Why your eLearning site isn’t loading in China (and how to fix it)

2021/06/30 | 6 mins

The rising popularity of eLearning in China is among the many changes to daily life since the pandemic began. With online learning, students communicate with their teachers through one-on-one live video or in a virtual classroom. Course material and modules are accessed digitally and available at all times. The popularity of online learning goes beyond traditional schools and has been gaining ground in the corporate sector, fast becoming a staple of employee development programs. The online learning market in China was estimated at approximately 257.3 billion yuan (US$39.7 billion) in 2020 (source: statista.com). Demand is only rising for high quality lessons and innovative virtual lessons.

As a form of eCommerce, these educational platforms face a few more technical challenges than traditional retail or services websites. eLearning platforms are often video-based and require stable streaming for classes and communication. To provide efficient streaming services, owners and operators of eLearning websites looking to expand to China need smooth video transmission and connection speed. These performance indicators not only depend on your website but the location in which your website is hosted.

To illustrate how eLearning providers vary in their performance depending on geography, we conducted a test. Our researchers looked at five popular eLearning websites from outside of China and compared their request success rates in China and in the US. We compared request success rates of two websites based in China. All websites offer a mix of short courses and online diploma courses to students. We looked at the success rates between the websites as an indicator of their network speed and quality of data delivery.

While you may have heard of Coursera or Udemy, you’ve probably never heard of Open 163 nor Study 163. They’re two large Chinese eLearning platforms, and we’ve included them in our test benchmark for how fast online learning websites from China perform in China.

Open 163 (Netease Online Open Courses - 网易公开課) is famous for its Open Course Project of World top Universities. Users can watch open courses from world-class universities such as Harvard. Open 163 also builds Chinese subtitles for online courses from educational organizations such as Khan Academy and TED. Study 163 (Cloud classroom of Netease - 网易云課堂) is an online learning platform created by a local Chinese Internet company, NetEase. Study163 covers courses like software, IT and the Internet, foreign language learning, and financial management.

The differences in website loading speeds

Shows the requests, transfer rates, resources, and load information gathered from the test sites

eLearning sites often have large file sizes, which mainly consist of modules and video files. Therefore, each page within the site must load promptly.
In the table above, the popular e-learning sites differ when it comes to the following resources:
Requests - This refers to the number of requests received per site. Websites from China appear to receive fewer requests than those from the US, but this doesn't necessarily mean fewer people are accessing the site. Fewer requests handled can boost a website's loading speed. Decreasing the number of requests can improve transfer speeds and minimize the risks of transfer failures.

Transferred (MB) - This refers to the average file size being transferred from the website. The file size coming from Chinese websites appears to be larger than those from the US, and we recommend that the file size be a maximum of 10 MB. Large transmission volumes can impact loading speeds if the user has small internet bandwidth. Since we cannot control the bandwidth of each user as it varies, it becomes imperative to control the transmission bandwidth that comes from the e-learning website instead. This can be adjusted through the site's website host—the wider the bandwidth, the faster the loading speeds.

DOMContentLoaded(second) and Load(second) - From the table above, you can also see that the Chinese e-learning websites have better loading speeds than the eLearning websites from the US. Notably, the response time from the US is double that of the ones from the Chinese websites. Despite these findings, we recommend that regional restrictions can be worked around with better website optimization and improving the site's overall design according to China's network policies.

Higher request number and file sizes may cause longer loading times

Based on these figures, we can gather that the US websites, namely Coursera, Edx, and Udemy, have higher request numbers and file sizes which may cause longer loading times when a user from China visits their US-based website.

In comparison, the eLearning websites from China have moderate file sizes, but their website loading speeds are relatively shorter. These benefits may be because these two websites use local services and follow China’s specific network configurations. Overall, this may contribute to better network transmission coming from the China-based eLearning websites.

Aside from overall website loading speeds, check your eLearning website’s video performance rates in real-time. Some agencies, like GoClick China, are capable of producing a comparison between real-time testing vs. synthetic testing, which helps provide a broader perspective on how performance varies according to variables.

How foreign learning websites perform in China.

Shows the first frame performances, lag times, and pause times between the tested e-learning websites

Based on the table above, we gathered the following insights from each site's online course and how it performed.

Coursera and Lynda - For both sites, the user could log into his account, but the video couldn't load and therefore the course couldn't be viewed.

edX - The video took 6.3 seconds to load when the website was loaded for the first time. However, the video could be played successfully when fast-forwarding or rewinding it and the average time for displaying the video is 1.6 seconds. This is considered a good result.

Khan Academy - The video can be played smoothly with a short loading time. This site has the best performance among all the tested websites from the US.

Udemy - The website displayed a longer loading time when a video was played for the first time. The video also pauses a few times during testing, and the average wait time for waiting for the 3 times it paused was 4.5 seconds. This seemed to have the worst results among all the US websites tested.

Open 163 - The test result of the online course video was very good, it has the best performance among all the websites tested.

Study 163 - The test result is not as good as the Open 163 website. However, its performance is still better than the US website and can provide stable video quality.

In conclusion

Improving the overall website performance of an online learning business needs technical know-how and an in-depth knowledge of China’s network rules. Therefore, we strongly recommend using the services of an agent in China who can perform tests and consultation for you.

To give you an idea of what must be done technically, here’s a list of website best practices worth implementing:

  • GZIP compression - Using GZIP achieves a compression ratio of around 70% for your website files without affecting the quality of the website content, structure and images.
  • Save CSS and JavaScript as external files - Files using the same format will only need to be loaded once when the user clicks on different pages. This reduces unnecessary access.
  • Use cache and CDN - Using the cache plug-in optimizes the loading speed of your website. Using CDN can also help optimize the speed loading images and page resources. Hosting images on the CDN can effectively reduce the loading on the host. It also enables your images to respond to and load faster worldwide.

Aside from these tips, you can also adjust the website structure and image size according to the rules of China’s Internet policies.

In conclusion, these test results show that US websites can have errors when playing videos or loading and these can cause problems when trying to serve users from China. But there are also websites like Khan Academy that provide good services as local websites do, which still makes it feasible for foreign websites to provide video streaming services in China.

Please visit our other case study for the world wide tourism industry, if you want to learn more about testing in China, check out our solutions.