Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Designing For A Viable Online Professional Development Community

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 25, 2001

Robby Weatherley, Marie Jasinsk, Rose Grozdanic LearnScope National Management Team
Stephen Downes Information Architect, University of Alberta


This poster session will give conference delegates a chance to understand the conceptual framework for building the LearnScope Virtual Learning Community and how this framework has been translated into practice. A visual presentation combined with a chance to talk with Stephen Downes and the National LearnScope Team will assist in understanding the concept of building an online community.


Online learning offers a different learning environment to the classroom. However, unless teachers and trainers understand the issues relating to learning and teaching within this environment then are learners really being offered a viable alternative?

The Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), through its professional development initiative called LearnScope, is offering vocational education and training (VET) staff the opportunity to increase their skills and capabilities to be able to offer more flexibility to learners - primarily, through the online environment. This initiative offers VET teams funding for a range of staff development activities and an innovative website.

The website, known as the LearnScope Virtual Learning Community (VLC) was first established in 1998 and now with three years of operation, new advancements in technologies and a greater understanding of the online environment, is currently undergoing a major redesign.

The challenge for the designers of this site is to generate a critical mass of VET people collaborating nationally who will share, learn and interact in order to sustain a viable online VET professional development community.


The redevelopment of this site has taken into account results of surveys from both experienced and inexperienced online users, existing stakeholder groups, people with online expertise and from research. Outcomes of this investigation indicated that the site needs to cater to multiple audiences for multiple purposes. This in itself is a major challenge given our research shows:

  • The broad range of learning needs of VET staff in relation to the online environment.
  • The variety of ways people use websites.
  • The range of skill bases of users (from novices to highly sophisticated users).
  • Limited understanding and application of the pedagogical issues relating to designing for the online learning environment.
  • The VET learning culture is not based on national collaboration.

The analysis of the research provided endless possibilities. The challenge is to build a space which provides opportunities for learners with diverse needs, capabilities and skills. The planning has lead to a conceptual framework which has evolved as a Professional Development Service Model for the LearnScope VLC.


Based on sound theoretical underpinnings of learning communities, learning objects, knowledge management and the learning marketplace , it is anticipated the new VLC will provide opportunities for collaborative learning and at the same time allow the site to be organic and respond to the needs of the users. The sustainability of the virtual learning community depends largely on the human interface to support the site and input from users.

These understandings are translated into a dynamic site which provides a range of activities and processes needed for the diverse client group. These areas include:

Community Hub

This is the primary 'meeting place' of LearnScope participants who are primarily vocational education and training teachers, trainers, support and managerial staff. The intent of the Community Hub is to provide opportunities for various groups of people with a common purpose to interact. Recognising that communities in this environment are likely to exist for a specified period and for a particular purpose, the Community Hub will offer a range of facilitated activities including special interest groups (eg, Horticulture), links to professional networks, special events (eg debates) and news from each of the States and Territories.

Resource Centre

Cognisant of the fact that people entering the site are likely to be undertaking individual or team professional development to assist them becoming more knowledgeable about the flexible learning or online learning environment, the Resource Centre will provide access to annotated resources or links. Each resource will be carefully examined for suitability and categorised into the selected areas. Initially resources will be identified by the national team. However, it is expected that this area will be strongly supported by the VET community who will add their recommended resources.

GO Learn

The e-learning area will provide a range of opportunities for participants to engage in both formal and informal activities. Online courses, educational games, panel sessions, "how to..." and interviews are just some of the activities planned.

Anyone in the VET sector can elect to become a member of this online community and particpants of LearnScope teams will be especialy encouraged. Membership will ensure they are provided with updated news and activities on the site through a Newsletter.

The poster session will enable delegates to learn about the conceptual framework and identify how this has been translated into a practical application through people support, a Community Hub, Resource Centre and an area to GO LEARN.

See you there!


Downes, Stephen (2000) Exploring New Directions in Online Learning, NAWeb Conference 2000, University of New Brunswick [HREF1]

For further information contact:

Robby Weatherley, National Coordinator LearnScope


Robby Weatherley, © 2001. The authors assign to Southern Cross University and other educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Southern Cross University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the conference papers and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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