A literature review focused on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and e-Learning in the context of Te Reo Māori and Kaupapa Māori education

Publication Details

The Ministry of Education has identified the need to further explore the use of Virtual Learning Environments particularly in the context of te reo Māori and kaupapa Māori education. This literature review was sought to provide further understanding for the Ministry of Education in this area.

Author(s): Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai and Hans Tiakiwai, Kiore Enterprises Limited. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: March 2010

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.

Executive Summary


Over the last ten years there has been an increased emphasis on conceptualising, developing and implementing e-Learning initiatives across the New Zealand education sector (Report of the E-Learning Advisory Group, 2002; Ministry of Education, 2006; Tertiary Education Commission eCDF Initiative, 2003, are examples of such thinking and implementing). Included within these initiatives were calls for increased engagement by Māori in e-Learning and for schools and institutions to develop or participate in initiatives that would foster increased Māori engagement in the development of resources, and in teaching and learning incorporating these new technologies.

The Ministry of Education has identified the need to further explore the use of Virtual Learning Environments particularly in the context of te reo Māori and kaupapa Māori education. This literature review was sought to provide further understanding for the Ministry of Education in this area.

The literature review was guided by the following research questions:

  1. What are the key understandings that emerge from an integration of the literature that has explored kaupapa Māori education (including te reo education) with the literature that focuses on e-Learning principles and practices within indigenous education contexts?
  2. What are the key understandings that emerge from the literature on the emerging teaching and learning practices associated with Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)?
    And, drawing on the two preceding review sections - 
  3. What are the teaching and learning practices that appear most likely to contribute to enhanced learning outcomes for students in kura kaupapa Māori?

Because of the lack of literature which focused specifically on Virtual Learning Environments, the scope was broadened to include literature on e-Learning, digital technology and ICT. The literature on e-Learning in kaupapa Māori settings is also scarce, with much of the literature found focusing on evaluations of e-Learning initiatives implemented in kaupapa Māori settings. These kaupapa Māori settings included tertiary, school sector, and distance learning contexts. The literature review was guided by a kaupapa Māori framework to ensure that the literature found could be appropriately contextualised within kaupapa Māori environments.


In reviewing the literature on teaching and learning practices associated with Virtual Learning Environments, the following themes emerged:

1. The learning environment

The literature identified the importance of creating an appropriate e-Learning environment. In particular, this environment needed to consider issues of time, space and place as well as how e-Learning could be incorporated into classroom teaching and learning practice. The creation of such a learning environment changed the way students or learners approached their learning. The literature noted that the students in e-Learning environments often took greater control over or responsibility for their learning.

2. Relationships and communication in a digital environment

The literature suggests that relationships and the way students and teachers interact and communicate change in a digital learning environment.  As students take greater control over and responsibility for their learning in e-Learning settings, the relationship between the student and teacher changes, where the teacher becomes less of a teacher and more of a facilitator in student learning. The literature also suggests that teachers are often finding that they have to work harder to create relationships with their students because of the lack of face-to-face contact, although some of the literature noted instances where teachers still felt conscious of the need to create face-to-face opportunities beyond those initiatives that were already in place.

3. Collaboration

The literature refers to the importance of collaboration for successful e-Learning on a number of levels. One level refers to collaboration as a teaching and learning practice, while another talks about how collaboration is a process of interaction and development between resources and participants or users of such resources. One further level, that is discussed here, refers to the importance of collaborative relationships – between and across communities, schools and institutions – to facilitate the provision of e-Learning services and products.

4. Pedagogy

The literature identified that there was a lack of sound pedagogical knowledge relating to e-Learning. In particular, the literature suggested that emphasis in e-Learning was focused more on the technology, where professional development for teachers was often focused on learning how to use new technology rather than understand how the technology impacts on teaching and learning experiences. Some of the literature pointed to a need to address this concern with a greater focus on pedagogy in e-Learning.

5. Quality tools

Well-designed tools were noted in the literature as playing important roles in facilitating schools', teachers' and students' engagement with e-Learning. According to the literature, the following themes were identified as impacting on how e-tools are designed and developed:

  • general cultural and social expectations – this theme speaks to the importance of relevancy, where designers of e-tools require an understanding not only of who they are designing tools for, but also how their own cultural and social understandings and expectations may impact on their approach to design;
  • teaching and learning expectations – this theme also referred to the impact that one's own background played in the design and development of e-tools. The literature warns against trying to homogenise experiences in the design process, as this impacts on the quality of the tool designed;
  • differences in the use of language and symbols – more focused towards tools developed for use in cross-cultural contexts, this theme highlights challenges of mis/translating or transferring knowledge forms into digital concepts. The literature stresses that quality tools can be impacted by the strength of cultural competence and understanding of the designer;
  • technological infrastructure – while the literature acknowledged that e-Learning and advances in technology and e-tools were changing all the time, the ability of schools, classrooms, teachers and students to effectively utilise such tools was often dependent on technological infrastructure, such as reliable, available and cost effective access. Some of the literature also identified the relationship between the effectiveness of e-tools and their implementation in the classroom.

Kaupapa Māori and e-Learning

The literature on e-Learning in kaupapa Māori environments was scarce. However, the literature that was found identified the following themes:

1. Cultural practices and e-Learning

Literature relating to e-Learning and kaupapa Māori environments highlights the importance of incorporating Māori cultural practices into e-Learning. In particular, the literature suggests the inclusion of these practices, such as whakawhānaungatanga may facilitate better student engagement with the e-Learning process.

2. Te reo Māori and e-Learning

The lack of understanding and knowledge about kaupapa Māori and e-Learning extends to understandings about the place and purpose of te reo Māori in e-Learning settings. The literature suggests that while kaupapa Māori settings stress the importance of incorporating te reo Māori into e-Learning environments, further research is needed to better understand how te reo Māori may be more appropriately incorporated into e-Learning.

3. Resourcing

Access to appropriate resources for kaupapa Māori settings was a constant theme in the literature. The literature identified that teachers in kaupapa Māori settings were often having to develop or translate resources to ensure their suitably for the kaupapa Māori teaching and learning environment. Equally, the literature identified the importance of ensuring professional development for teachers to ensure greater use and understanding of new e-tools. From students' perspectives (particularly those at the tertiary level), the literature suggests that e-Learning environments create more flexible learning opportunities that may facilitate or support greater Māori student engagement.

4. Barriers

The literature noted three key areas as barriers to e-Learning in kaupapa Māori environments:

  • an over emphasis on content development as the centre of practice and under emphasis on context and learner experience – in particular, the literature stressed the importance of ensuring the appropriateness and relevance of tools and content designed to include aspects of Māori culture. The literature highlighted the impact of cost effectiveness on e-Learning, where a 'one-size-fits-all' approach often resulted in a lack of consideration for kaupapa Māori learning environments;
  • a relative lack of evaluation in real-world practice – the literature highlighted the lack of emphasis placed on evaluating the effectiveness of e-Learning in schools and classrooms. This was also noted with the lack of professional development available to kaupapa Māori teachers to support their integration of e-Learning in their teaching and classroom practice;
  • roles that designers assume in larger organizations – to a lesser extent, the literature identified that the role of designers, particularly those working for or contracted by large organisations, at times end up becoming separated or disconnected from the end users of the tools for whom they design.

e-Learning in indigenous contexts

The literature on e-Learning in indigenous contexts was not dissimilar to the kaupapa Māori section. Key themes emerging from the literature were:

1. Benefits of e-Learning

One of the key findings in the literature noted that e-Learning removed physical barriers of distance for indigenous participation in education. E-learning also allowed flexible learning opportunities, where indigenous students were able to stay in more familiar social and cultural environments whilst pursuing continued and enhanced learning.

2. Teaching practice

The literature suggests that effective teaching is critical to successfully incorporating e-Learning in indigenous communities. In particular, the literature noted the importance of teachers being aware of the impact – both negative and positive – that e-Learning can have on indigenous communities and indigenous knowledge forms.

3. Creating opportunities through e-Learning

The literature identified e-Learning as being a positive and creative way for indigenous students and communities to engage with their cultural knowledge forms and practices. Examples were given as to how different e-Learning tools were able to support communities to reconnect (through internet websites) and to learn their language and customs (through the development and production of online learning resources).

4. Challenges to cultural practices

The main concern identified in the literature about e-Learning was its potential impact on the preservation, use, and misuse of indigenous knowledges and practises. While e-Learning was seen as contributing positively to indigenous communities through facilitating more flexible learning environments, through reconnecting communities and so forth, the literature highlighted how e-Learning could also facilitate in alienating indigenous youth from traditional ways of accessing and acquiring indigenous knowledges and practices. Concern was also expressed about how e-Learning, as an initiative drawn from Western thinking, could impact negatively on indigenous philosophical approaches to learning.


The final section of this report synthesises the findings from the literature to suggest teaching and learning practices that appear most likely to contribute to enhance learning outcomes for students in kura kaupapa Māori. It should be noted that the paucity of literature around e-Learning in kaupapa Māori settings makes it difficult to state what contributes to enhanced learning outcomes. However, from the literature reviewed for this report, the following themes emerged:

1. The importance of the learning environment

As noted, the importance of the learning environment has been identified in the literature as being a key factor in facilitating positive learning opportunities for students. This learning environment, particularly for kaupapa Māori environments, included the need to have access to good quality resources, professional development and support as well as a positive and appropriate physical learning environment. This included access to and availability of reliable internet and data connections, technical support and expertise and more support in pedagogical understanding of e-Learning in kaupapa Māori settings.

2. Quality relationships

The literature identified that the creation of a physical environment was not enough in ensuring positive teaching and learning experiences in kaupapa Māori settings. Equally important was the need for quality relationships between teachers and their students.

3. Cultural understandings

The ability for new technologies to appropriately incorporate te reo Māori and Māori ways of knowing and doing were seen in the literature as important in being able to engage Māori students in their learning. This included, for example, the importance of incorporating cultural practices of face-to-face learning or whakawhānaungatanga into e-Learning practice.

4. Challenges to pedagogical practices

The literature identified that teachers in kaupapa Māori settings utilised e-Learning more in their teaching as they became more confident and familiar with how to use the tools and resources. However, the literature also noted that the lack of professional support available to teachers and the often ad-hoc way they adapted and implemented e-Learning in their classrooms (translating resources for example), hindered their ability to reflect or evaluate the effectiveness of their e-teaching practice. The need to explore the relationship between Māori and e-Learning pedagogies was also identified.

Contact Us

Education Data Requests
If you have any questions about education data then please contact us at:
Email:      Requests EDK
Phone:    +64 4 463 8065