How the New Zealand government embraced online social learning

By Kayleigh Tanner

The New Zealand government was an early adopter of Totara, with over 80,000 users accessing learning via Totara Learn across 10 government departments. 

The various departments quickly recognized that they were often working to solve the same challenges and coming up with solutions that could benefit their government peers, so they created their own New Zealand Government Totara User Group. This comprises in-person meetings, but also knowledge sharing and collaboration with peers online in the Totara Community’s dedicated government sector space.

Recently, we spotted that Larry Mitipelo from New Zealand’s Ministry of Justice offered to share some of his organization’s resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which attracted a huge amount of interest from other government agencies and even those working in other sectors. This was just one really positive example of the New Zealand government’s use of the Totara Community, so we spoke to Larry and Andrea Lambell about how they’ve managed to successfully move their learning and collaboration online.

New Zealand government beehive building

What are the key benefits of moving government learning online?

With over 4,000 employees spread across 103 sites, the Ministry of Justice’s people need to be able to access timely, up-to-date training on the complex tasks their jobs involve. Under normal circumstances, this would be offered as a variety of face-to-face, blended and online training depending on the situation.

Face-to-face delivery is particularly important when it comes to our technical induction programs where the ability to explore systems and tasks in a learning environment with a facilitator close by is a vital element. At the time of lockdown, there were a number of such technical inductions underway and a larger number planned to take place over the upcoming weeks. The Ministry needed to keep training these people to ensure we had the capacity to keep essential services running and to support frontline workers. 
 
Because of lockdown conditions, we had to think creatively to convert what was face-to-face workshops into materials able to be delivered remotely without losing the effectiveness of the learning. That conversion has taken place early in the initial lockdown period, with the first courses rolled out within weeks. This would not have been possible if our people did not have access to our LMS to view and register for classes.  
 
In addition, we have been able to point our homebound staff to the Wellbeing and COVID-19 e-learning pages on the LMS and recommend they update themselves on the compliance learning. We are loading the LMS with both technical and fun learning to keep people engaged and feeling they are doing something useful. The LMS will allow us to track all activity so we can continue to target new materials where they are most needed.

Finally, with so much pressure on our network, the Totara forums have provided teams with a much-needed social environment where they can share information, swap stories and just stay engaged with each other. It has provided a platform for managers to monitor and support their teams.

What are your favorite things about being part of an online community?

The Government Totara User Group has been really useful to us here at the Ministry of Justice. When we first went live with our LMS, we were able to talk through ideas and learn from the other Totara users. Now that we are more experienced, we are enjoying being able to pass on our own knowledge to other government departments and agencies. 
 
We often use the forums to ask questions when we come across something we are not sure of, and have built some really strong networks that we can call on when we need help. That works both ways of course; we are always happy to offer up our own experiences to anyone who asks, and regularly have other government departments and agencies visit us to see what we are doing.

How has the New Zealand government cultivated such a strong sense of community?

I think there has long been a culture of sharing content purely because we are all reliant on taxpayers’ money. That’s why there is a strong sense that we should be sharing what knowledge and customizations we are developing, so as not to waste resources developing something that already exists. Our Totara User Group has been a great way for us to get together to discuss innovations, ideas, and problems amongst ourselves and that too has led to a much more collaborative approach.

What advice would you give to other organizations who may want to collaborate and share their learning content in these challenging times?

In these challenging times, it’s really worth sharing what you have that can help other groups get off the ground in these new remote circumstances. We were lucky in that we had some guides already created that just needed tweaking, and others that we were able to throw together really quickly. We checked to make sure that nothing on the guides was a privacy risk, or too specific to the Ministry of Justice, and everything that we could, we put out there for others. 
 
We were mindful that many places simply don’t have the resources to create things like that quickly, so wanted to be able to help out. This is such an unusual situation and across the country there is a feeling of giving out whatever help you can, and this was just one way in which we could assist.

Want to get involved?

Join the Totara Community today to connect with your learning peers, access a wealth of free courses and resources and become part of an amazing online community during these difficult times.