The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002 5/14

Steve Maharey Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)

The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002 5/14


Everyone who talks about e-learning has a particular vision
of what that means, depending on their experience and their situation. Our
definition is: E-learning is learning that takes place in the context of using
the Internet and associated web-based applications as the delivery medium for
the learning experience.

New Zealand's learning environment is undergoing a powerful and exciting
transformation. New advances in technology, electronic media and the Internet
are revolutionising the way we live, learn and work. E-learning the provision
of learning through the electronic media has enormous potential as an
educational tool. It can provide immediate and ongoing access to the skills,
knowledge and experiences that will help transform New Zealand into a Knowledge
Society with learning opportunities for all, young and old.

But technology alone won' t achieve this transformation. What is also required
is a shared vision of the kind of learning environment we want to create, with
genuine representation of all cultures and communities. This is essential if we
are to develop our own distinctive approach to e-learning and use it, along with
other approaches, to reflect and contribute to a collective New Zealand

The tertiary education systems and support structures we establish must be
tailored to the diverse needs of our learners and be flexible enough to evolve
over time as technology advances and our learning needs change. Above all, the
needs of the learner must be paramount and drive the process of transformation.
E-teachers must be well-supported in their efforts to fully utilise e-learning,
or its potential will never be realised.

Care must be taken to establish an inclusive system which can offer quality
learning to people of all ages and educational backgrounds, from entry-level
learning through to advanced research. It needs to be a system that is
responsive to students' learning needs and capable of replenishing their skills
throughout life. Within that system e-learning can make a significant
contribution to ensuring equity of access, improving quality and delivering on
the promise of lifelong learning. It will not replace our campuses, although it
will change the way students learn when they are there. It will also help
develop a variety of other learning contexts at home, at work and learning
centres to meet diverse demands.

What's happening internationally

E-learning is a global phenomenon
fuelled by a variety of economic, technological and social forces as well as
student demand. There is a growing awareness among nations that knowledge holds
the key to their future prosperity and social well-being. Governments and
businesses around the world are increasing their capacity to learn and are
placing a premium on the development of a knowledge economy. Workers of the
future will require new and different skills and experiences.

New Zealand is now part of a global marketplace, serviced by
increasingly-sophisticated communications systems. In this new global economy,
New Zealand must compete by developing a highly-skilled population which is
constantly improving its skills and knowledge base.

In such a society, ongoing learning is integral to the lives of all
individuals and communities. It assumes there will be increasing numbers of
people participating in learning and that there will be a vigorous pursuit of
excellence in teaching and research.

E-learning's potential is already well-established globally. By the end of
2000, more than 200 million people were using the Internet worldwide and this
figure is expected to reach 638 million by 2004. In the United States alone,
knowledge services in the school, tertiary and corporate markets is already
worth $740 billion dollars. It is estimated that the global industry is worth $2

As Moe and Blodget1 note in their May 2000 report: 'At no previous time has
human capital been so important finding, developing and retaining knowledge
workers will be mission-critical functions and areas of high growth in the new
economy. '

Different countries have approached the e-learning challenge in different
ways. The European Commission recently announced a US$13 billion three-year
e-learning action plan to deliver technology-based education. The United States
is also moving towards a systematic national approach to e-learning and has
established a web-based education commission to maximise the educational promise
of the Internet across all levels of education.

The United Kingdom and Australia are debating the merits of establishing
national 'virtual' universities while Canada already has one up and running. The
challenge for New Zealand is to decide where it should sit internationally in
the provision of e-learning services, mindful of the fact that we have many
competitors at home and abroad in this e-learning market. We must identify where
our competitive edge lies and where international links might usefully be

Key educational drivers

In addition to these global trends, there are a
number of educational pressures which are driving change in this area. First and
foremost there is rapidly-increasing demand among learners, employers and
communities for lifelong learning opportunities. There are also many
opportunities for people to continue their education, including those with a low
record of academic achievement at school.

At the same time there is also an awareness among educators of the need to
enhance the quality of traditional education learning by enabling greater
inter-activity and collaboration between teachers and learners and between
groups of learners. Further, new technology enables functions that have
traditionally been provided by a single institution to be more easily shared
among a number of providers. This unbundling of services provides significant
new opportunities which, given New Zealand's size, would benefit from
collaborative approaches.

Overall, many educators are looking for opportunities to embrace new
technology to enhance the quality of the learning experience and to make
education accessible for students who choose not to or cannot attend classes on

While supporting this thrust, politicians and administrators are also seeking
benefits from efficiencies in administration support and opportunities for
development of e-business.

Key constraints

Although New Zealand has consistently been in the top
ten for rates of Internet access over the last decade, there are still many New
Zealanders who are not connected to the Internet and cannot therefore access
e-learning opportunities. Rates of Internet access are much lower for Maori and
Pacific peoples than for a Pakeha . They are also lower for older people than
younger people and for people on low incomes.

The term 'digital divide' has been coined to describe the gap between people
who can access Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and those who
cannot. It goes without saying that e-learning will only work if New Zealanders
have the confidence and skills to use ICT. Care must be taken to ensure that ICT
does not become a vehicle for increasing the digital divide.

A further constraint is the cost of developing technical infrastructure,
learner support systems and teaching resources. More fundamentally, concerns
remain among many teachers about the validity and quality of learning possible
through on-line provision. These concerns are reinforced by the lack of agreed
standards for academic quality and resource development.

Perhaps the most pressing constraint within tertiary education providers is a
shortage of staff with relevant ICT skills and the difficulty of retaining those
staff who have expertise with web-based teaching.

Current situation in New Zealand

The Government has a number of
strategies underway to utilise ICT in schools and the tertiary area. Across the
education sector, providers are enhancing traditional teaching with new
web-based courses, some of which are internationally aligned.

For example, the oral biology course at the University of Otago is taught
jointly with a number of Australian universities, thus benchmarking quality
teaching internationally, maximising student access and enabling learning
materials to be developed efficiently.

The Open Polytechnic is making its Bachelor of Business available on-line for
domestic and international students with introductory papers already available.
It will gradually move other degrees on-line too. Most of its courses are
web-supported with students able to access frequently-asked questions,
discussion forums and send in their assignments electronically.

In 2001, some 300 courses at Massey university were web-delivered or
web-supported and over 15,000 students were registered users of Massey's
standard development platform, WebCT.

At the University of Waikato in 2001, more than 800 papers were e-supported
or e-delivered, with a hundred fully on-line. There are more than a hundred
academic staff teaching on-line.

Meanwhile, the Auckland University of Technology is a member of the Global
Universities Alliance. This alliance is made up of nine Universities who are
pursuing new markets with on-line programmes. A broader overview of e-learning
developments in a wide range of New Zealand's tertiary institutions is provided
in Appendix 1.

To date much of the debate about e-learning has focused on the merits of
on-line versus face-to-face teaching. However there is an emerging consensus
that the real issue is less about delivery methods than how technology can be
used in an educationally-sound way to meet a wider range of learner needs.

E-learning and the interface with industry

... the Internet has
irrevocably altered how people access information, and how much information
anybody can access, while local and wide-area networks release the Internet as a
learning resource with software tools that enable communication.

(Bernard, de Rubalcava & St-Pierre, 2000) Industry has an increasing
interest in e-learning and there are opportunities for tertiary education
providers to contribute to and support these developments. For companies
interested in more effective ways of managing employees' professional
development, the ability to access new learning models on a flexible basis
supported by information technology is very attractive.

Distance education is not new and models using the technology of satellites,
videotape, audio and video conferencing, and broadcast television have been
established for some time. These have now evolved into web-based delivery models
that provide greater flexibility for both the individual and the organisation.
Anytime, anywhere delivery of learning content can be provided via the Internet,
organisational intranets and/or CDROM, with the inclusion of streamed video and
audio, and interactive functionality including chat, bulletin boards and
threaded discussions. Some of the strengths of on-line learning models are
increased access, greater flexibility, possible cost savings and greater
opportunities for collaboration.

Gates (1999) identifies the web as a mechanism that redefines boundaries
between organisations and between people and organisations. In the new knowledge
economies, context is as important as content. The Web not only allows people to
learn in context, it also allows them to learn in communities. There is a
taxonomy of places on the Internet that serve all kinds of needs: portal
exchanges, community sites and support sites.

Many large companies are now using on-line technology to support development
of employees. The market for corporate web-based training is exploding, with
International Data Corporation (IDC) projecting this to grow at a 111%
cumulative annual growth rate to US$11.5 billion by 2003. Gates commented on the
popularity of on-line training at Microsoft. 'In 1998 online participation
increased five times faster than classroom participation, and total on-line
participation was more than double our physical class attendance. This increase
indicates to us that people want to improve their knowledge and job skills but
simply haven' t had time-efficient ways to get training before ' (1999, p.249).

At Cisco the on-line learning model distinguishes between 'structured
learning' and 'emergency learning'. There are no required classes or minimum
training hours. Employees take assessments that determine their competency and
how much training they may need. They can chart a long-term, structured learning
plan, get all relevant short-term updates, and automatically receive necessary
time-critical information for emergency learning situations (Muoio, 2000). EDS
has developed a Digital Learning Platform enabling companies to provide on-line
training for employees. The model aims to deliver the right content to the right
people in the right media and at the right pace. The model features three
components: asynchronous content development and delivery for Internet-based
interactive self-paced courseware, synchronous content development and delivery
for Internet-based instructor-led events that are live or replayed on demand,
and learning management systems to manage learning assets and trainee

The issues with on-line learning models include quality of content and
process, hidden costs, language and localisation issues and the readiness of the
on-line learner. The Internet allows access to a vast amount of material
including web pages, databases and structured learning courses. The on-line
learning model is seen by many as promising reduced costs. However,
well-designed on-line learning material that engages learners in meaningful
experiences and provides opportunities for collaboration can be costly to
develop, maintain and deliver. Many of those developing on-line learning
material may be content specialists but have little or no experience in
instructional design.

Tertiary education institutions need to be ready to build partnerships with
industry to collaborate on development of e-learning material that is
educationally sound. Industry companies are already forging ahead with
e-learning models and some of the material available is not based on good design

Other challenges for on-line learning models include language and
localisation issues, particularly for multinational organisations. Appropriate
material may need to be available in several languages and content made relevant
for different locations.

Organisations need to provide encouragement and support for employees using
on-line learning models as part of required training programmes. Web management
tools allow learning experiences to be managed and performance to be measured.
Successful on-line learners need to possess qualities of independence and
discipline. Mentor and buddy systems can be very useful in this area. Feedback
on performance, commitment and ongoing development can provide early information
on possible dropout by learners, triggering the need for support interventions
to occur. Appropriate support infrastructure can be developed in collaboration
with tertiary education providers.

The way forward a learnercentred approach

E-learning can offer many
benefits, but only if learnercentred opportunities are developed that ensure it
is an effective educational tool. This means giving learners much greater choice
in how their learning is delivered, enabling them to interact easily with
teachers and fellow students and access appropriate levels of administrative,
educational and technical support. It means designing our systems in ways that
best fit the circumstances and needs of our learners. Effective e-learning also
means ensuring that on-line resources and assessment are of equivalent or
superior quality to those available in a traditional learning environment. We
must ensure that the knowledge and skills that students gain on-line, or already
have, can be assessed and credited towards nationally-recognised qualifications
and future learning pathways. The growth of e-learning also brings with it a
wonderful opportunity to enrich the learning experience by developing our own
indigenous expertise and resources.

All of this has major implications for educators. There will be a growing
demand for student-centred e-learning. E-learning does not mean the demise of
bricks and mortar institutions. Rather the Advisory Group sees an expanded role
for providers to use e-learning to enrich traditional classroom-based learning,
at all levels of education, as well as meet the needs of students who want to
study in their own place.

What's called for is a vision of integrated learning the broadening of
learning across the campus, the home, the classroom, the community and the
workplace. Undoubtedly this combination of learning venues and opportunities
will shape the tertiary system of the future.

New Zealand's Unique Qualities as an E-Learning Nation

New Zealand:

  • has a focus on a learner-centred mode of teaching that provides meaningful
    and relevant learning experiences for students
  • has a long history of meeting the needs of students who choose to study
    through a mix of distance and campus-based education and, recently, on-line
    education modes
  • has a track record in being flexible and adaptable in meeting student needs
  • strives to be a relatively egalitarian society which encourages
    collaboration and the contributions of all players
  • strives to be a bicultural nation with an increasing sensitivity to the
    values of other cultures
  • is a geographically-remote country which is open to new ideas and
  • has a highly-respected education system and a positive national image. These
    features provide the opportunity for New Zealand to offer an e-learning
    experience which is diverse and innovative.

Taking the next step New Zealand needs a strategic e-learning vision
that fits within the overall vision for learning in the tertiary sector. It must
address key issues of equity of access, quality, diversity of provision and
flexible approaches to meeting the needs of learners. Applying a technological
veneer to existing practices and policies will not realise the potential of this
new educational tool.

The scale of the changes underway may well mean an evolution of the whole
learning enterprise and its relation to our society and economy as a whole. It
will entail addressing significant issues such as e-teacher roles in the new
environment, intellectual property rights, quality assurance and the size of
financial investment required.

With an appropriate vision and government incentives, e-learning can help
usher in a new era of collaboration in the development and teaching of
programmes. New partnerships and joint ventures are likely to emerge to share
the investment required to offer expanded e-learning opportunities.

All this raises a number of issues for consideration. E-learning needs to be
tailored to meet clearlyidentified learning needs and offered in a way that is
practical and fit for purpose. We must ensure that teachers and faculties are
skilled and confident in the use of new technology and supported by excellent
multimedia content and services. They must also be skilled in guiding learners
through the virtual learning process.

Improving learner information and credit transfer will be a necessity for an
integrated e-learning environment and an overall commitment to quality will be

Our ability to offer students comprehensive support is an area where New
Zealand can gain a competitive advantage internationally. Attention to this area
is not only critical to success but it could provide New Zealand's edge in the
e-learning market.

We must, however, ensure that the costs of meeting these challenges is within
our reach and avoid duplication of effort and resources wherever possible. In a
country of our size, investment decisions in ICT must be wise ones. E-learning
has much to offer New Zealand but it will only succeed if we commit to a shared
vision and work collaboratively.