Critical success factors for effective use of e-learning by Pacific learners

Publication Details

This report was undertaken by Koloto and Associates Ltd., on behalf of ITPNZ with funding from the TEC. This report was intended to provide research on critical success factors for Pacific e-Learners as well as the pedagogy for increasing Pacific students’ access to, participation in, and achievement through e-Learning. This can be used to inform and develop professional development programmes for staff within the tertiary sector in New Zealand.

Author(s): Dr ‘Ana Hau‘alofa‘ia Koloto, ‘Alisi Numia Katoanga, and Lepeka Unafei Tatila, Koloto and Associates Limited.

Date Published: August 2006

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Executive Summary 


During the past decade, there has been a growing recognition of the need to increase the participation of Pacific peoples in tertiary education. Building on the Ministry of Education (MoE) Pasifika Education Plan (Ministry of Education, 2001), the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) developed and implemented its Pacific Peoples Strategy 2004 to 2006 and Beyond (TEC, 2004). The TEC strategy emphasises improving pathways to greater and more diverse participation for Pacific peoples in all levels of the tertiary education sector. Parallel work within the e-learning Collaborative Development Fund (eCDF) and the Tertiary e-learning Research Fund (TeLRF) has increased understanding of e-learning pedagogies and the factors necessary for effective use of the emerging technology.

In December 2004, the e-learning Forum of the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand (ITPNZ) gained eCDF funding from the TEC to:

  • undertake research on critical success factors for Pacific e-learners
  • develop professional development programmes for staff within the tertiary sector in New Zealand.

The Research

In November 2005, ITPNZ contracted a team of Pacific researchers from Koloto & Associates Ltd to undertake the research component of their project. Their key objectives were to identify the critical success factors and pedagogy for increasing Pacific students' access to, participation in, and achievement through e-learning.


In line with other research work undertaken by Koloto & Associates (Koloto, 2003; Koloto and Sharma, 2005; Koloto, 2005), three research frameworks proposed by Pacific researchers underpinned the research design and methods.

  • The concept of the 'researcher as the first paradigm' (Mitaera, 1997) - assumes that the researcher's principles and values determine how they conduct the research. For the ITPNZ project, the researchers' guiding principles were: respect, collaboration, honesty, compassion, and empowerment.
  • The tivaevae model (Maua-Hodges, 2000) - assigns each research team member a task. After completing their individual tasks, the team works together to prepare and analyse the data.
  • The kakala model (Thaman, 1999, 2000, 2002) - uses three key processes for making a kakala garland as a metaphor for the key processes involved in any research project: the toli, or framework, represents gathering the data; the tui, or weaving, represents compiling the final report (kakala); and the luva, or presentation of the kakala, represents disseminating the results.

The researchers collected data through:

  • analysis of the literature on Pacific learning and e-learning in the tertiary education sector
  • individual interviews and focus groups with Pacific graduates, timeout students, current students, lecturers and tutors, student support staff, and community leaders
  • individual interviews and focus groups with samples of Pacific e-learners and e-learning staff
  • a case study of an e-learning programme at a private training establishment (PTE).

A total of 148 participants, 45 male and 103 female, from four types of tertiary institutions took part in this study. Eight target groups included:

  • Pacific community leaders (11)
  • lecturers and tutors (14)
  • student support staff (11)
  • timeout students (18)
  • current students (21)
  • graduates (19)
  • e-learners (41)
  • e-learning staff (13).

The participants were from different tertiary institutions in Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, and Wellington.

Key findings

International literature

The literature review (chapter 3) considers a limited number of international studies on Pacific learning in the tertiary sector. It focuses on the work of Konai Helu-Thaman and other Pacific educators at the University of the South Pacific in promoting cultural inclusiveness in a university course (Thaman, 1999, 2000, 2002; and Taufe'ulungaki and Sanga, 2002). This work includes key educational concepts such as ako (learning), 'ilo (knowledge), and poto (wisdom). The researchers' analysis of the literature affirms a need to incorporate Pacific values, practices, and knowledge into the formal education system.

New Zealand tertiary education

Policies, strategies, and funding for Pacific learning

The mechanisms for implementing initiatives and programmes in Pacific learning and e-learning come from a range of strategies, policies, and funding in the New Zealand education system. These include:

  • the MoE Pasifika Education Plan
  • the TEC Pasifika Peoples Strategy, Māori and Pacific Special Supplementary Grant, and e-learning Collaborative Development Fund
  • the Government's Digital Strategy: Creating our Digital Future.
Trends in Pacific student enrolment in the tertiary institutions

An analysis of the enrolment statistics available in August 2005 showed the following trends in the enrolment of Pacific students (Hodgen, 2005).

  • About 36,800 Pacific students were enrolled at tertiary institutions.
  • More female (61%) than male (39%) students were enrolled.
  • About two-thirds of Pacific students were enrolled at either an institute of technology or polytechnic (ITP) (37%) or university (28%).
  • Enrolments at the PTEs were more popular than other institutions with Pacific students.
  • Samoan and Niuean students were over-represented at colleges of education; Fijian and Tongan students were more likely to enrol at university; Cook Island students were more likely to enrol at wānanga; and Tokelauan students were over-represented at ITPs.
  • In 2002, about a quarter of the Pacific tertiary students were enrolled at Levels 5–7, but by 2005 this proportion had increased to about a third.
  • Pacific students were more likely to study part-time and intramurally.
  • About 41% of Pacific tertiary students had some degree of web access in 2005; the proportion for all tertiary students was slightly higher at 45%. Only 7% of Pacific students were enrolled in web-based or web-enhanced courses, compared to 16% of all tertiary students.
  • Cook Island students, 30% of whom study at wānanga, were more likely to have little or no web access; Fijian and Tongan students were more likely to be studying web-enhanced courses.

A primary concern with these trends is the variation in different ethnic groups' participation in different types of tertiary education institutions.

Tertiary institutions

Critical success factors for Pacific students' access and success

The main critical success factors for Pacific student access to, participation in, retention of, and success in tertiary education were:

  • preparedness for tertiary study - a range of skill and attitudinal factors, such as motivation and commitment to study, reading and literacy skills, knowledge of how to use the computer and access support services, goal setting and time management, and strengths from cultural upbringing and belief in God.
  • institutional policies, environment, and support services - a culture supportive and responsive to the needs of Pacific students
  • family support - partners' and / or children's encouragement and understanding of what students need to succeed
  • quality staff - encouraging, accessible, and helpful educators
  • peer support - informal study groups and graduates as mentors
  • course delivery - immediate feedback on assignments, extra time to work individually, and the same materials presented differently according to students' needs.

The study highlighted the key roles played by Pacific staff at tertiary education institutions (TEIs). In particular, the literature noted the key roles played by Pacific nurse lecturers and educators in tertiary institutions. They have been model 'change agents' in designing and incorporating Pacific cultural values, knowledge, and perspectives into the nursing education curriculum; and in advocating, mentoring, and supporting Pacific nursing students. Their strategies could inspire best practice in the tertiary institution. Agencies such as the Ministry of Health, district health boards, the Nursing Council of New Zealand, and the Pacific Nurses Organisation have already used nurse lecturer experiences and practices as models for developing the Pacific nurse workforce.

What is 'Pasifika pedagogy'?

About half of the participants agreed that there is a 'Pasifika pedagogy'. This may be defined as:

An integration of teaching and learning methods that are informed by and validate Pacific values, worldviews, knowledge, and experience.

Good teaching and learning practices for Pacific students

The results provide some insight into teaching practices that effectively facilitate Pacific students' learning. These may include but are not limited to:

  • peer teaching and learning and group work
  • experiential teaching strategies - using and validating students' experiences, including practical hands-on experience; and illustrating points of discussion with real-life experiences
  • incorporating Pacific models, symbols, metaphors, and visual aids into lectures and teaching
  • participatory and student-centred teaching methods, including free-and-open discussion
  • teaching strategies that engage both the mind (cognitive intelligence) and the heart (emotional intelligence).
Critical success factors for e-learning

Both the literature review and the research results point to the following critical success factors for e-learning:

  • access to and knowing how to use computers and the internet
  • help from tutors and class members in an environment that is supportive of information technology (IT) use
  • attending class and handing in assignments on time
  • access to information, learning centres, and other resources
  • motivation and self-confidence
  • understanding e-learning and course content
  • family support
  • funds for tuition fees
  • individual learning
  • time to work on the course online
  • good command of English.
Attitudes that help promote e-learning

Institutional commitments to provide Pacific learners with computers and IT support promote e-learning not only for Pacific students but also for their families. The case study of BEST Training (section 3.7) highlights that family members benefit from students receiving information and communication technology (ICT) equipment (computers, printers, internet access, and desks) at home through their course fee structure. As a consequence, some family members have since enrolled in tertiary education.

Initiatives to enhance access to e-learning programmes

The results highlighted various strategies and initiatives set up by TEIs to support the use of e-learning in course delivery. These include:

  • support systems with pastoral care
  • learning support centres or Pacific units
  • providing computers and unlimited access to the internet
  • tutor and peer support
  • available and accessible library resources
  • scholarships
  • home visits to students
  • bridging programmes.
Barriers to e-learning

The results from e-learners also provide insight into the barriers to Pacific e-learners' participation and success with e-learning courses. These include:

  • lack of understanding of technology and course content
  • lack of self-confidence and motivation
  • cost and finance
  • lack of access to computers
  • lack of time management skills
  • personal reasons and family commitments
  • lack of writing, communication, and English language skills
  • lack of physical interaction with and support from tutors.


Based on the research findings, the final chapter of this report outlines the following recommendations for educational practices and future research.

  1. Further qualitative research should investigate the reasons for the variations in Pacific ethnic groups' enrolment in TEIs and the possible impact on each group's uptake of e-learning.
  2. TEIs should recognise, value, and provide the necessary institutional support for Pacific lecturers and tutors to effectively serve as key 'change agents' within their institutions.
  3. More in-depth research on Pacific lecturers' experiences, effective curriculum development, teaching strategies, and student support strategies should be undertaken to inform the teaching and learning of Pacific students in the tertiary sector.
  4. Institutional policies and support systems should take into account the diverse learning needs and cultures of diverse Pacific learners, and the contexts in which they operate in the home, workplace, and community.
  5. Orientation programmes and strategies aimed at increasing participation of Pacific learners must involve the students and their families, ensuring all understand the institutional expectations and types of support required.
  6. Teacher education curricula and professional development programmes for tertiary staff working with Pacific students must include relevant materials on Pacific peoples' cultures, values, practices, knowledge, experiences, and realities.
  7. Teaching and e-learning materials developed for Pacific students must include Pacific knowledge, metaphors, and materials relevant to their life experiences.
  8. Staff should recognise the value of peer learning and teaching and face-to-face academic support; and they should incorporate these into teaching programmes for Pacific learners and e-learners.
  9. TEIs should help students needing to enhance their academic reading, writing, and English language skills so that they can effectively engage in the e-learning environment and succeed in their tertiary studies.
  10. More in-depth case studies should focus on the experiences of Pacific e-learners and e-learning staff in a range of TEIs, to explore the factors that facilitate or impede e-learners' retention and success.
  11. TEIs should develop policies and support structures that include access to computers, IT support, and pastoral support for learners to ensure their success in an e-learning environment.
  12. Each TEI should collect data on students' access to computers along with their enrolment forms, to inform the programmes on e-learning generally and for Pacific students in particular.
  13. e-learning staff should carefully consider the design, development, and presentation of course materials so as to enhance students' learning, motivate them to engage with the content, and inspire them to complete their study.
  14. TEIs should acknowledge the roles of staff and the importance of their relationship with students. Face-to-face teaching and staff availability must be an integral part of the e-learning environment for Pacific students.
  15. Students must seriously consider their preparedness for tertiary studies. Equipping themselves with the appropriate goals, motivation, and determination to succeed - as well as the IT and information literacy skills - will go a long way to ensuring success in their tertiary studies.
  16. Pacific lecturers and tutors should consider taking up professional development programmes available in their institution to enhance their skills and knowledge of e-learning. That way, they can make informed decisions about using the technology to enhance students' learning and success.
  17. TEIs should continue to provide scholarships to capable students from low-income families as a means of ensuring equity of access to tertiary education by all Pacific students.
  18. Pacific communities and TEIs should explore the opportunities presented by e-learning as an option to enhance Pacific students' access to tertiary education.

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