which he says is "the only thing he is good at", and this is to the good for Coursera, because most of the courses are in English.

Despite this, according to Coursera's statistics, by this month, two years after it was established, the platform had more than 4.9 million subscribers. "We want to share some of the best education recourses worldwide to anyone who might be interested," says Professor Andrew Ng from Stanford University, one of the two-founders of Coursera during a seminar founded by Microsoft Asian Institute that took place in Nankai University in Tianjin last year, "And for our Chinese subscribers, it brings more challenge because many courses require better English skills and the art of group work."

Yu Kai, a 32-year-old man working as a nutrition researcher at Nestle Beijing, now spends one-third of his spare time taking courses mainly on Coursera, not to attain any degree, but for the knowledge the online education platform can provide to assist him in his job.

"I am not doing this for any certificate," he says. "For me, it is really good way to motivate myself to learn new things. And though I live on my own, I have a group of online 'classmates' to discuss the course with."

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