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Monetization of Knowledge in China: A new way for online learning?

By Xi Lin, Christy M. Rhodes / November 2019

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For centuries, education has played a dominant role in Chinese culture. Learning has been seen as central to ethical well-being, leading to various formal and informal educational opportunities [1]. A modern educational innovation has become popular in recent years and offers an innovative and convenient form of adult lifelong learning: “monetization of knowledge” (MOK). This refers to selling one’s knowledge as products or services, usually in the form of podcasts, in order to achieve its commercial value. Different from traditional online courses, which have formal syllabi and are delivered by college professors, MOK courses do not have syllabi and are often developed and facilitated by ordinary people. These everyday people share knowledge in their fields and monetize this expertise via online MOK platforms (e.g., Ximalaya FM). For instance, an individual could spend 200 Chinese yuan (about 30 USD) on a course via a MOK platform regarding seeking job skills. This course might be led by a person who has been working as a human resource manager for more than 10 years. This course might consist of eight 10-minute sessions focusing on topics such a, conducting a job search, writing a competitive resume, or dressing appropriately for interviews. Since most MOK platforms support smartphone versions, potential customers can download the MOK platform app and easily access the course anytime and anywhere (see Figure 1). As a result, this convenient approach to knowledge is responsible for attracting vast audiences, especially Chinese white-collar workers.

Figure 1. The MOK Model.

The Rise of MOK

In addition to the development of technology that makes it convenient for individuals to access information online, the rise of MOK also fulfills a social need particularly among the middle class [2]. One 2017  report that investigated 2,000 random Chinese Web users, referred to as “netizens,” revealed the average MOK user has a bachelor’s degree, is between 25 to 35 years old, and is in the middle-income brackets of Chinese society [3]. According to the report, several factors have influenced the rise of MOK courses among this population. First, white-collar Chinese workers often use smartphones to obtain information. Thus, the easiest and fastest method of gaining this desired knowledge through the platforms of MOK attracts them to purchase courses. Moreover, the perceived need to learn new skills and the fear of being left behind by peers serve as motivators to pay for courses on MOK platforms. Thus, peer pressure and anxiety influence the middle-class on purchasing courses. TopKlout noted the most popular courses sharing experience or knowledge included financial investment and job skill enhancement [3]. Specifically, 62.7 percent of the MOK customers purchase courses related to starting a business and/or financial investment, while 52.9 percent of the customers pay for courses about enhancing their competitiveness in the workplace.

Pros and Cons of MOK

Several advantages of MOK courses have been noted [3]. First, such courses allow individuals to receive specific knowledge via learning from experienced professionals. Second, instead of spending large blocks of time as is necessary for attending traditional continuing education courses, individuals can fully use fragments of time (e.g., waiting for subways while commuting to or from work) to listen to MOK courses through their smartphones. Additionally, MOK platforms establish discussion sections for each course session that provides individuals opportunities to share their opinions, experiences, and concerns with both the facilitators and other learners. The discussion section not only establishes a community of learners for knowledge or experience sharing but also potentially broadens individuals’ social circles.

Additionally, several new services have been developed in MOK platforms and establish a diverse MOK learning environment. For instance, the learner-to-facilitator question and answer allow customers to pay expert(s) to answer any specific questions as either an additional feature or as a solo learning experience. One of the authors expressed after answering various questions related to topics in the field of education in one MOK platform, many users have invited her to share suggestions as well as pay her specifically to answer their questions, such as majors chosen and tips for seeking faculty positions including CV preparation and job interviews within the higher-education context. Therefore, this format satisfies customers easily as they directly receive specific knowledge or guidance faster and at a low cost. In return, ordinary people sell their knowledge and experience as products or services to reach their commercial value. Therefore, this reciprocal and grass-roots knowledge sharing approach has become a prevalent teaching and learning method, especially among the white-collar Chinese workers.

However, one limitation of MOK focuses on the quality of the courses. Since anyone can create a course through MOK platforms, it is difficult to ensure content quality. It is possible learners buy a MOK course while receiving little useful information. Additionally, as MOK becomes popular, more and more experts in the same field have created courses with similar topics. This phenomenon would make it difficult for learners to select courses with high-quality content. Fortunately, users could check the course listening views as well as reading the course reviews before spending the money. Meanwhile, as the number of MOK courses increases, how to evaluate the quality of the course content has become an issue that awaits to be solved.

Future Trend of MOK

MOK platforms are examples of the paid subscription model, which is widely accepted in the global knowledge-sharing economy [4]. Similar platforms in other countries (e.g., the United States) include Skillshare ( and the "Knowledge Prize" in Quora. Customers pay for access to products or services provided by ordinary people who have professional experiences in certain fields. As the concept of “paying for knowledge” is gradually being accepted, a large number of ordinary people are joining the knowledge share economy market [4]. One report additionally indicated courses in MOK platforms are supplementary to mainstream education [5]. This form of learning would meet users’ learning needs to understand a certain skill or knowledge they eager to learn within a short period of time while paying less compared with taking traditional classes.

Today, MOK platforms in China have been establishing, developing, and selling services to the public. The number of users in those platforms reached around 50 million consumers in 2016, and the number of individuals who intend to spend money on those platforms has tripled compared to 2015 [6]. The development of MOK has become stronger and more stable with those host platforms earning approximately 100 to 150 billion Chinese yuan (14 to 21 billion USD) as of March 2017 [6]. As a result, with the gradual increasing need for knowledge and the boosting number of users who are willing to pay for high-quality knowledge services, it is expected that MOK will continue to grow rapidly [5].


[1] Hu, C.T. The historical background: Examinations and control in pre-modern China. Comparative Education 20, 1 (1984), 7-26.

[2] Yue, S. 我们研究了28家平台,为你揭开知识付费的现状与未来 | 36氪知识新经济报告 [Advances and prospects of monetization of knowledge: Based on an investigation of 28 MOK platforms], (May 6, 2017).

[3] TopKlout. 最新报告???TopKlout???2017 自媒体知识付费行业研究报告 [The 2017 Self-Media Knowledge Paid Industry Research Report]. Sohu (Aug. 24, 2017).

[4] Zhang, X., Jiang, S., Xiao, Y., and Cheng, Y. Global challenges and developmental lessons in the knowledge sharing economy. Journal of Global Information Technology Management, 21, 3 (2018), 167–171.

[5] iResearch. China's online paid knowledge market is expected to increase rapidly. (April 12, 2018).

[6] State Information Center.中国分享经济发展报告 2017 [The 2017 economic sharing report of China]. (2017).

About the Authors

Xi Lin, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the College of Education at East Carolina University. Her research focuses on online and distance learning as well as game-based learning. She also explores cross-cultural experience especially the adaptation of international students and faculty in the US institutions. 

Christy M. Rhodes, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the College of Education at East Carolina University. She has been involved in adult basic education and literacy throughout her career, working with adult English language learners in the U.S. and abroad. Her research focuses on the ways adult educators create inclusive learning environments and the culturally responsive teaching framework. She is currently adapting the Culturally Responsive Teaching Survey (CRTS) for use in adult basic education classes, in addition to adult English language classes. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the National Coalition of Literacy and serves as the Co-Director of the Commission of Adult Basic Education and Literacy of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education.

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