Mental health professional online development (MHPOD): Pilot testing of an online training package for Australian specialist mental health services


  • Angela Nicholas The University of Melbourne
  • Susan Day The University of Melbourne
  • Jane Pirkis The University of Melbourne
  • Carol Ann Harvey The University of Melbourne



learning, mental health, nurses, occupational therapy, online, professional education, psychologists, psychiatrist, social workers


Introduction: Australia’s National Practice Standards for the Mental Health Workforce (“The Standards”) outline the values, attitudes, knowledge and skills required to work in Australian mental health services. Mental health professionals are encouraged to meet these standards within 2 years of commencing practice. Mental health professional online development (MHPOD) is a multidisciplinary, self-directed, online learning resource focused on increasing the knowledge, skills and confidence of professionals across Australia related to The Standards. This paper outlines the evaluation of the MHPOD pilot, which aimed to identify changes in self-rated knowledge, skills and confidence as a result of using MHPOD, and actions to improve implementation of MHPOD nationally.

Methods: Eleven Australian specialist mental health services engaged on-site project teams to assist 392 learners to complete 10 MHPOD topics. At three time points (baseline, topic completion, follow-up), learners completed surveys regarding completion of topics, barriers and facilitators to completion and before- and after-completion levels of perceived knowledge, skills and confidence. Statistical analyses included matched samples t-tests and comparisons of confidence intervals related to mean level of knowledge at the three survey points.

Results: Learners who completed post-completion surveys reported significant increases in self-rated knowledge, skills and confidence related to The Standards following MHPOD completion. Lack of organisational support, no time release and technological difficulties contributed to greater difficulties with completion. 

Discussion: The evaluation results illustrate self-directed online learning can be a useful multidisciplinary educational tool when a standardised body of knowledge is required. The identified barriers to completion illustrate that instrumental organisational support is essential to completion of such professional development. 


Childs, S., Blenkinsopp, E., Hall, A., & Walton, G. (2005). Effective e-learning for health professionals and students—barriers and their solutions. A review of the literature—findings from the HeXL project. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 22(suppl 2), 20–32. Retrieved from doi/10.1111/j.1470-3327.2005.00614.x/full

Damschroder, L., Aron, D., Keith, R., Kirsh, S., Alexander, J., & Lowery, J. (2009). Fostering implementation of health services research findings into practice: A consolidated framework for advancing implementation science. Implementation Science, 4, 50. doi:10.1186/1748-5908-4-50

Davis, D. (2006). Accuracy of physician self-assessment compared with observed measures of competence: A systematic review. JAMA, 296(9), 1094–1102. doi:10.1001/jama.296.9.1094

Hill, J. (2002). Overcoming obstacles and creating connections: Community building in web-based learning environments. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 14(1), 67–86. Retrieved from BF02940951

Jorm, A. F., Kitchener, B. A., Fischer, J. A., & Cvetkovski, S. (2010). Mental health first aid training by e-learning: A randomized controlled trial. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44(12), 1072–1081. doi:10.3109/00048674.2010.516426

Lee, Y., & Choi, J. (2011). A review of online course dropout research: Implications for practice and future research. Educational Technology Research and Development, 59, 593–618. doi:10.1007/s11423-010-9177-y

Mental Health and Drugs Division—Department of Human Services. (2009). Request for quotation: Evaluation of mental health professional online development project. Victoria, Australia: Department of Human Services.

Mental Health Workforce Advisory Committee. (2011). National mental health workforce strategy. Victoria, Australia: Victorian Government Department of Health.

National Mental Health Education and Training Advisory Group. (2002). National practice standards for the mental health workforce. Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.

Reupert, A., Foster, K., Mayberry, D., & Fudge, E. (2001). "Keeping families and children in mind": An evaluation of web-based workforce resources. Child and Family Social Work, 16, 192–200. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2010.00731.x

Sears, K., Godfrey, C., Luctkar-Flude, M., Ginsburg, L., Tregunno, D., & Ross- White, A. (2014). Measuring competence in healthcare learners and healthcare professionals by comparing self-assessment with objective structured clinical examinations: A systematic review. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews & Implementation Report, 12, 221–272. doi:10.11124/jbisrir-2014-1605

Song, L., Singleton, E., Hill, J., & Koh, M. (2004). Improving online learning: Student perceptions of useful and challenging characteristics. The Internet and Higher Education, 7, 59–70. Retrieved from science/article/pii/S1096751603000885




How to Cite

Nicholas, A., Day, S., Pirkis, J., & Harvey, C. A. (2016). Mental health professional online development (MHPOD): Pilot testing of an online training package for Australian specialist mental health services. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-Professional Journal, 17(2), 4–19.