Ethos Community

Towards an indigenous eLearning strategy: Critical considerations and implications

Wordle: Maori e-Learning stratgey

Yo-Heta Lensen Ngapuhi, Ngati Hine

Te Whare Waananga o Wairaka Unitec Institute of Technology

Tamaki Makaurau Auckland.

Tāna koutou te whānau whānui o te roopu a Ethos

The tertiary sector education in Aotearoa NZ is undergoing shifts in course delivery as the new era of digital technologies in education takes root.  Anecdotally, I note that consideration of culturally diverse, and often divergent learning styles, tends to occur retrospectively, in a pastoral manner rather than as a matter of critical pedagogical consideration at the point of conceptualising and designing eLearning programmes. This blog post is an opportunity to look at one aspect of eLearning; blended learning.  

Blended learning - also known as hybrid learning  is a relatively new methodology involving a  mix of traditional classroom and online learning experiences. The multiple definitions of this relatively new methodology suggests that blended learning is highly adaptive to purpose.

One of the features of blended learning is the notion of flipped learning. This is considered an innovative new pedagogical approach because it involves students receiving their notes on-line and preparing for their tutorials before they arrive in class so that the session is not content loaded but interactive and enquiry-based. Flipped learning is considered to be one of the innovations of blended delivery. Based on my experiences at university however, the only thing that is new to me about flipped learning is the method in which the student receives the information. In my time students received handouts, or whole books (yes books!)  and were told which chapter to read and what to prepare for a week in advance. In today’s blended learning environments students need digital devices or at the least access to a computer and a printer to be able to access the information they need to prepare for lessons.

Another observation I have made as a teacher involved in blended learning course development and delivery is that students are not necessarily any better prepared for lessons in a flipped environment than they were when they received handouts, books and instructions in traditional delivery modes. In fact,  the potential exists for students to actually avoid any engagement with both the lecturer and the content now, with the removal of the requirement to attend the lecture to receive instructions for the next lesson. These observations have provided the inspiration for critical reflection into the benefits and challenges of blended learning for Māori learners engaged in tertiary education.

From an indigenous kaupapa Māori perspective there are a number of implications that emerge out of blended learning approaches. Access to resourcing is related to the kaupapa Māori principle of kia piki ake nga raru i te kainga, the mediation of the socio-economic impediments to success for the learner (Smith, 1997). The ability to access the necessary resourcing to be able to retrieve information in a digital, flipped and blended learning environment is critical to the success of learners.  Data needs to be gathered to determine whether this is a factor that is affecting success for Māori and indeed all learners involved in blended learning.

Another implication of blended learning methodology relates to the Kaupapa Māori principle of ako, or culturally preferred pedagogy (Smith, 1997).  The history of Māori potential going unrealised in mainstream education has been extensively critiqued. If blended learning is a new teaching and learning paradigm which can replace traditional assimilative mainstream teaching practices that disrupted the flow of te reo Māori me ona tikanga from one generation to the next (Hokowhitu, 2004), the benefits to Māori learners are immense.

One of the contested advantages of blended learning is that it caters for diverse learning styles (Teach thought, 2013). Consideration must be given to culturally preferred pedagogy and how that fits in with blended learning methodologies. Literature reminds us that Māori have a distinct preference for kanohi-ki-te kanohi, or face-to-face contact (Tiakiwai and Tiakiwai 2010).  Māori approaches to learning are also embedded in Māori values, which are collective. Learning is seen as part of a collective responsibility. In the past schooling and education has operated on a system of individualism, fostering skills and dispositions that created independent learners. Blended learning methodology recognises that the most powerful learning occurs through peer interaction, enquiry  and negotiation.  Learners are encouraged to work in teams to find and share information. Established and appropriately resourced for success, it is possible that Māori learners will thrive in an environment where collective learning is validated.

However, in order to achieve that level of engagement relationship needs to be established and fostered between group members and their kaiako (in this instance, learning facilitator). This relates to the Kaupapa Māori prinicple of Whānau or extended family structure (Smith, 1997). This principle acknowledges and validates the relationships that the learner has in and with the world. These relationships are fostered and maintained through a system of whanaungatanga. Whanaungatanga is concerned with establishing and maintaining a pattern of right relationship with people, place, space and time. Whanaungatanga, together with manaakitanga (the principle of reciprocal care) are considered to be quintessential Māori values. Therefore time needs to be spent building relationship and connectedness with group members. Once again this has implications for resourcing.

Research shows that student engagement in the online and blended learning environment is critical to success, together with a strong social presence and early detection of non-engagement to bring the learner back into the blended learning environment in a timely manner  (Jeffrey, Milne, Suddaby & Higgins, 2012). Blended learning environments therefore, are not teacherless learning environments. The teacher must be able to establish and maintain communication with blended learners and give responsive and timely feedback to online activity and forum discussion.  

Communication with people to build relationship would be an essential feature of whanaungatanga in blended learning space. There are skills associated with working in on-line discussion forums and learning spaces that many learners in the current context of 2014 have not been prepared for when they first encounter blended learning modes at tertiary level. Young learners are often familiar with social media sites. However, learning to communicate using appropriate online conventions in-line with academic requirements that ensures the safety and voice of all learners is key to engagement for all learners. It is particularly important in a culture where engagement is determined by relationship. This relates to the principle of ata (Pohatu,2005) - of growing respectful relationships. It is an important point and should also be considered in the tracking of retention and success of Maori learners involved in blended learning.

Communication also relates to how well blended teaching and learning methodology is understood by teachers and learners alike.  Earlier I mentioned that the multiple definitions that exist about blended learning suggests it is able to be adapted to purpose. It is also possible that is is indicative of how contentious it is because educators cannot agree on the best approach to blended learning.  

As with any new initiative,  there may be confusion and even scepticism about the merit and worth of blended learning. How this is managed is a critical success factor.  If the blended learning environment differs radically from both previous institutional models and student experiences, the danger exists that neither teacher or learner will feel very confident in their learning environment.  If so much emphasis is placed on the learner being in charge of their own learning, the learning environment may be overlooked. So too the fit between the actual physical learning environment and the online blended learning environment. This includes what the congruences are between students’ experiences of matauranga Māori in classroom learning and in blended learning environments. This is ideally best addressed in an holistic framework as part of an overall eLearning strategy that is managed as part of sustained commitment to partnership with Māori in education.

From a kaupapa Māori perspective educators have a duty to critique the benefits and challenge the barriers for Māori learners of educational initiatives. This relates to the principle of Te Tiriti o Waitangi - The Treaty of Waitangi - which is concerned to ensure Māori participation and success. Further, academic freedom to critique knowledge and a professional responsibility to be the critic and and conscience of society are inherently part of the tertiary terrain and needs to be vigorously pursued. Balanced with that is the kaupapa Māori principle of Kaupapa, or collective philosophy. This principle ensures that the wider aspirations of the community it serves inform the vision and the direction of the organisation. In deciding to implement blended learning methodologies a set of critical questions need to be asked:

  • What are the benefits of this approach for my learning community? Who says?

  • What are the barriers? How can these be eliminated?

  • Who initiated this approach? Who was involved in the decision making? design? implementation? evaluation?

  • Whose language is privileged in blended learning?

  • Whose knowledge is legitimated?

  • How will information be disseminated to my learning community?

  • How will I respond to community feedback?

  • To whom am I accountable and how?

  • How is my learning community represented in decision making around content and delivery?

There is literature that supports the view that a collective vision or kaupapa contributes to the success for students involved in blended learning. In their report on strategies for engaging learners in blended learning environments, Jeffrey et. al suggest that negotiating with learners the type of blended learning structure that would suit their preference should ideally form part of the pedagogical considerations in establishing blended learning environments.

Student ability to input into the design and structure of their blended learning environment is a key indicator of engagement, and engagement is a critical indicator of success in a blended learning course (Jeffrey, Milne, Suddaby, Higgins, 2012a). Statistics show that although they are incrementally improving over time, Māori have the lowest rates of success in blended learning environments at tertiary level. Interestingly Māori success in university eLearning programmes is higher than in polytechnics (Guiney, 2013). Given the significant number of Māori learners enrolled in polytechnics, this has implications for teachers involved in blended learning course design and implementation and for staff involved in success and retention of Māori students in polytechnics.

The points raised so far show the potential for Whanaungatanga as a blended learning strategy to support Māori learners in authentic and meaningful ways. The literature referred to shows the importance of creating a blended learning environment that builds a sense of belonging. For the Māori learner, evidence of relevance to their own cultural aspirations and identity is a critical consideration in selecting where they will pursue further studies (Jeffries et al, 2012).

Given that language is the lifeline to a culture (Pere, 1997), one way to legitimate and validate matauranga Māori in blended learning environments is to ensure appropriate use of te reo Māori in both on-line and face-to-face classroom based learning and teaching.  There is currently no prescribed use of te reo Māori me ona tikanga in either standard classroom teaching or blended learning methodologies. In mainstream education it occurs in a very ad hoc manner. In the worst case scenarios blended learning environments are completely monolingual.

Critical questions related to privileging language and knowledge need to be considered alongside Māori views of te reo Māori me ona tikanga. This relates to the kaupapa Māori principle of Taonga tuku iho - or cultural aspiration.  This principle legitimates the use of te reo Māori me ona tikanga, Māori language and customary practices, and mātauranga Māori. Within a Kaupapa Māori paradigm, these cultural aspirations are valid in their own right.

Acknowledgement of te reo Māori me ona tikanga also builds a spiritual and cultural awareness and connectedness (Smith, 1990). There are some exciting innovations occurring within Māori spaces that build on Māori approaches to eLearning as well as demonstrate the capacity of Māori to embrace ICT as a tool to support the revitalisation of te reo Māori me ona tikanga (Keegan, Keegan & Laws, 2011) .This relates to the Kaupapa Māori principle of Tino Rangatiratanga, or the principle of self determination. There are many benefits for mainstream education if it is able to draw on authentic Māori language resources and integrate them into their own learning environments. This could support bilingual language acquisition in a way that was previously not possible and is an exciting opportunity. There are also benefits for all learners by the implementation of practices such as Whanaungatanga. With an emphasis on building belonging and finding connectedness, this principle has great potential and merit in guiding teacher, learner and group interactions.

In terms of indigenous  eLearning models, the benefits of blended learning reside in the potential for the inclusion of culturally referred practices to shape an eLearning strategy unique to the people it serves,. The challenge at tertiary level is the degree to which programmes are resourced and resourcing the integration of indigenous teaching and learning approaches in a blended learning environment

This blog has been an opportunity put give voice to some of the benefits and challenges using a Kaupapa Māori lens

Mauri ora


Guiney, P. (2013). E-learning achievements. Trends, patterns and highlights. Wellington, Ministry of Education


Hokowhitu, B. (2004). Te timatanga o te matauranga Maori: Colonisation in education. In T. Ka'ai, J. Moorfield, M. Reilly & S. Mosley (Eds.), Ki te whaiao: An introduction to Maori culture and society (pp. 190-200). Auckland: Pearson Education Ltd.


Jeffrey,L.M., Milne,J., Suddaby, G.,Higgins, A. (2012). Help or hinderance: Blended approaches and student engagement.Wellington, NZ. Ako Aotearoa National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence


Jeffrey,L.M., Milne,J., Suddaby, G.,Higgins, A. (2012a). Strategies for engaging learners in a blended environment. Wellington, NZ. Ako Aotearoa National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence

Keegan, P.J., Keegan, T., Laws, M. (2011). Online Māori Resources and Māori Initiatives for Teaching and Learning: Current Activities, Successes and Future Direction. MAI Review, 2011,(1), 1-13. Retrieved from


Pere, R. (1997). Te wheke: A celebration of ancient wisdom. Gisborne, Aotearoa NZ: Ao ako Global learning Ltd.

Pohatu, T. (2005). Āta: Growing respectful relationships. Retrieved from


Rangahau; Principles of Kaupapa Maori. Retrieved from


Smith, G. H. (1997). The development of Kaupapa Maori: Theory and praxis. (PhD doctoral thesis), University of Auckland, Auckland, NZ.   

Smith, G. H. (1990) Research Issues Related to Maori Education.Paper presented to NZARE Special Interest Conference, Massey University, reprinted in 1992, The Issue of Research and Maori, Research Unit for Maori Education, The University of Auckland.;


Teachthought (2013). (retrieved from ).


Tiakiwai, S. & Tiakiwai, H. (2010). A literature review focused on virtual learning environments (VLEs) and elearning in the context of te reo Maori and kaupapa Maori education. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

Views: 494

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Ethos Community to add comments!

Join Ethos Community

Comment by Hazel Owen on November 25, 2014 at 17:52

Tēnā rāwā atu koe whaea, whaea Yo. I feel this is an insightful discussion into some fundamental aspects that need to be considered for the design of culturally responsive learning experiences.

One of the things that came through really strongly was the idea that learning experiences and spaces need to acknowledge tikanga Māori...that embrace the learner and immerse them into an environment that feels familiar, and therefore comfortable. So - one of my questions is - do you think that it is possible to design an environment that is truly responsive to the bi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand context(s)...or do we have to design separate spaces? Or - a wondering it a case of working toward an integrated space / experience that is flexible enough for all learners? If it is the latter, how do we avoid privileging specific world views in the design...and the facilitation?

An additional complexity is that much of the underpinning design / coding of the platforms, as well as the theories that inform blended learning, are frequently drawn from specific experiences of interacting within the world. Is there, therefore a sense that it may be preferable to develop (maybe from scratch...if that's possible?) an alternative re-framing of blended and flipped learning that, rather than integrating indigenous learning and teaching approaches in a existing blended learning environment, creates a new one that is based on alternative learning and teaching approaches?

A final thing that I wanted to offer was a different take on 'flipping'. Flipping is often thought of as, as you mention, providing resources (often videos) for students to access outside the facilitated sessions, which they then bring back to discuss and explore with each other and the facilitator. However, I would suggest that "at its core, the flip means shifting the focus from the instructor to the students. You can do this by inverting the design of the course so students engage in activities, apply concepts, and focus on higher-level learning outcomes” (Honeycutt, & Glove, 2014, Para 9) [emphasis not in the original]. Honeycutt (2012) identifies FLIP as meaning Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process and suggests ways of re-thinking the online experience in order to successfully FLIP an online class. This take on flipping seems to align quite closely to some of the concepts you discuss in your post - so I wonder if this wider notion of flipping could be either developed further as a way of designing positive blended experiences for Māori students...or aspects of it could be adapted and built into a unique, culturally informed framework?

These are just initial thoughts and wonderings...I will no doubt have heaps more :) Kia ora, whaea Yo xx

© 2019   Created by Hazel Owen.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service