Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Learning Regions in New Zealand: The Role of ICT

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Learning Regions in New Zealand: The Role of ICT

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

A "Learning Region" is characterised by the existence of high quality linkages between different regional stakeholders such as: local businesses; community groups; and education providers. This sharing of information leads to innovation and economic success. Within a regional area interaction and exchange of information is easier and cheaper than in a national or international context. The success of an individual organisation is directly related to the quality of information available locally. Information technology can be an important tool in improving the flow of knowledge between the stakeholders within a region. This paper examines the potential for information and communication technologies to enhance the efforts of regions in New Zealand to achieve sustainable economic success, by improving the flows of knowledge, both within the region itself, and between the region and the outside world.

Keywords: Learning Region; New Zealand; commerce; culture; learning; information flow.

INTRODUCTION

Promoting the development of a knowledge society is a tactic increasingly adopted by governments who want to encourage economic development at the local, regional and national levels. Research has shown that regions in particular, are growing in importance as centres of innovation, and this has led several countries, notably those in Europe, to develop strategies to encourage knowledge sharing at a regional level with the aim of establishing "Learning Regions". There is no single definition of a learning region; however a common strand in the literature is that such regions have an explicit commitment to placing innovation and learning at the core of development (1999). A learning region would generally consist of a network of interfirm relationships, supported by social capital and trust, and kept dynamic by a continuous process of interactive learning. The idea of a learning region has developed out of previous research on "Regional Systems of Innovation" (Cooke & Morgan, 1998) which noted the growing importance of the region as a nexus of learning. Related concepts are those of the "innovative milieu", "new industrial district" and "local productive system" (Doloreux & Parto, 2004).

Little is known about the role of information and communications technology (ICT) in enhancing learning regions. The presence of "institutional thickness" has been shown to be an important indicator of regional success (Amin & Thrift, 1994). This can be identified by lively interactions between firms, business associations, development agencies, innovation centres, unions and community groups. The use of ICT could encourage "digital institutional thickness" by providing technology that improves the quality of information flows between stakeholders in a regional setting. Of particular interest is to consider how these information flows can contribute to organisational learning and innovation. How does the changing balance of intra and extra-regional networking affect the organisations operating within a particular area?

This paper will discuss the growing importance of knowledge sharing at the regional level, and expand on the concept of the learning region. The different forms a learning region can take are explored, and the potential contribution that ICT could make to regional learning is discussed. The paper finishes by considering what lessons New Zealand can take from the learning region concept.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE

The term region generally defines a broad geographical area distinguished by similar features. A region generally refers to sub units within a country, broadly equivalent to the state level in Australia and the United States, or a county in England. It should be noted that a region can either sub-divide a country or cut across national boundaries, for example the Oresund region is in two countries Sweden and Denmark, and the Great Lakes is in both Canada and the USA. …

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