What Can Global EdTech Companies Learn from China?

China’s edtech business has always been characterised by rapid expansion. Training and tutorial centres also played a part into edtech and they were arguably the most profitable in the sector. Now, the general environment has changed and China’s edtech is still recovering from the shocks of the regulations

Nevertheless, Chinese edtech companies enjoyed a spectacular run. In 2020, China’s online education market even reached 400.38 billion yuan ($62.7 billion). This is in part because of the pandemic affecting offline tutorial centres. That being said, there’s much we can learn from the way edtech was going in China and the direction it was taking.

Let’s start by looking into exactly what drove the success of China’s edtech industry.

Development Driving Forces of China’s EdTech Industry

Since the emergence of video-recorded lectures in the 1980s, information technology has been pushing advancements in education. From then, we had the early 2000s electronic classrooms, the 1990s internet campuses, and the present-day big data and cloud computing movements. The growth of the China edtech sector is primarily influenced by three reasons.

1. Government Support

The growth of edtech has accelerated after China’s government introduced a number of policies in 2014 to encourage the advancement of AI and related technologies. 

The government’s “13th Five Year Plan” (2016-2020) for education has as its objectives modernising education, giving all citizens more opportunities for lifelong learning, raising the overall quality of education, enhancing the delivery of talent and higher education innovation, and creating a more developed educational system.

More than half of China’s schools have broadband access, multimedia classrooms, and online learning areas by 2015. Since 2021, all Chinese schools are said to have full Internet connectivity, with 95.2% of them having multimedia classrooms.

The government’s increased investment on education accelerated edtech development. According to a study by HolonIQ, in 2018, China invested more money in edtech firms than all other countries combined. The funding in China was roughly 49 billion yuan ($7.22 billion), while it was approximately 35 billion yuan ($5.23 billion) in other regions.

Achieving the digital shift in education and learning was one of the key objectives. ICT and edtech budgets have been growing, reaching 275 billion yuan (about $40 billion) in 2015. Policies have been introduced to hasten the adoption of edtech products, Ed-SaaS, cloud-based learning management systems, and ICT infrastructure in educational institutions. 

2. Societal

Individual online education expenditure in 2016

Source: EdTech China

People in China are willing to spend more money on their education in order to have an advantage in the job market because of the country’s enormous population and the severe rivalry for talent and jobs.

A thriving education sector has resulted from factors such as a big student population, high stakes exams, worried parents, and a rapidly changing society. Both children and adults anticipate that education will lead to better futures. In addition, China’s families are now spending more for high-quality goods in all spheres of life, including education, as a result of recent improvements in consumption. 

3. Technological

As AI, big data, cloud services, 5G and other technologies have been more widely used in education, it has enabled online education to grow rapidly. 

Most Chinese institutions that have integrated AI into their classrooms use it to track attendance and keep an eye on the general atmosphere. In order to examine the teaching process, children’s emotions, and manage canteen meals. There is even a high school in Hangzhou that has been piloting an AI system

These three factors indeed indeed contributed much to how the edtech industry was able to thrive as much as it did in China. So what exactly were the pillars that served as the foundation for this successful market?

Innovative Educational Technologies by Best Practices

 1. The Educational OMO Model

Source: ChoZan

OMO stands for Online Merge Offline, and it refers to the total integration of the online and offline teaching and learning processes into an ecosystem. Its goal is to provide better educational products and services. The essence is data-driven, using online and offline tools for more effective education delivery.

In the short term, the basic functions of the internet are reflected in the changing manner of course delivery, increased capacity of “classrooms,” and expanded consumer reach. The teacher mostly serves as a guide, relying on science and technology to fulfil both scaled and personalised teaching processes. The OMO mode is extremely valuable both commercially and socially. 

Students can benefit from enhanced learning opportunities. It benefits not just the development education industry, but also IT enterprises. For example, there are an increasing number of OMO-related platform-based enterprises that offer audio and video solutions, marketing management systems, and educational content, among other things.

One example of a Chinese edtech company doing this is Squirrel AI. The company vigorously developed their OMO mode, which mainly covered AI education, product, business model, and OMO in the whole process. Relying on years of experience in K-12 education, they have become a head player in the field of artificial intelligence intelligence adaptation education.

2. Educational Smart Hardware

Source: ChoZan

Educational intelligent hardware, such as smart tablets, smart speakers, and scanning pens, is a type of hardware terminal device that can actualize connectivity and intelligent interaction for teaching and learning groups.

There are two types of educational smart hardware: “functional iteration of educational hardware” and “scene extension of smart hardware.”

“Functional iteration of educational hardware” refers to educational hardware devices that are gradually being supplied with smart function attributes in order to obtain a better user experience in the original scenario.

“Smart hardware scene extension” refers to a new generation of smart hardware, such as smart homes and wearable gadgets, that are designed for teaching and learning groups to deliver better user experiences.

By December 2020, China’s online education user base had grown to 342 million, a 109 million increase from before the pandemic. The sector is growing rapidly and has reached the level of normalised development. Learning has been synchronised online in anticipation of the pandemic in 2020. Students and online courses have increased demand for hardware equipment.

Source: ChoZan

Tencent, for example, has partnered with multiple companies to launch some educational smart hardware. Tencent has launched products such as the Smart Table Lamp and Penguin Cloud Pen in order to facilitate better learning for students.

3. 5G AI + Education

The combination of artificial intelligence, 5G internet capabilities, big data, and education results in an intelligent education ecosystem that enables individualised learning, targeted help, and rapid feedback online and offline, with 24/7 access.

AI has numerous uses in education. The following are some of the AI-powered educational goods and services.

Source: ChoZan

AI education showed the greatest growth, because there are government regulations to

support AI education development. Also, AI technology is becoming more mature. In recent years, AI technology has been widely used in teaching, evaluation and other links. For

example, the maturity and feasibility of AI application is relatively high; such as homework

grading, voice testing grading, custom class timetabling, and personalised reading.

One case study is the Zuo Ye Bang Mental Arithmetic App. Zuo Ye Bang Mental arithmetic is an AI education software, which focuses on the K12 education with whole periods of study counselling services for primary and secondary school students across the country. The app combined AI technology-launched photo correction, arithmetic exercises, and other functions to meet the learning needs of different stages. 

App users could also take a photo of their assignment with their phone and the app will determine whether the answer is correct or incorrect. Teachers could also design classes, issue tasks online, and have students practice them at their leisure. The outcomes of the assignments are sent to parents in real time.

4. VR/AR+ Education

AR/VR are most commonly utilised to allow students to experience scenarios that would be impossible or difficult to experience in regular conditions, to practise for movement-based topics and sports, or to create immersive learning environments.

Centres use high-quality AR/VR teaching content in the market to access a variety of AR/VR terminals and construct an integrated VR classroom solution of network, platform, administration, and terminal based on mobile 5G network and XR cloud platform.

Combined with virtual reality immersion teaching experience, it addresses abstract and difficult knowledge topics in classroom instruction, thereby implementing the conventional learning pattern of “teaching to encourage learning” and improving teaching quality.

One example of this working is the Guangzhou Huarui VR Safety Training Software. Guangzhou Huarui Interactive, a VR/AR high-tech company, created VR safety training software for high-risk industries, providing immersive accident simulation experience for power, steel, coal, and construction industries, combining VR multi-person and multi-sense equipment to provide more realistic experiences for employees. Employees must finish the operation without any hints in the assessment system. 

When the process is completed successfully, the scene will change to provide confirmation. When the operation is performed incorrectly, an accident reminder will appear. The destructive, injurious, and case of the accident will be dynamically portrayed, making the training process more realistic and entertaining. As a result, this technology can make teaching and learning safer while also saving money.

5. Smart Campus

A smart campus is an intelligent campus learning and life integration environment that uses the Internet of Things (Internet of things). To actualize the campus mode of intelligent services and management, it fully combines teaching, educational administration, and campus life through information means.

With the further penetration of mobile internet, cloud computing, 5G, AI, VR/AR, and other technologies in the sphere of education, as well as the upgrading and iteration of new software and hardware services, smart campuses have emerged as the future education development trend.

One great example is Suzhou University. Suzhou University had medical students watch a live surgery through a live stream in a 360° smart classroom. Students wore VR glasses to experience the teaching scenes and got to ask questions that teachers in the offline classroom could answer.

Future EdTech Development in China

OMO mode in education will open up a brand new education scene. Technology is the most important booster, and it may be combined with 5G+VR technology  more in the future. In fact, the technology has been constantly promoted for the development of new education scenes: the future with 5G + VR technology development and application of virtual reality, holographic projection technology will further break the time and space concept, to expand new, immersion education scenes, and in accordance with the subversion of strong interaction technology to realise the teaching mode and teaching effect of new experiences.

Seamless connection between on and off-campus scenes will achieve comprehensive coverage of home and school multi-terminal linkage. At present, intelligent hardware in education provides users with more and better product experience through the way of “hardware + software + service”, and each link can generate value-added value. High-quality and in-depth service has become an essential part of intelligent solutions. With the support of the new generation of information technology, the high-quality data of “cloud-network-edge-end” integration will be an important cornerstone to ensure the effect of educational products.

AI education will change from just a teaching process assistant tool to a core teaching tool. At present, the integrated development of artificial intelligence technology and education in China is in the initial stage, which is mainly manifested in the collection and analysis of single point data in a single application field. Data in multiple teaching links cannot be completely shared only to optimise the efficiency of a specific process. In the future, it may focus on achieving systematic, whole process, large-scale application to undertake core education links to output value instead of assistant tools.

More VR-themed applications. The majority of educational VR games are presently being created for informal learning contexts. For example, one-third of the VR instructional games were about health care, while a quarter were for introducing, training, or enforcing safety practices in a range of situations (such as construction sites, hospitals, or roads). One-tenth of the survey games are about biology, physics, or astronomy. Language learning, geography, and civil engineering education have fewer VR games. Language study, geography, and civil engineering education, among other topics, may gain popularity as VR becomes more prevalent in the future.

Digitization of campus environment. The digitalization of infrastructure (network, terminal, classroom, etc.), resources (teaching materials, books, lectures, etc.) and applications (learning, teaching, management, life, etc.) can be realised by using cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other information technologies. The information system is interconnected. The full access and coverage of campus broadband networks will promote the construction, application and sharing of high-quality digital education resources, and realise the interaction between teachers, teachers and students, students and students, as well as families and schools.

User information literacy has been improved. The informatization learning ability of students and the informatization teaching ability of teachers are gradually improving, the informatization management ability of managers and the informatisation service ability of technicians are gradually improving. Innovation in learning modes and teaching modes.

Information technology is deeply integrated with education and teaching, information-based

teaching is normalised and innovatively developed, school service and management

processes are continuously optimised and rebuilt, and campus management efficiency and

decision-making levels are improved.

EdTech Development Outside of China

China, of course, isn’t the only country that has been successful with edtech. In fact, the global edtech industry has been rapidly evolving. Global edtech firms enjoyed another record year in terms of investments, mergers and acquisitions, and global expansion in 2021. 

HolonIQ reported approximately $21 billion in venture investments made through over 1,500 funding rounds, with businesses like Owl Ventures announcing more than $1 billion in new EdTech funds. Here are some things China can maybe learn from other best practices.

Schools seek student feedback on technological decisions. Every two years, the Greenwich Public Schools in the U.S. conducts a survey of students, faculty, and parents to assess what is working and what needs to be improved. Student feedback here is considered extremely crucial as they are the major consumers of edtech.

For example, the IT team once discovered through a survey that they needed to improve the network because students were taking too long to log in. They fixed the problem by installing new equipment.

By creating a group of “test pilot” faculty members, Hogeschool Utrecht University, from the Netherlands, was able to mass-implement and produce an incredible number of eLearning courses in a short time. Those early “test pilot” faculty members who created digital content for the eLearning courses functioned as ambassadors for the School of Education’s other teachers.

The original 20 or 30 courses swelled to 400 in a matter of months. Within three years, the figure had nearly quadrupled. Each course included 5 to 10 minute instructor videos. These videos were created outside of the university and made available to students with animations, gamification, quizzes, and textual information, among other features.

There are also many other countries such as Denmark that have been furthering their development in the edtech industry. It’s only a matter of time before we see exciting strides in this market.

Conclusion

Chinese edtech firms offer a diversified learning environment, and global edtech firms can learn a lot from the triumphs and failures of these once successful Chinese edtech organisations. It is interesting to see just how exactly future edtech trends can develop.

Chinese edtech companies had plenty of time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Indeed, knowing what made edtech companies so successful in China has significance for education organisations that are going through digitalisation globally.

So, if you’d want to learn more about this fascinating topic and see how you may implement these technologies in your business, get in touch with us here. We advise multinationals and big brands on how to learn from China’s successful and failed digitalisation cases.
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