Learning in China: Scalable, AI and Shifts
The U.S. and China can learn from each other By Elliott Masie
Elliott Masie

Elliott Masie is CEO of The Masie Center, an international think tank focused on learning and workplace productivity, and chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium.
He can be reached at


recently had the powerful opportunity to meet with 3,000 learning professionals in Suzhou, China. They were gathered for a conference on the role of the “internet of things” and workplace learning. After my keynote, I spent two days as a learner, journalist and colleague, probing for the learning trends and innovations in the rapidly changing country of China. Here are a few of my notes and perspectives:

It’s all about scale: One colleague was charged with growing the number of audiologists in China by 280,000 in the next few years. Scale of that nature requires a very different approach — beyond traditional campuses or curriculum. The ability to scale a learning program to tens of thousands or even millions of employees shapes the focus on the educational methods and technologies being developed in China.

Everyday learning: While we have all talked about lifelong learning, I heard buzz in China about “everyday learning,” where the learner is given a small task, assessment, challenge or content cluster each and every day. One company is building everyday learning into their timeclock system, bundling the process of logging into work with a five-minute learning activity.

Artificial intelligence is data-rich computing: AI and machine learning are primary objectives in Chinese government and industry. There are 30 new higher education institutions focused on AI and significant innovation and experimentation in how AI can be used to optimize, accelerate and scale learning. New learning systems, assessment frameworks and coaching models are being based on rich data analysis and prediction.

Facial recognition: Americans would be stunned by the extent to which facial recognition is being leveraged in China. Checking out of my hotel, there was a small tablet with a camera on the hotel counter. It scanned and recognized me at 6:40 a.m. and the staff member then said, “Hello, Mr. Masie. Your checkout is ready and the car to the airport for your 10 a.m. flight is on the way.” Facial recognition is being integrated into education and performance programs to analyze employee or customer stress, confusion and engagement levels.

Learning can happen between the U.S. and China, across culture and tradition.

Shifting certifications in learning and HR: The roles of HR and learning are also shifting in China. There are new certifications, development programs and even “skill badges” in these focus zones for our colleagues in that changing country: When it comes to data analysis, it is assumed that the new learning professional will be as skilled in the world of data handling and display (e.g., using Tableau as a dashboard) as instructional design. Additionally, scaling mentoring — the targeted shoulder-to-shoulder “on-the-job-training” process — by leveraging AI and data could be a culture shift in the near future.

Storytelling — beyond PowerPoint: There is a desire to move from a traditional model of PowerPoint lectures to a more active and engaging storytelling model. It’s not easy! Chinese schools have a “lecture and watch” tradition, but they want to engage and accelerate students, which requires a shift in the role of the teacher.

Study the world — but implement a Chinese learning approach: The number of Chinese learning colleagues I met who studied overseas (in the U.S., Europe, Australia and elsewhere) was amazing. But they don’t want to just “copy” our learning approaches and content. Instead, there is a deep desire to have a unique Chinese learning culture that reflects their traditions and AI innovations.

Mobile learning on steroids: During my keynote speech, more than 1,000 colleagues added me to WeChat, a Chinese online app for social connections that also serves banking and other financial purposes. I received hundreds of questions, and ongoing challenging conversations continue to flow to my phone. Learning and mobile are welded together in China.

Learning drives growth: Every corporate, higher-education and government official I met during my visit sees learning as key to the growth and evolution of China’s changing society. Learning is seen as an important driver for the future of China.

Our countries have much to learn about learning from each other, while honoring our different cultures, governments, privacy expectations and learning traditions. The Masie Center will continue our conversations with learning leaders in China on these issues.