Digital Learning & Design

How did educators cope with unprecedented remote learning in China?

China, along with its educational system, was the place where the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects hit first. On January 27, 2020, two days after the spring festival, an important holiday equivalent to Christmas in the US, in response to the coronavirus, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in China announced the postponement of the start of the 2020 spring semester nationwide. Higher education institutions could decide their starting date under the purview of local governments and prepare for new modes of learning in the coming semester. When the new semester began in February and March, MOE launched the “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning” initiative. Most schools, including colleges and universities, subsequently employed remote learning. In the delayed spring semester, Chinese educators also experimented with various approaches, accumulated knowledge, and reflected on online teaching. Here are some points they considered important in remote learning: 

  1. Instructors’ understanding of course types. According to Professor Wenge Guo, teaching in the Department of Educational Technology at Peking University, courses based on instructors’ lectures are the easiest kind to be moved online, while courses that require lab activities are less likely to have good learning outcomes online because those courses rely heavily on students’ hands-on skills of conducting experiments. For the latter, instructors may have to alter content to guarantee the quality of the class. Course types determine how instructors would redesign assignments as well as assessments. 
  2. A break every 15-30 minutes for each class. The MOE’s guidelines on remote learning stressed that instructors should limit the length of their classes.  Professor Guo mentioned that even graduate students need a break after a short section of online learning. Xinjie Yu, supervisor of the online learning expert team at Tsinghua University pointed out that teachers can design questions, solicit feedback, and arrange enjoyable activities to make their students refocus after the break. However, instructors should pay close attention to the content they need to cover and the objectives they wish to achieve. 
  3. Student-driven initiatives proven to be successful. Aaron Lennon, co-principal at Yew Wah International Education School of Guangzhou, observed that using social media platforms could build some meaningful and effective communication with his students during the pandemic. Since the Millennial Generation is used to social media, they would be more inclined to discuss learning related matters openly with teachers and peers on digital platforms such as WeChat. Instructors can also encourage students to build their own online communities to boost their learning proactively and support each other emotionally.
  4. Cooperation among institutions.  The online format of classes allows cooperation among schools and other educational platforms. For example, during the pandemic, Tsinghua University offered courses for other universities such as Wuhua University. There was also ready-made content for classes. One example was the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). As an innovative online learning source, they offered open resources to instructors to draw materials from.
  5. Solving equality problems in remote learning. Not all families in China have access to the internet or computers. To reduce educational inequality caused by economic stratification, Chinese educators also found it important to build a reliable and strong online infrastructure for remote learning. To ensure educational equality, some local Chinese governments tried to use radio and television to provide education to those who could not access the internet.  

Chinese educators took great pains to coordinate various resources and achieve their educational goals via remote learning. Confucius said: “One should implement teaching based on material conditions,” and this aphorism is proving to be applicable on both the micro- and macro-level in the case of remote learning in modern times. Chinese experience may offer useful inspirations for instructors dealing with the new outlook on education in the pandemic and post-pandemic era.

EdSurge. “Understanding the Impact of Coronavirus on K-12 Education [Bonus Webinar] 4/8/20,” retrieved July 16, 2020.

Press Conference Transcription. “Ministry of Education introduced situations regarding online learning in schools and plans for the next step”“教育部介绍疫情期间大中小学在线教育有关情况和下一步工作考虑” retrieved on July 16, 2020.


Daniel Burgos. “Online learning as a key breakthrough on innovative education: General perspectives from Chinese research.” Distance and Mediation of Knowledge. 2020, vol. 30. retrieved on July 16, 2020.