The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002 7/14Steve Maharey Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)
The Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group March 2002 7/14
Exploring New Zealand's E-Learning Opportunities
Challenges for the sector
Evolving e-learning in New Zealand, as in the rest of the
world, is uncharted territory. The Advisory Group has identified a number of
challenges that will need to be carefully considered and explored with the
assistance of further research.
An immediate pressure is that there are an increasing number of students who
are emerging from the secondary sector with well-developed IT skills and an
expectation that e-learning will be part of their tertiary education experience.
This trend will obviously continue and represents a fundamental challenge for
tertiary educators, many of whom still regard e-learning as a future phenomenon.
However the issues surrounding e-learning are complex and student
expectations of e-learning are diverse. For example, most students will leave
secondary school and still want a campus-based experience which is web-enhanced.
But there will be some who might prefer or require a fully on-line learning
In addition to school-leavers, there are growing numbers of adult learners
who are much more likely to want access to learning on-line. In the lifelong
learning context, these adult learners will always outnumber school-leavers and
we must ensure that a range of learning options are available to them. In an age
of lifelong learning where the Government is attempting to build a Knowledge
Society, on-line learning offers the potential to greatly improve access to
education by providing more flexible learning options.
However, there are considerable differences of opinion among academic staff
about the potential of the new technology and whether it should be used to
enhance existing teaching practice or to revolutionise it.
The Internet could be used simply to dispense information and course notes or
it could be the platform for a teacher-led tutorial or an interactive experience
which may not include academic staff directly at all. A wide range of quality is
already evident in web-based courses overseas, ranging from information dumped
on-line without any quality check to highly-supported interactive learning
We must also determine how we are going to develop and contextualise our own
e-learning experience. There is likely to be a small New Zealand demand for
high-profile overseas programmes but the needs of the vast majority of New
Zealand learners will be best served by programmes that are tailored to our
local needs, cultures and context. Failure to develop quality New Zealand
e-learning programmes could result in the virtual recolonisation of our country
via the Web. While these overall trends are clear, there is a lack of
information about how the education market is likely to develop in the years
ahead. For some students, elearning may be the ideal solution, for others it may
be only part of the solution and for others again it may even represent a
barrier to learning. Research and planning are required to address these issues.
It would be timely for TEC to support a project in scenario development to
test some strategic options for the sector. For example, one future scenario
might explore New Zealand developing e-learning in partnership with Australia;
another might investigate using the Web as the dominant business strategy for
the sector. Scenarios for different levels of collaboration could be developed,
one with each institution acting alone as now, and one with a fullyintegrated
approach that spans the sector. Such work enables focused strategies to be
developed that will ensure we capitalise on our innovative capability, while
ensuring we do not get locked into any system that cannot be readily adapted
The Advisory Group recommends that future policy development be informed
by development and evaluation of strategic options for e-learning, through use
of tools such as scenario planning.
Meeting e-learner needs
While there are a host of
challenges at the macro level, we must not lose sight of the needs of the
learner. As with any programme of formal learning, our e-learning policies,
procedures and student support need to be well-attuned to the needs of students.
We need to be clear about the support we can realistically offer e-learners and
how it can be accessed. It is likely that academic staff will have to play a
greater support role.
Another set of issues relate to learners' own motivations and attitudes.
E-learning away from a campus demands that students are responsible for
organising their own learning time and space and therefore the need for
self-motivation and learning independence is greater. Prospective e-learners
need to be well advised on this, and to have 'Help Desk' assistance on technical
matters as part of their educational service.
Students returning to study after a time away may also require help on how to
structure their learning and access information. Further, people who are
uncomfortable with technology will need to be assisted with guides, support and
information about where they can get additional technical help.
All of these issues highlight the importance of good e-learning design that
results in meaningful interaction and encourages depth of thought. Without these
supports, there is a risk that e-learners will not be retained or that their
learning experience will be an inferior one.
The economics of e-learning
There are also significant
challenges in estimating the scale of investment which might be required to
advance e-learning in New Zealand and what return this investment is likely to
The development and delivery of e-learning opportunities will require quite
different cost structures from those of conventional education. For example,
conventional delivery requires a capital investment in land and buildings and
modest investment in the development of courses with staff salaries being a
E-learning, on the other hand, is likely to bring different financial
demands. For example, the costs of developing courses and learning objects and
infrastructure to support them are likely to be high. The costs however of
transmitting information are
negligible. On-line administration and assessment could also bring
efficiencies to current practice. Many existing institutions will find it
difficult to fund the transition to on-line learning from their existing
operational funding. On-line courseware and supporting infrastructure will
require sizeable capital investment and those committed to campus-based options
need also to maintain their investments in those assets.
The development of digital learning objects is another area that presents
considerable financial challenges for New Zealand educators. Learning objects
are expensive to develop and often have a limited shelf-life since they have to
be updated to take account of new technologies. In a country of our size,
collaboration between providers seems the sensible way forward.
Faced with these challenges, it is vital that the tertiary education sector
be given assistance to develop a sound business approach to operating
effectively in the new e-learning environment. This will enable them to reach an
informed decision on whether, for example, they are able to develop content
themselves or collaborate with others. It will also be necessary to ensure that
large-scale investment will bring the benefits assumed. It would be unrealistic
to expect each institution to undertake this research on its own.
The Advisory Group recommends that the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC)
commission a project to examine the cost structures required to support
e-learning and promote business models that will assist institutions to make
appropriate investments in the transition to e-learning. (Recommendation 1)
Technical and infrastructural issues
There are also
technical and infrastructural challenges to surmount in making e-learning widely
available. An obvious one is having sufficient bandwidth to enable learners to
make use of all the opportunities associated with digital learning. At present,
access is limited to 56K for many users.
The amount of technical support which learners are able to call on will also
greatly affect their chances of success in e-learning. Institutions need to be
clear about the support they can realistically offer e-learners and how it can
be accessed. Most importantly, technical support needs to be made available to
learners on the scale required.
The Advisory Group has identified that many tertiary education providers have
already invested heavily in infrastructure to support their existing strategies
and it is unlikely that the adoption of a single national technology platform
will meet all their needs.
While institutions will continue to develop their own technical
infrastructure, it is important that all institutions are able to obtain
up-to-date independent advice on emerging technical standards. This is
particularly important for small institutions.
In considering the range of challenges discussed above,
the Advisory Group focused on several possible initiatives which would assist
the overall evolution of e-learning throughout the sector.
Establishing a Virtual University for New Zealand
option is to create one New Zealand Virtual University. A difficulty with this
approach, however, is that several universities are already part of
international alliances. Auckland University, for example, is involved in
Universitas 21 and the Auckland University of Technology is involved in the
Global University Alliance.
On balance, the Advisory Group is not in favour of a single virtual
university. It believes greater national benefits would accrue from retaining
institutional autonomy and creating instead a single portal or electronic
entry-point into the tertiary sector. This strategy would support a range of
developments that would encourage individual institutions to collaborate within
Establishing a New Zealand tertiary e-learning portal
increasing number of portals are being provided by government agencies around
the world, as well as being used to access learning opportunities. A good
example is the Canadian site http://www.cvu-uvc.ca
An e-learning portal is an electronic point of entry for people to obtain
access to information and services related to the tertiary education sector. By
clicking on this website address, the user is introduced to a community of
interest with a multitude of links to other sites. There is considerable
potential to develop portals in different ways. An advantage in using such a
tool as the base for developing a national e-learning strategy is that
initiatives can be staged in ways that bring maximum benefits while managing
Here are four levels at which a New Zealand portal could operate. Ideally,
New Zealand would evolve its portal over time through the various phases of
development outlined below.
The portal simply creates the
place for tertiary education institutions to all be accessed. The major
advantage is that students can find information about and from all TEIs about
their on-line offerings in one place, as occurs with the Canadian virtual
university model. Students still enrol and interact with one particular
institution. As well as e-courses, the portal could offer information on a range
of levels, from courses and qualifications to career and employment information.
It could also provide students with ready access to loans, fees and scholarship
information in a way that is comprehensive and up-to-date. This fits well with
TEAC's recommendation for multimedia options to be developed for improving
information to students.
Some institutions would
collaborate to offer students a single point of enrolment with choice of
e-courses from each of their institutions all crediting towards the particular
qualification chosen by the student. Of course, this example could be developed
in a different way. It might be, for example, that a single discipline like
nursing had all nursing schools agree that they would develop a single 'clearing
house' within the portal for applications for nurses.
At this level you would begin
to see the development of a range of different services being offered either by
single institutions or by consortia of institutions. These services might
include specific help in particular areas like literacy. They may relate to
special interest groups or they may offer services like recognition of prior
learning or just-in-time assessment.
This level of development would
see a portal where students have a single point of entry, one enrolment system
that will take them to any institution, one place where they can find out what
credits they can earn and transfer from one qualification to another, one place
where they can obtain course and career information. Essentially it would be a
one-stop shop for students that enables them to easily choose the kind of
support they need to succeed in their learning goals. The provision of on-line
technical help and a library of New Zealand learning objects could accompany any
of the above phases.
The Advisory Group recommends that Government fund the development of a
tertiary education portal as set out in Phase One. (Recommendation 3)
Such a portal would bring benefits to a wide variety of people. It would be used
by school-leavers, potential learners here and overseas, people seeking
employment or job-training, employers and industry sectors. The site would have
links to individual providers as well as relevant government agencies. A portal
could lower the costs for learners to make informed decisions about education
and training as well as lower the costs of compliance for participating
providers. Importantly, it could provide a reliable source of information and
provide the opportunity for the free exchange of knowledge and ideas and lead to
the development of more uniform standards among institutions.
The first stage is relatively simple. Achieving full potential of the portal
will depend on collaboration of TEIs and the involvement of a critical mass of
private and public sector organisations to develop services. Bringing all these
parties together will be a complex undertaking, requiring leadership, vision and
adequate resourcing. It will be important to provide evidence of progress to
encourage wide involvement and acceptance across the sector.
It is envisaged the portal project would have four phases:
- Scoping and preparing a business case
- Building a community of providers and users
- Construction and launch of the portal
- Ongoing evaluation, development and maintenance.
There are a number of issues to address in each of these areas. For example,
it is vital that the portal fits in with the Government's e-government strategy
and complements, rather than competes with, specialised sites. Issues of
governance and control will need to be clearly defined and overseen by an
appropriate body. The costs involved in constructing and maintaining a site will
need to be carefully identified and managed. Costs vary enormously from
highly-focused transactional sites costing $150,000 to large corporate sites
costing anywhere from $1 million to $2 million.
Lessons about e-learning
- Students who have access to the Internet increasingly expect to be able to
access learning on the web.
- Expectations about what is quality service in providing education are
different in a web environment.
- E-learning can be provided in many different ways to meet different learner
- It can provide opportunities for global 'master classes' with high levels of
interactivity between students and teachers an Oxbridge model on the web.
- It can also provide any range of teacher support through to 'teacherless'
options which use 'intelligent teachers' programmed by academics.
- In every instance one major feature is the ability to facilitate high levels
of interactivity between students.
- Decisions about how to offer e-learning very much depend on the answers to
questions about the particular student markets being served. The economics of
provision using this mode are very different from either contact or print-based
- The infrastructure required to support e-learning well is much more than the
technical capability. It includes changing core business functions to enable all
transactions from enrolment through to graduation being available on the Web.
- The role of the teacher/academic in teaching on the Web requires some
different skills from traditional teaching.
- Technology is the 'easy' issue to address. Organisational issues are much
Establishing leadership and guidance in e-learning
Advisory Group recommends that the Government, through TEC, seek bids from
consortia comprising tertiary education providers with appropriate expertise to
advance e-learning in the tertiary sector. Its function would be to provide
leadership and guidance on the best way to meet New Zealand's tertiary
e-learning needs. (Recommendation 3)
The Advisory Group believes that best results will be achieved by using a
decentralised approach with appropriate incentives to encourage collaboration
among institutions. To this end, we recommend that the contract for the
Consortium be for a set period of three to five years. One of the key criteria
for letting the contract would be the ability of the Consortium to demonstrate
how it would interact with the sector as a whole and achieve national goals.
The Consortium would also have responsibility for running the portal and
developing it through its various stages, as well as administering the
Collaborative Development Fund. The Advisory Group believes that outsourcing
these leadership and management functions to the sector through a contestable
bidding process, is the best way of gaining sector ownership.
More work needs to be done on the detail of how these arrangements might
operate. Whatever decisions are made, it is of the utmost importance that
opportunities for collaboration are maximised and a genuinelynational strategy
is implemented in which all institutions can participate.
Growing our export education industry
E-learning is a $2
trillion global industry and is set to play an increasingly-pivotal role in the
development of knowledge societies. It includes formal education, nonformal
education and corporate / industry training.
An estimated 16 million people use the Internet every day, with more than a
quarter of a million educational programmes available to them. Increasingly, New
Zealand institutions are receiving applications for enrolment from countries
around the world. One short course at Auckland University of Technology, for
example, enrolled learners from South Africa, Korea and Mongolia. Britain's Open
University enrols 30,000 students on-line from 43 different countries.
New Zealand could position itself to take better advantage of this new
environment. There are huge opportunities for New Zealand to export its
education capabilities globally, but this will require substantial investment
As the recent Ministry of Education report, Export Education in New Zealand,
makes clear, the New Zealand economy stands to benefit substantially from
planned and managed growth of the export education sector.
Export education is a transaction across borders involving the provision of
education services in exchange for financial consideration. Cross-border supply,
including distance education and e-learning, may be provided across borders but
without the movement internationally of either students or teachers.
UNESCO data shows that in the late 1990s over 1.6 million tertiary students
studied internationally. There is a growing number of students receiving
classroom, distance or e-learning from foreign providers within their own
national boundaries. The extent of this kind of service is poorly documented.
Export education is an important contributor to New Zealand's development as
a knowledge economy. The benefits of export education are more than financial.
In the increasingly-globalised world, knowledge of other cultures,
cross-cultural communications skills and international linkages are essential
for national performance. The export education industry will only continue to
grow in sustainable ways if the service provided by New Zealand's education
sector is of consistently-high quality. Successful participation in the
e-learning and distance environments demands substantial investment in
curriculum development, technology, tutoring and administrative support. The
field is becoming dominated by resource-rich large provider institutions and
corporates as well as institutional consortia, of which New Zealand has several
There are a range of national barriers to export education, for example,
visa, investment and foreign exchange regulations, as well as more directly
education-focused policies. While international arrangements such as the General
Agreement on Trade Tarriffs in Services (GATTS) provide a framework to overcome
such barriers, education remains an area where most governments are unwilling to
However, the barriers vary according to the mode of delivery. An APEC study
of factors inhibiting export education in the Asia Pacific Region found that
there were few restrictions on distance education and e-learning but that
establishing a physical presence for an institution overseas was difficult.
Where delivery modes are mixed, barriers in the latter area (physical presence)
can interfere with delivery of the overall 'package' which may include a
distance or e-learning component. Some Asia Pacific and European educators and
policy makers are suspicious of export education, seeing it as a one-way
relationship with negative social and cultural outcomes.
Beyond conventional trade barriers, there are obstacles relating to quality
assurance and recognition of qualifications internationally. The negotiation of
agreements for quality assurance of programmes offered across borders, and of
recognition of qualifications for the purpose of employment or future study are
among measures which can help address these barriers. High-quality collaborative
learning is also one way to expand the international e-learning sector.
Collaboration between institutions
The concept of collaboration
between institutions can be evaluated in terms of the following hierarchy which
is established in terms of increasing difficulty and potential benefits: Low
risk, modest benefits:
- Sharing information
- Exchanging experience
- Exchanging advisers and consultants
- Collaborative staff training
- Accepting each other's students
- Acquiring and/or exchanging external materials
- Collaborating on evaluating external materials
- Co-operating on development of related course units
- Establishing credit transfer arrangements
- Creating a common open learning system High risk, major benefit
(Dhanarajan, G. and Timmers, S. 1990. Transfer and Adaptation of
Self-Instructional Materials: Some issues for Consideration. Open Learning
Institute Hong Kong).
E-learning could have a huge role to play in this growth market but it will
entail a completely different set of challenges to bringing foreign students to
Current estimates are that the export education industry contributed $700
million to the economy in 2000 and has the potential to realise $1 billion per
annum within two years. The good news is that New Zealand has significant
advantages to offer the wired global village.
A favourable exchange rate means that our programmes are competitively priced
on the world market with the potential to generate significant revenue. (The
size of profit margins is subject to debate). The quality of our education is
recognised throughout the world and, being in English, is in demand by the
non-English speaking world. E-learning services are already playing a role in
New Zealand's Overseas Development Assistance strategy in the Pacific and more
could be done to expand this further. New Zealand has a high level of technical
capability and has pioneered many aspects of distance education. We have a track
record of being innovative and creative with limited resources and the
foundations of a knowledge society are in place.
Particularly noteworthy are our student-centred approach to learning and our
strong commitment to supporting indigenous education. Furthermore, cooperative
arrangements with institutions overseas show our ability to work well with other
countries and cultures. Finally, we have educators with the talent and
dedication to compete with the world's best in their field in the international
market, despite our relatively small size.
There are also potential opportunities for tertiary institutions to form
partnerships with New Zealand companies developing e-learning material for
export. For example, the Wellington Creative Capital cluster has an e-learning
sub-group with a focus on export and is interested in working collaboratively to
develop material for overseas markets. The cluster has already achieved success
in gaining contracts for creative work in Singapore.
Thus far, Education New Zealand has focused on developing a strategy and
brand to attract foreign students to New Zealand. The value proposition relates
to New Zealand as a destination for study. That is not appropriate for a web
world, where students stay in their own country. Education New Zealand needs to
establish a complementary brand for moving into this market. In doing so it will
need to recognise the importance of clearly establishing what is the comparative
advantage that New Zealand can offer. It would be unwise to compete in most
instances on development of content. However there may be some particular areas
where this could be useful e.g. environment education, indigenous issues. It
will be important to promote the fact that New Zealand e-learning institutions
support students to succeed throughout the learning process.
The Advisory Group strongly recommends that Education New Zealand create a
working group to develop an appropriate strategy for promoting and developing
e-learning opportunities for the international market. (Recommendation 1)
New Zealand's priority must be to ensure that
elearning initiatives add value to all the different ways of learning that
currently exist. For example, the enhancement of campus-based studies presents
an immediate opportunity to harness the new technology for the benefit of
learners. Huge potential also exists to increase our share of the export
education and distance learning markets through a well-developed tertiary
All of this will only be possible through a new spirit of collaboration which
frees us to broaden our approach to learning to better meet the needs of all