OnlinePMCourses is dedicated to bringing you some of the very best project management learning materials. So, this raises the obvious question: how can you get the best from your project management learning? In this article, we will look at different approaches. But don’t think of them as a set of options. They will work best when you can combine as many of them as possible.
Most of us have little or no formal learning since we were at school. And there, few of us were taught ‘how’ to learn. We were just given the opportunities. Some love it, and succeed. While others find learning a stretch.
As an adult, something like a structured project management course is a big investment of your time. So you need to make good use of it.
If you are considering learning about project management, then shouldn’t you be thinking about how you can get the best from that project management learning?
This article is the fourth in a series. We’ve already answered the first three questions you should be asking, before you start your formal project management learning:
Are you Ready for a Project Management Course?
Please do read this article, because the central idea will feature in this article too. It shows how a good course will support your project management learning by connecting up ideas, and we’ll come back to that below.
Read the article.
Is an Online Training Course Better than Live Training?
Both have their strengths, but this article makes the case for online project management learning. There are ten good reasons to consider it, and all of them are consistent with the advice I’ll give you below.
Read the article.
How Can I Find the Best Project Management Course?
Getting the right course is the first step in effective project management learning. So, in this article, you will learn the four factors to evaluate when you want to choose the best project management course for you.
Read the article.
Now, you need to know how to get the best from your project management learning…
I have spent a large part of my life in formal education, and all of it pursuing informal learning. I have also delivered project management training for nearly twenty years. In all that time, I have learned a lot about how learning works, and I have ten principles that will help you get the best from your project management learning.Ten principles to get the best from #project management learning. Click To Tweet
We’ll work through them, one at a time.
The first principle is simple. If you get your pacing right, you will learn more effectively. It can be tempting, when you first get access to an online project management course to try and consume it all in one go, or a few big sittings. After all, live training is usually scheduled into one, two, or three day blocks. But one advantage of online training is that you can spread out your learning. And the fact is that sleep is a vital part of our learning process. So sleeping between sessions will hep you consolidate your project management learning.
Each of our core project management courses has a section called ‘How to Take this Course’. In it is a ‘Course Study Planner’ which will help you figure out how to divide up your course depending on how much time you want to allocate to it each week.
Live learning works better in bigger blocks, because a trainer can dictate the rhythm and pacing of their class. They will build in breaks, and changes of activity. Online learning works best in smaller chunks which then serve as modules you can come back to as a refresher, when you need them.
Whichever approach you take, however, pauses are a vital part of your learning. If there is no ‘live’ trainer to impose them; you must discipline yourself to pause before moving on from one module to the next. In the next three sections, we will look at three valuable things you can do in those pauses to consolidate your learning.
Active learning involves processing the information that would otherwise be coming to you passively. Listening, reading, and watching are passive learning processes. As a result, they can only lead to limited long-term memory of the content. When you add in an active process, you enhance the degree of your learning. This gives you deeper understanding, and better retention. All of the principles from here on are active learning processes.
And the first, and simplest of these is note-taking. At its simplest, this is just highlighting the part of of your course that mean the most to you. They will be, for example:
If you are reading, or using a workbook, this can be as easy as underlining, or using a highlighter pen. I often go a step further and add a sticky note to a book, and write a brief note, or repeat a key point on it. But without a doubt, full note-taking will assist long term learning. It will:
We each have our preferred way of making notes. But, in general, the more you can mix in words, images, and diagrams, the richer your notes will be. And richer notes will enhance your project management learning.
A powerful way to boost understanding and retention of any content is anticipating and evaluating. This works whether you are reading, viewing videos, or attending a live class. At the end of each session, try to figure out what will come next. Ask yourself what are the next obvious questions and what answers you may expect.
Then, after the next section, evaluate what you have read, seen, heard, or experienced. To what extent was your anticipation correct? What were the surprises, and what did you learn from them. Funnily enough, research seems to suggest that when you anticipate incorrectly, you are more likely to remember what you learn subsequently! Frustrated expectations seem to lead to stronger memories.
In our courses, there are major sections and modules within them. At the start of a section, you will find an introduction. Read this, and then look down the list of modules. Ask yourself:
Then, as you start each module, again ask yourself what you expect it to contain. And what do you think you will learn from it?
The balancing activity is to pause at the end of each module and each section of your learning. Review what you have learned and start to assess it critically. Reflect on what were the valuable nuggets of information and how you can apply them. My three favourite review and reflection questions, to start your process off, are:
Use your answers to these questions to shape your reflection. And then make your notes accordingly. Asking good questions and following your curiosity will help you learn easily and naturally.
This principle and the next one take us to the heart of how we learn. We learn when we start to connect up ideas. In particular, you learn when you have a moment of insight.
These insights start when you make connections between two things that before seemed un-related. Sometimes, the trainer, video, or writing will help you connect two things you already knew, so you can see a bigger patter. At others, it will introduce something new to you. You will understand it and learn it properly, when you connect it to something else that you already know. The rarest form of connection is when your learning introduces you to two new things, and you consolidate your learning when you realise how these two things link to each other.
These moments of insight come in two forms. Let’s look at them…
The first form of insight is when you are able to draw a distinction between two things you thought were the same: like deadlines and milestones, different sorts of network charts, or LRCs and RACI charts. One definition of depth of knowledge and understanding is the extent to which you can draw ever finer distinctions. An experienced skier can recognize different forms of snow, which to someone who has lived their whole life in the tropics would all seem just to be ‘snow’. A meteorologist can distinguish many different forms of cloud, and an indigenous herbalist can spot which of several almost identical plants are therapeutic; and which are poisons. And, of course, leaders can distinguish between the talents of their people.
The second form of insight comes when we start to understand how the relationships between two or more things work. For example, you may learn how Gantt Charts relate to Network Diagrams, and how each of these relates to your Work Breakdown Structure. Another form of relationship is between concept. For example, how do roles models of leadership relate to styles models? And how do these relate to traits models?
Use your reflection time to figure out distinctions and relationships. This is one of the reasons why I like to use mind-maps for note-taking. Not only do they give you the combined benefit of words, images, and shapes. But they also place a strong emphasis on the relationships between things. Lines join things that relate, whilst labels describe the individuality that makes things distinct.
Okay, so now you are starting to understand the project management ideas you are learning. So what comes next is to put them into practice. The first step of this is to think about how they apply to your own experience and the projects you have to deal with. You need to put them into your own context.
The most widely used model of learning is David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle.
You should be able to easily see the relationship with the familiar Plan – Do – Review cycle. Or, in project management terms, the Plan – Implement – Monitor – Control Cycle. Relationships and Distinctions.
To maximize the benefit of your project management learning, you need to experience it, reflect on it, understand the connections and distinctions, and then try it out for yourself. This will give you the next tier of experience. You need this to further refine your understanding, and deepen your learning.
One of the very best ways to make your project management learning stick is to share it with others. This is the process of figuring out how to explain new ideas, of hearing yourself speak those ideas and then, responding to questions. It is phenomenally powerful. Here is a marvellous quote from richard Bach, which I have found to be true:
Here is one of the biggest benefits of online project management training, compared to live training. When you have one opportunity to learn something important, there is an inevitable anxiety that you need to remember everything that is important. In a good project management course, there’s a lot of that. Your anxiety gets in the way of your learning, and at the end of the course, already some valuable content is slipping away.
With an online course, you can always go back to any module you want, when you need it, as often as you like. No anxiety. And therefore the very most important stuff is more likely to stick.
But the big benefit is in the repetition. The more you go back to something and reflect anew on it, the deeper your understanding will become, and the more solid your memory. If you do live training, then go back to your course notes. Because huge amounts of evidence support the conclusion that repetition and rehearsal are vital for mastery.
Finally, the last stage in deep project management learning is to take your knowledge and make it your own. take the tools you learn, and adapt them for yourself. Review the processes and invent new tools. Revise those processes to work better for you.
In our free report, ‘The Nine Steps of a Project Management Career’, we suggest that at Expert level, you will be developing your own methodology and techniques. But start early, by adapting what you learn. this will compel you to make finer distinctions so that you can understand the needs of your particular context, and then understand the relationships that drive the optimum solutions for you.
Please do add your thoughts on which of these ideas have worked for you in the past, and what other suggestions you have. Use the comments below, and we will respond to everything you write.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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