Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Development of the Learning Exchange School Clusters in New Zealand: An Actor Network Theory and Complexity Theory analysis

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Version 2 2023-09-22, 01:20
Version 1 2021-11-22, 12:03
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:20 authored by Ali, Arif

Students and teachers from secondary schools located in remote areas are faced with barriers to educational access not seen in denser population areas. Students have the problem of accessing teachers of specialised subjects and the curriculum options their urban counterparts enjoy. In turn, their teachers have limited opportunities for professional learning and development. Some of the inhibiting factors include small numbers of students and staff, and schools’ inability to offer a wide range of curricula, due to geographical challenges and other barriers. To overcome the barriers, some groups of schools in New Zealand initiated and self-organised a programme known as the Learning Exchange, which is an online collaborative, course-sharing programme. To participate in the programme, a number of the neighbouring schools form a regional virtual cluster and offer online classes to teach each other’s students via video-conference and other ICT settings. Similarly, teachers form online groups to collaborate with and learn from other teachers. The basic strategy behind the programme is to maximise their existing educational resources and thus overcome the barriers.  Since the programme’s inception in 2001-02, around 20 school clusters have been initiated; however as of 2016, only eight of the clusters have developed and become self-sustainable. Others struggled to continue their participation in the programme and have disappeared. Therefore, achieving self-sustainable development remains a challenge for the clusters. This research aimed to address the problem by having three main research questions: How was the Learning Exchange developed? How was the Learning Exchange utilised by some clusters in New Zealand? What were the facilitating and inhibiting factors in the development of self-sustainable school clusters?  This study adopted a qualitative research methodology within an interpretive research paradigm and a case research method. Four school clusters were selected based on a number of criteria. Each of the clusters served as the logical unit of analysis. In-depth interviews were used as the technique for data collection from individuals. Documents and other artefacts were also collected and analysed. Actor-Network Theory (ANT) was used as a theoretical lens for describing and explaining the four separate case findings. In particular, the four phases of Translation from ANT were adopted to describe the findings.  The four case findings, including the inhibiting and facilitating factors, were compared. As a result, a number of key features were concluded as the required conditions or principles for the development of self-sustaining clusters. To extend the research discussion, a complementary lens of Complexity Theory was utilised and some key principles of complex adaptive systems were used in assessing the research outcome and thus establishing further credibility of the ANT-based research findings.  The findings from this research make practical contributions by facilitating a better understanding of the conditions required for the self-sustainability of the Learning Exchange clusters. The lessons drawn from this research are valuable for researchers and practitioners of virtual collaborations operating in a similar context. The main theoretical contribution is the combined use of the ANT and Complexity Theory lenses. The combined lenses facilitated the research to develop further insights with a deep level of conceptualisation and to improve the existing understanding regarding the Learning Exchange clusters’ development and self-sustainability.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-NC 4.0

Degree Discipline

Information Systems

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Information Management


Yoong, Pak; Sylvester, Allan