The Ontario Forum Working Group, Community Learning Networks / Office of Learning Technologies (CLN/OLT), Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) organized a three-day forum from March 30 to April 1, 2001 to share possible solutions for the issue described below:
Sustainability. It has been called the "s" word for good reason. Not-for-profit groups often lack the skills, and even the motivation, to ensure their projects outlast the grants they receive to keep them going. If Canada is to grow a strong community learning network system, we need to change this situation.
The Computer Systems Group participated in that forum describing our view of these issues and an approach that provided the basis for the Community Learning Space project. You can view the PowerPoint presentation that was presented at the forum. Note that after that presentation was given, a fifth aspect of sustainability, Management, was added to the list of aspects of sustainability.
The following summarizes how the Community Learning Space addresses the primary sustainability issues identified in that presentation.
While a financial cost is required to develop a project it is often much easier to get funding for the project than it is to get funding to sustain the system once it is built. The Community Learning Space approach is to minimize capital and operating costs by providing one central learning space server that can be used for many learning spaces for different organizations. Future enhancements could provide revenue opportunities by not only providing better access to existing data but also new ways to use and present existing data; for example, an organization with limited technical experience could provide a simple web site or advertisements through the learning space for a minimal fee.
Many community organizations do not have access to technical expertise. A Community Learning Space reduces the need for expertise by keeping it simple, supporting established industry standards and distributing the technical load. Maintenance is centralized and data is distributed. Administration tools supported by metadata provide a web interface to site management and client interface customization. The central server provides tools that can provide better access to existing data; they include a notification server, agent technology, geo-referencing to map locations and indexing
For a community-based learning space to be sustainable, the available information should be local content that is maintained by the community. The Community Learning Space approach keeps the content in the hands of the creators (owners) and provides tools to present the content and to ensure that it is accurate and up-to-date. To encourage users to return, the server configuration aims to be available 24x7.
To help develop expertise the Community Learning Space provides online learning through the Learning Academy. The content is created and/or moderated by experts and includes a shared knowledge area and best practices information.
To sustain a community information space, each organization's management must support participation. The Community Learning Space approach has been to build partnerships and encourage participation within the organization. Partnerships not only provide input regarding data availability and requirements and feedback during prototyping but they also involve the organization in developing the technology for a learning space. Each learning space can be customized to their requirements and provides added value.
As more partners are added and the learning spaces grow the value to the community should also grow.