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Meeting The Needs Of All Learners - Maharey Speech

7 May 2001 Hon Steve Maharey Speech Notes

Meeting The Needs Of All Learners:

The Contribution Of Distance Education And E-Learning

Address to The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand Wellington Graduation Ceremony. Renouf Foyer, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington.


Thank you for inviting me to speak here today. The great thing about being invited to speak at graduations is that they are a celebration of success, of achievement.

I would like to offer my congratulations to everyone graduating here today.

I would also like to welcome you all here to Wellington. While the Open Polytechnic itself is based in the Wellington region, its students come from throughout the country, from towns both large and small. From Tauranga to Temuka, from Wanaka to Whakatane.

The student body at the Open Polytechnic is extraordinarily diverse. Not only in terms of student home towns, but also in terms of age, educational background, life and work experience, and goals.

Three quarters of its students are aged 25 and over, and 77 percent are people in employment who are studying to upskill for job or career reasons.

While I can see the diversity of the people in front of me today, I can also see that you are unified by a number of factors - the key one being personal motivation.

Many of you chose to undertake study in your own time on top of work and family demands, and sometimes over many years. What this demonstrates to me, is that each and every one of you is personally motivated to learn.

As people who have chosen to embrace knowledge and learning and become graduates today, I would have to conclude that you are well on your way to success. Therefore, I would like to commend you for the investment that you have made in yourselves, that will benefit not only yourself, but our whole nation.

Knowledge Society

Key to the future success of New Zealand, is the development of a knowledge society and economy. This Government believes that knowledge and skill development will be at the heart of our long-term economic performance and social well-being.

Education is a fundamental part of the equation that enables us to adapt, be flexible, and cope with the demands of change. Through learning new skills, and expanding our knowledge base, we are able to make a valuable contribution to society.

Successful knowledge societies will be those that create a culture of lifelong learning in which all citizens can participate and contribute throughout their lives. This means creating more flexible approaches to meet the diverse needs of learners in relation to access, delivery, content, and learning modules and qualifications.

The Open Polytechnic has created a culture of lifelong learning by seeking to develop an increasingly personalised approach to the provision of courses and services. The Open Polytechnic recognises that better information on differing expectations of study, goals, and perceived or actual barriers, will improve its ability to put in place appropriate strategies to suit particular needs.

Similarly, they are beginning to view their interaction with students less in terms of specific course or programme enrolments, and more in terms of an ongoing relationship through which to assist students with managing their learning throughout their lives.

Meeting the needs of learners is one of the challenges facing providers of tertiary education. Other significant challenges include the development of an increasingly global economy, demographic changes, and rapid technological change. Today, I would like to focus on the challenge of technology.


Technology is rapidly changing the way we live and work. It is changing the way we communicate and do business. Knowledge, information, imagination, ideas, and innovation are emerging as our greatest assets.

It is vital that all New Zealanders have the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills, and the understanding needed to participate effectively in the knowledge society and succeed in a high technology world.

Tertiary education, therefore, has a key role in shaping the knowledge society, as it produces skilled people, supports knowledge acquisition, provides access for the community to lifelong learning, and is an enabling force for other industries.

At the same time, the business of education and training itself is being transformed. New technologies can provide learning opportunities that can be tailored to the needs and interests of individuals and the country as a whole.

While this change may be driven by technology, it is not about technology itself. Rather, it is about learner-centricity and the flexibilisation of learning.


E-learning is one form of flexible learning. It utilises information and communication technologies, such as computers, the internet, and telecommunication technologies to develop and deliver education.

E-learning can contribute to the development of a knowledge society by:

- enabling access to lifelong learning;

- providing learning opportunities and relationships which meet the needs of individuals;

- creating flexibility in terms of what, when, where, and how tertiary education is accessed;

- providing opportunities for learners to use technology and gain technological knowledge and skills; and

- providing a means of obtaining information to meet the rapidly changing needs of society in the future.

Considerable activity is taking place in e-learning throughout the tertiary education system. The majority of providers in New Zealand now use technologies for administrative purposes, communication, and the distribution of materials. Others are offering programmes on-line as part of their flexible learning strategies.

The Open Polytechnic is an excellent example of this. I understand that the Open Polytechnic recently launched its web course delivery arm, called Open Mind Online, with 8 degree courses, and plans to extend this to 20 by the end of the year. The Polytechnic is also expanding its Internet support for print-based courses under its e-learning strategy.

The expertise, resources and systems at the Polytechnic are wholly geared to supporting learners studying in their own time and place, or workplace, making it a specialist provider in New Zealand of open and distance learning at the tertiary level.

I would like to commend the Polytechnic for its commitment to flexible learning and the use of information and communication technologies.

There seems to be opportunities for e-learning development across the sector to be more co-ordinated. There also appears to be scope for more collaboration between providers in developing systems to ensure efficient and effective outcomes. The costs of technology and e-learning development are relativeley high.

I am keen to progress a coherent and co-ordinated e-learning strategy. To this end, I have asked the Ministry of Education to advise how the Government can best facilitate the development of e-learning in the tertiary education sector.

E-Learning Advisory Group

In order to answer this question, the Ministry of Education will be establishing an E-Learning Advisory Group to assist its work.

This group will be made up of 7-9 experts from the tertiary education and ICT sectors who have developed capability and expertise in various forms of flexible learning. This group will work together over the next four months.

Key tasks for the Advisory Group will include:

- identifying existing e-learning infrastructure and capability;

- advising on how this existing infrastructure and capability could be used to develop capability across the sector as a whole;

- recommending steps that can be taken to secure co-operation, collaboration and the sharing of resources;

- identifying barriers to developing further e-learning capability, and means to address these barriers;

- recommending incentives for capability and staff development;

- advising on how e-learning can contribute to the export education industry; and

- developing frameworks for quality assurance and intellectual property rights management in line with international developments.

The terms of reference for this group have been developed, and the membership of the group will be finalised over the coming month.

The Advisory Group and the Ministry of Education are due to report to me before the end of this year, and I have tagged some funding to begin putting in place the recommendations.


I am excited about what e-learning can offer, and I am looking forward to a future full of technological possibilities.

Just as I hope that you are looking forward to the possibilities that will be created by the qualifications you are receiving today. Both you, and this country, will benefit from the knowledge and skills you have gained.

Once again I congratulate you all on your educational achievements, and wish you all the best for the future.


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