Virtual Learning Helps Catalyze Solutions for Better Urban Management in China
In less than three decades, China has moved from a modest farming society to an economic superpower and is wrestling now with the largest scale of urbanization in its history. About half of China’s population lives in cities today. By 2025, its urban population will reach 64%, with 17.7 million people moving to cities each year -- the equivalent of the New York metropolitan area.
Rapid urbanization has posed challenges to policymakers and practitioners who are in the frontline of providing services to the residents of China’s 657 cities and 19,683 towns. But given China’s wide socio-economic disparity, city managers in distant regions have limited access to state of the art knowledge and learning opportunities. To address this problem, the Government of China has placed increasing emphasis on improving the professional skills of government officials across the country through distance learning.
In the 1990s, the Government approached the World Bank Institute (WBI) to develop a distance learning program on Sustainable Urban Development and Management.
WBI’s urban team and the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific Region developed the program in collaboration with the Ministry of Construction (now Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development) and Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG), which mandated the training for national and local officials in China. This program was among the earliest adopters of distance learning in training civil servants and was delivered via the China Development Distance Learning Network videoconference, building the knowledge and skills of thousands of officials and practitioners.
Experimenting with e-Learning
After several years of delivering courses through videoconference, it became clear that a more scalable and convenient tool was needed to meet the overwhelming demand for professional training. Since 2010, the Government of China has advocated e-learning as a key learning method for public sector employees across the country. However, as e-learning is still very new to many institutions responsible for training officials in China, capacity constraints remain a major barrier.
The Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG) approached WBI for support as the former had little experience with e-learning design and delivery. In 2009, WBI organized a study tour for CAG’s team, which resulted in updating and converting the Sustainable Urban Development and Management videoconference-based program into e-learning. WBI also connected CAG with other training institutions such as the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico and Ministry of Cities in Brazil to exchange experiences.
Growing Interest and Capacity
In 2011, the World Bank launched the e-Institute which offers development practitioners a virtual learning classroom to share high quality learning and knowledge resources. These draw heavily on the expertise of the World Bank and its partners and the practical experiences of practitioners themselves. Taking advantage of new technologies, this learning experience can be affordable, innovative, and practitioner-focused.
Under the e-Institute, WBI’s Urban team offers various e-learning courses on urban planning and city management, including the recently launched e-learning course on Sustainable Urban Land Use Planning, which has generated strong demand from all over the world. CAG and the Urban Planning Society of China (UPSC) partnered with WBI and customized this course into Chinese.
In November 2012, 200 professionals and officials in charge of urban planning, land management and infrastructure investment from 18 provinces joined the pilot online delivery of the Chinese version of the course and provided very positive feedback. “The course is very practical and covers a lot of good practices and tools that I can apply directly to my work, such as the high-speed rail project in Suzhou that I’m currently working on,” said a staff member from Shanghai Arup Consulting.
“The land use issue is extremely important to many of our projects and the overall urbanization process in China,” said Mark R. Lundell, Sector Manager of China and Mongolia Sustainable Development Department of the World Bank. “I would like to underline the great strategic importance of this course’s contribution to the urban land use agenda.”
WBI’s multi-year collaboration with CAG on developing e-learning programs has paid off. CAG was applauded by the central government for its commitment to and progress in e-learning. More recently, it started offering support to local institutions of its network on e-learning platform design, course development and delivery, with their e-learning courses reaching over 100,000 civil servants each year.
As more and more institutions in China are adopting e-learning to scale up their training programs, WBI’s e-Institute is actively facilitating knowledge sharing among these institutions on e-learning pedagogy, facilitation, and technology. In a recent training workshop on Facilitating e-Institute Courses organized by the e-Institute, more than150 participants from over 25 cities in China joined via videoconference to learn practical tips and techniques to enhance the effectiveness of e-learning and to share their challenges and lessons of delivering e-learning courses in China.