Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Who are my learners?

The Bachelor of Midwifery degree programme offered at Otago Polytechnic is a four year degree compressed into three years made possible by lengthening the academic year to 45 weeks. The programme has been jointly developed with CPIT and is delivered in a blended mode. This allows students from a wide geographical area to access the course. The students, by location are placed in a satellite group where they meet with their ‘Student Practice Facilitator’ weekly for face to face sessions. They engage with online course material at home, gain practical experience in maternity facilities and with midwives in their local area and travel to either Dunedin (SI students) or Wellington (NI students) for block courses twice a year.

On successful completion of their Bachelor of Midwifery degree and meeting the Midwifery Council of New Zealand’s requirements, students can sit the national exam which on passing will give them the opportunity to register as a midwife and gain an Annual Practicing Certificate.

Midwives in New Zealand are the primary providers of the maternity service, with over 80% of women registering with a midwife as their Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) and a midwife being present at every birth. Each midwife provides this care on her own responsibility and is required to uphold high professional standards.

Given the responsibilities of the profession a robust and rigorous education system is needed to prepare women to become midwives. While the motivations to study midwifery are varied, a common theme is the description of being ‘drawn’ to it by their life’s experiences, viewing child bearing as a pivotal event that they feel ‘passionate’ about.

Learner Context.

The age range of students entering the midwifery degree this year was 17-57 from diverse socio economic and educational backgrounds. Academic requirements to enter the degree are 42 NCEA credits at level 3 (including biology and or chemistry and an english rich subject). Many potential applicants do not meet this requirement, so there is an alternative route of completing a bridging programme to gain a Certificate in Health. It is during this programme that students can take an Introduction to Midwifery paper, the course I would like to re-design.

Given the wide and diverse background of the students the course must be able to provide varied options for learning to meet differing learning styles, behaviourist, cognitive and constructionist. For some learning at a tertiary level will be completely new for others it may be some time since they have engaged in formal education, some may be fresh from school. Some may come with insecurities around their own ability or be intimidated at the prospect of considering a degree programme. Some may be so sure of their conviction to be a midwife it could be blinding their ability to see the realities of the profession or programme.

The learners may study the course by distance and thus delivery will be blended. Blended learning may be new to some learners. They will need access to a computer and broadband, plus will need to speak English to an appropriate level to complete the course.

Institutional Values and Professional Expectations.

To summarise some of the values held in Otago Polytechnic’s strategic vision for their learners is that through their education are work ready, capable practitioners who have come from all backgrounds and been exposed to experiential learning at all levels to enable them to partner with their communities in a socially responsible and sustainable manner (Otago Polytechnic, 2011).

These values sit nicely alongside the midwifery profession’s framework, which is described in the Midwife Handbook for Practice and involves such words as dynamic, holistic, collaborative, flexible, creative, empowering and supportive (NZCOM, 2008).

To reach such lofty goals and given the requirement of the Midwifery Council that midwifery students complete their degree in under five years, students must be able to accurately gauge their suitability to the profession as well as their ability to complete the course.

Given that midwifery in nature is dynamic and diverse it is fitting that students of midwifery also come from a range of backgrounds. Such diversity is seen to positively enhance the profession. To encourage diversity into midwifery education it is vital that an alternative route into the programme is offered, hence the development of a dynamic Introduction to Midwifery course.

The midwifery workforce has an obligation to provide an equitable service to all women in New Zealand, irrespective of location and socio economic status. Historically it has sometimes been difficult to attract midwives into some, particularly rural, areas. Offering midwifery education in a blended format goes some way to addressing this problem with the premise that if women can train to be midwives in the area which they already live then they are more likely to stay in that area to provide a midwifery service and thus address shortfalls in recruitment and retention. As this is currently supported in the redesign of the Bachelor of Midwifery programme to a blended model it is equally important that any Introduction to Midwifery be accessible to women irrespective of their location and would be suited to being delivered in a similar style to the degree to expose students to this style of learning.


New Zealand College of Midwives (Inc). (2008). Midwives handbook for practice. Christchurch,  New Zealand.

Otago Polytechnic. (2011). Strategic Directions 2011-13. Retrieved from Vision

1 comment:

  1. Emma this is a fabulous description about your learners. As you say diversity is a necessity in the midwifery profession, and you have clearly explained the links between the types of learners you are providing for, graduate capabilities and what is needed in the profession.

    Other areas that would be good to explore are the range of computing and digital information skills that the students actually have when beginning study. How is this supported?

    You mention geographical factors but what about socio-economic implications for access to the learning environment, since mainly women study the course? Hint: timing, ability to manage family and work responsibilities, purchase the necessary equipment, whanau support etc.?

    All these questions are connected to the need for providing optimal access to the learning environment. Some such as computing skills can be taken for granted, but if learners have very poor skills in this area, this can become an insurmountable barrier.