First established in mid 2006, the Mahara project started as collaborative venture funded by New Zealand's Tertiary Education Commission's e-learning Collaborative Development Fund (eCDF), involving Massey University, Auckland University of Technology, The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, and Victoria University of Wellington.

Continued development has been made possible by further support from New Zealand’s Ministry of Education and the application of Mellon Foundation funds from the Open Polytechnic’s winning a 2007 Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration.

Meaning 'think' or 'thought' in Te Reo Maori, the name reflects the project collaborator's dedication to creating a user-centred life long learning and development application as well as the belief that technology solutions cannot be developed outside the considerations of pedagogy and policy.

A first guiding principle with the development of the Mahara ePortfolio system is that it is learner centred - a form of Personal Learning Environment. This is in contrast to the more institution-centric Learning Management System (LMS), which at the University of Sunderland is SunSpace.

Mahara is provided freely as open source software (under the GNU General Public License). In brief, this means that you are allowed to copy, use and modify Mahara provided you agree to: 

  • provide the source code to others,
  • not modify or remove the original license and copyrights and
  • apply this same license to any derivative work.