the co evolution of e learning and adult literacy and numeracy a nested case study of a polytechnic
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CITE University of Hong Kong September 2009. The co-evolution of e-learning and adult literacy and numeracy. A nested case study of a polytechnic. Niki Davis & Jo Fletcher University of Canterbury College of Education. University of Canterbury College of Education Research Team

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the co evolution of e learning and adult literacy and numeracy a nested case study of a polytechnic

CITE University of Hong Kong

September 2009

The co-evolution of e-learning and adult literacy and numeracy. A nested case study of a polytechnic

Niki Davis & Jo Fletcher

University of Canterbury College of Education

the research team
University of Canterbury College of Education Research Team

Niki Davis, Principal Investigator

Jo Fletcher, Co-Principal Investigator

Irene Absalom, Research Assistant

With Barry Brooker, John Everatt, Gail Gillon, Julie Mackey, & Donna Morrow

New Zealand Ministry of Education

Ester Harcourt

David Earle

Anne Lee

The Research Team
brief overview of the project 2008 2009
Brief overview of the project 2008-2009

New Zealand Ministry of Education research question:

What are the characteristics of programmes, such as e-learning, mixed mode and distance learning programmes that have been successful in raising the literacy, numeracy and language skills (LLN) of adult learners and could be used to supplement workplace training?


  • This case study of a polytechnic
  • Literature review
  • Webinars and Blog (see
  • Stakeholder interviews (unpublished)
  • Evaluation of an online tool U.S.A. Learns (unpublished)
  • Final report
International surveys inc. Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey raised awareness that around 1 in 5 adults has needs literacy/numeracy (inc. UK, USA and New Zealand - Earle, 2009; Satherley et al, 2008; Benseman & Sutton, 2007)

Low levels of adult literacy have a direct impact on the economy and reduce life chances for adults and their children (Benseman & Sutton, 2007; Earle, 2009)

There are many challenges in supporting adults to improve their literacy. Critical success factors include the embedding of literacy learning in the individual’s ecologies (Williams & Fletcher, in press)

One approach has been to use e-learning to extend self-study with developments in the UK, USA and New Zealand (Mellar et al 2007)


"At the heart of improved quality in delivery and materials must be increased use of Information and Communication Technologies [e-learning] to improve basic skills." (Moser Report 1999)

analytical and theoretical frame
Analytical and theoretical frame

The application of online and blended learning to adult education is an innovation, alongside that of embedding literacy. Therefore the analytical frame chosen for this case study was to identify the co-evolution of e-learning (Davis, 2008), which was applied to e-learning for adults with needs in literacy, language and/or numeracy (LLN):

This was done using three change models within the overarching ecological perspective on change. The three models were:

  • Five attributes of innovations (Rogers, 2003)
  • The learning/adoption trajectory of the teacher (Sherry & Gibson, 2002)
  • Organizational maturity in relation to e-learning (BECTA, n.d.)

Case study methodology (from Brinkerhoff 2005; Patton 1990)

Interviews with 10 leaders, 6 managers, 6 tutors, 18 students

Observations of 5 programmes plus curriculum and resources including Learning Management System

Five stage analysis including review with polytechnic staff and two reviewers. Application of theoretical models of change

Selection of case and nested cases to inc. e-learning and embedded LLN > 2 years (rare)

programmes observed in the polytechnic micro
Web-based numeracy online distance learning designed for foundation and remedial study

Blended M-learning in a modern apprentices led by an early adopter who worked in partnership with the e-learning coordinator to continuing to innovate with e-learning.

An ESOL resource centre that evolved a range of digital technologies for self access to language learning for ESOL for international students and migrants.

Online units and simulation accessed through the polytechnic online Learning Management Systems to increase numeracy support for foundation and trades students.

An evening class to support adult literacy using ICT including games e.g. “Word Shark”

Programmes observed in the polytechnic (micro)

Nested case studies

polytechnic initiatives macro
Polytechnic Initiatives (macro)
  • Leaders’ vision and spreading the word
  • Learning services coordination & resources
  • Professional and curriculum development
  • E-learning professional development
  • E-maturity and development
  • Maori-related initiatives
characteristics of innovations
Characteristics of Innovations

Relative advantage

appears to be better than other alternatives (economic, convenience, satisfaction, prestige)


consistent with existing values, previous experiences, and needs of the user(s)

Lack of Complexity + Ease of Use

not difficult to understand and easy to use


can be experienced firsthand in a limited way


innovation or its results can be seen by others

Everett Rogers, 2003

Confirmed for ICT (Ferster 2007)

apprentices m learning blend characteristics of innovation
Relative advantage

Tutor: students’ retention; leadership recognized

Employers: reduced responsibility

Apprentices: reduced requirement to write

Complexity lack/Ease

Simple texting of 4 questions / day for learning at work

Collection of pictures & uploading similar to personal activities

E-learning coordinator solved complexity for the tutor.


Existing LMS, quiz and portfolio

Students’ own mobile phone with vouchers for texting; snapping pictures and store in web 2.0


Observe more expert users during block courses and informally


Some opted out of m-learning. Able to trial it before uptake.

The tutor trialled with intensive support from the e-learning coordinator, plus external funding of equipment etc.

Apprentices M-learning blend:Characteristics of innovation

(Rogers 2003)

teacher s learning adoption trajectory recognized by e learning coordinator
Learner stage: Talk about technology – what is it? What are your attitudes to it?

Adopter stage Exposure to new technologies: “Having a bit of a play.” The e-learning coordinator tries to embed the skills in a learning activity, rather than teaching the skills separately.

Leader stage: if someone shows a passion or ability in an aspect of the use of e-learning in teaching and learning he invites that person to come and lead a session in a subsequent iteration of the ICT for course in Certificate in Adult Teaching. He also invites such teachers to lead workshops for academic staff.

Teacher’s learning/adoption trajectory: recognized by e-learning coordinator

(Sherry & Gibson 2002)

maturity of e learning and embedding lln
Maturity of E-learning and Embedding LLN

(polytechnic took part in survey by Marshall 2006)


Questions and comments please

  • Thanks to the polytechnic, its staff and students. Also our colleagues, advisory board, and reviewers Margaret Franken and Marcia Johnson in the New Zealand centre for LLN and Professor Bridget Somekh (Manchester Metropolitan University).
  • This research was funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Education. The views in this presentation do not necessarily represent the views of the New Zealand Ministry of Education.
BECTA (n.d.). ACL e-Learning Positioning Tool. [online] Accessed 15 January 2009

Benseman, J. & Sutton, A. (2007) A synthesis of foundation learning evaluation and research in New Zealand since 2003. **

Brinkerhoff, R.O. (2005). The success case method: A strategic evaluation approach to increasing value and effect of training. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 7(1), 86-101.

Davis, N.E. (2008). How may teacher learning be promoted for educational renewal with IT? In Joke Voogt & Gerald Knezek (Eds.) International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education. Amsterdam: Kluwer Press. pp 507-519

Davis, N.E. & Fletcher, J. (2009, in press). E-learning mixed mode and distance learning for adult literacy, language and numeracy. Final report. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Earle, D. (2009). **

Mellar, H., Kambouri, M., Logan, K., nance, B., & Moriarty, V. (2007) Effectiv e teaching and learning using ICT. London: The National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy.

Marshall, S.J. (2006). Development and evolution of an e-learning maturity model. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Technology Supported Learning and Training (OnlineEduca) pp. 291-294. Berlin, Germany, December.

Moser, C. (1999). A fresh start – improving literacy and numeracy. UK, Department of Education and Science. Available: [15 January 2009].

Patton, M.Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd edition). Newbury Park, CA: Sage publications.

Rogers, E. (2003). The diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York: The Free Press

Satherley, P., Lawes, E., & Sok, S. (2008). The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey: Overview and International Comparisons Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Sherry, L. & Gibson, D. (2002). The path to teacher leadership in educational technology. Current Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 2(2) [online]

Williams, J. & Fletcher, J. (In press). Motivating adult learners to improve their literacy skills: Barriers and motivators. New Zealand Journal of Adult Learning.