China’s online education industry has expanded quickly in recent years as more and more users are attracted by the convenience of learning over the Internet. Online education eliminates the restraints of time and space for users, its proponents say, and helps popularize educational resources. Experts forecast that the domestic online education market has great potential to grow rapidly over the next five years, with vocational education and language teaching enjoying the most popularity. However, online education platforms face challenges, such as how to improve interaction between instructors and students and how to make more tailored teaching materials for students.
Turning on his computer and putting on headphones, Derek Zhao, a college student in North China’s Tianjin Municipality, started speaking in English with his online instructor.
“I bought English classes from an online education platform two months ago because I am preparing for the TOEFL,” said Zhao, referring to the standardized test for nonnative English speakers.
Zhao and his American instructor meet online three times a week.
“My foreign instructor created a teaching plan tailored for me, which helps me study more efficiently,” he told the Global Times. “Studying online is convenient because I can just sit at home and learn from a teacher from the US,” Zhao said, noting that more and more of his friends are inclined to choose online education services.
Experts said that China’s online education sector has expanded quickly in recent years thanks to the improvement of consumption of Chinese families, further penetration of the Internet and the convenience of this type of education.
The domestic online education market generated about 160.15 billion yuan ($23.37 billion) in revenues in 2016, up 17.2 percent on a yearly basis, according to a report issued by Analysys International on January 12.
Many online education platforms have secured large-scale funding deals over the last few years. In November 2015, Shanghai-based English language learning institute iTutorGroup announced that it had received $200 million – a record amount of funding for an online education company in China.
In February 2016, Beijing-based New Oriental Online secured a 320 million yuan investment from Internet titan Tencent Holding. In August 2016, Beijing-based VIPKID raised $100 million in funding.
China’s online education market has captured a great deal of public attention, experts said. The industry has great growth potential for the next few years.
China’s online education boom began in 2010 and has evolved into a trend with several forms, products and channels, said Yang Xu, an industry analyst at Analysys International.
“The domestic online education market can be classified into several categories, including preschool education, K-12 education, vocational education, language education and preparation for studying abroad, among which vocational education and language learning are rising with many advantages,” Yang told the Global Times in an earlier interview.
As of December 2016, China had 731 million Internet users, and the number of online education users grew 25 percent year-on-year to 138 million, according to a report released by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) on January 22.
The CNNIC report said that the user utilization rate of K-12 education, which stood at 53.4 percent, was the highest in the industry. The improvement of Internet access in primary and secondary schools provides a foundation for online education formats such as live teaching, according to the report. Also, young teachers are more likely to embrace the Internet, which helps promote online education products.
A resident surnamed Tu from Nanchang, capital of East China’s Jiangxi Province, said that an increasing number of parents around her are seeking online education for their children. She is one of them and has bought her daughter online English training courses.
“I chose a foreign teacher from the Philippines for my daughter, who is 8, on an online education platform talk915.com,” Tu told the Global Times.
“My child learned English with the instructor three to four times each week for 25 minutes each session,” she said, noting that each class costs about 30 yuan.
According to Tu, the platform provides foreign teachers from the Philippines, European countries and the US.
Online education offers a great deal of convenience to users because it eliminates regional and time constraints for users and offers an equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of location, said Zhang Nan, vice president of the Beijing-based online education company Limi Learning Corp.
“Residents of first-tier cities have received online education well, and there seems to be the same market potential in second- and third-tier cities,” Zhang told the Global Times.
Residents in some rural areas could also become the potential customers for online learning once they get access to the Internet, according to experts.
“Online education will not replace traditional classroom teaching; instead, the future model of education will involve the combination of online and traditional education,” Zhang said.
Along with further growth of combined online and offline education, experts forecast that the online education market will grow quickly in the next three to five years.
China’s online education sector has great development potential, especially for teaching English to children, said Mi Wenjuan, founder and CEO of the Beijing-based online education institute VIPKID. Mi predicted that the industry’s annual growth rate will exceed 20 percent.
VIPKID has built a platform linking children aged between 5 and 12 years old with native English speakers for one-to-one online language lessons. The company said that it now has about 500,000 registered students in China and some 3,000 instructors on its platform. Instructors are based mainly in the US and Canada.
The penetration rate for online education services for adults has reached a mature level, but the rate for children and teenagers is booming, said Zhang, vice president of Limi Learning Corp.
In the future, every user will be able to share education resources across the globe via the Internet, and advanced technology will be able to create more learning situations for users to better integrate into the learning environment, Mi said.
“Online education makes it possible to teach students in accordance of their aptitude,” Mi told the Global Times.
Yang, the Analysys International analyst, said that at the current stage, the industry also faces some challenges, including standards in need of improvement and a lack of interaction between teachers and students.
User experience is what online education platforms care about, Mi said. “We are cooperating with some international online education platforms to find more qualified teachers, and we are also beefing up efforts to research and develop English teaching materials that are more suitable for Chinese learners,” she said.