PLA taps online power with Dream Class

Updated: 2016-10-26 06:22

By ZHAO LEI(China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

The People's Liberation Army has harnessed the power of massive open online courses as part of efforts to educate and train its troops.

Dream Class, an intranet platform developed and operated by the National University of Defense Technology, has registered more than 320,000 officers and soldiers since its launch three years ago.

The service offers about 170 online courses that are designed by the college and 13 PLA institutes. They cover a wide range of subjects, from military equipment and operational tactics to ballistic missile research and combat maneuvers.

Around 400 PLA teachers and researchers are involved in the program, said Wang Huaimin, deputy head of education at the university, which is in Changsha, Hunan province.

"We initiated this program in response to President Xi Jinping's request that the university use special measures to train professionals badly needed by the military," Wang said. "It has proved successful in fostering officers who have interdisciplinary knowledge and are able to carry out joint operations."

He said all the courses combined last more than 1,000 hours and feature a total of nearly 10,000 videos and 30,000 test questions.

Wang said the operation team for the massive open online courses has handled more than 100 million pieces of data, including 420,000 questions from students and 190,000 answers from teachers.

The two largest user groups are from the Western Theater Command and the Central Theater Command, he said.

The massive open online courses concept was created in 2008 by two Canadian researchers who designed an online platform on which people can register for free and gain access to courses provided by universities.

The open online course concept became popular in 2012, when many top universities in the United States launched such platforms. Like an offline course, online courses have assessments and examinations. Users can participate in video discussions, submit assignments and take a final exam.

Once a course is completed, users receive an electronic certificate or a paper copy.

Dream Class, which enables PLA personnel to obtain knowledge and skills anywhere and anytime, was launched in August 2013, becoming the first massive open online courses program on the Chinese mainland. In June 2014, the number of users reached 100,000, and by August that year the number had doubled.

Soldiers with an unidentified combat unit in the Southern Theater Command adopted knowledge they learned from Dream Class to improve drone reconnaissance tactics, according to Lei Yongjun, an officer at the university who oversees training affairs.

Another example, he said, was that technicians from a communication regiment in the Western Theater Command used methods learned from Dream Class to upgrade their signal equipment vehicle, resulting in better efficiency.

Fu Qiang, a professor with the university's School of Electronic Science and Engineering, said one of his Dream Class students is a staff officer from a missile brigade who asked Fu to help solve a problem affecting a type of missile.

The professor visited the brigade and investigated the problem. He then worked out a solution that helped the unit clear up the difficulty. The problem and its solution were included in his Dream Class course so that other users having similar issues can learn to handle them, Fu said.

Wu Yi, a senior communication engineer from the Western Theater Command, said he has registered for almost all of the Dream Class courses because "they will significantly expand my horizons and knowledge and will be very useful to my work".