Can You Learn Project Management Skills Effectively Online?

Can You Learn Project Management Skills Effectively Online?
Summary: In the highly digital world we’re immersed in, people still doubt the ability of online learning to teach subjects that are traditionally ‘hands on’. Project management is an example of this. So, here, I tackle the issue straight on asking if you can learn effective project management skills online.

Project Management Skills: Can You Learn Them Effectively Online?

Have you ever come across someone who you thought of as a natural project manager? They just seem to have the knack for it! The kind of person who sees Gantt charts in their sleep. I’m sure you know the kind of person I’m talking about: A natural. That person may have been captain of the school team or was the head of the prom committee at school and found a niche for managing people and projects which has been honed over the years to develop into what seems to outsiders to be a ‘natural’ talent. For those of us who came to project management later in life, or who did not have the same opportunities to develop any latent project management skills we might have nestling in our cognitive toolkits, where do we turn to learn?

Places To Learn Project Management Skills Online

Personally I find YouTube or Google a very useful asset for learning new skills. I’ve learnt quite a few things from blogs, tutorials, and other bits and bobs I’ve found online. The internet is an invaluable resource, for example, when it comes to cooking or I’ve learnt to play the theme tune to Harry Potter on the Ukulele from video tutorials, not to mention searching for top tips of how to get a baby to sleep at 3am (still looking for those magic gems by the way).

Cooking and playing the Ukulele, you could argue are solitary hobbies and perfect topics for learning with my laptop, by myself; solitary activities that don’t require another person. What about professional skills, skills that require me to practice on people and projects.

How Do I Develop Those People And Project Skills?

If we break it down, what does project management really mean? It involves project plans,  balancing resources, and managing budgets, but if we separate out the technical skills for a moment, it also means critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and decision making. A great project manager is able to bring together a delicate assortment of technical and soft skills. To learn effective project management skills you need to be able to train on both.

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If you’re a manager of a team or business, it’s quite risky to let a newbie loose on your team and your high-profile clients to practice and learn the skills required. And it’s probably not cost-effective to train everyone up in the organisation on PRINCE2 or Agile and send them all on expensive courses. However, having everyone on your team understand the principles of project management would be a step change in your efficiency and get everyone talking the same language – that is where online learning comes in and especially where a game-based approach can excel.

Learning Project Management Skills Online

Practice On A Virtual Project With A Virtual Team

What do we need most when we are learning? Practice is arguably the most important element of the learning process. The ability to explore and experiment with different approaches and different consequences produces a more well-rounded depth of knowledge. If you were to do this in the real world, it would take you years of practice.

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.
― Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

Mistakes Are Valuable, Not Costly

Learning through mistakes is one of the most powerful forms of learning. It drives our motivation to be better, to improve and to become a master of that skill.  After all what’s the worst that can happen in an online simulation? You just hit the restart button and try again.

“You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” ― Richard Branson

Learning That Works In The Way Your Brain Does

When it comes to classroom courses we all know how laborious they can be. By lunchtime you are eager to escape for a change of pace and a break from the delivery of content, your brain literally can’t take any more. If you’re delivering a course you come to the end of your lecture to deliver your ‘aha’ moment and you’re met with blank stares and fidgety people looking at the clock.

Serious games work in a different way to more traditional approaches, they are designed to maximize user engagement by avoiding cognitive load. In essence, you are exposed to new skills gradually through the game play and are encouraged to master those skills before you move onto new ones. Therefore you are focused on a smaller subset of skills at any one time rather than continually being exposed to new information.

“What is design? It’s where you stand with a foot in two worlds —the world of technology and the world of people and human purposes— and you try to bring the two together.” – Mitchell Kapor

Quality Across The Board

According to Training Industry, in 2015 the global training market was estimated to be worth approximately $355.6 Billion. A staggering number. To deliver that training, of course you need trainers, and a recent Bersin survey  showed an average ratio of 7.1 trainers to 1000 staff. It doesn’t take a maths genius to work out, globally, that would equate to a lot of trainers! I’m sure we have all experienced both ends of the spectrum when it comes to training quality – engaging enigmatic trainers all the way through to boring, monotone, works as well as a sedative trainers, the range in quality is just as staggering as the global training spend. If your online learning is just your PowerPoint deck from the classroom course with a few minor tweaks, you need to think again – it’s very much a false economy.

What if you could take your best trainer, the one who always gets results and give everyone in your organization that same experience? That’s what you can do with online learning, and that is what we do with the serious games we produce. We always look for the best, most engaging trainer and weave their nuances, their stories, their techniques into the narratives we produce.

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and –snap– the job’s a game!” – Mary Poppins, gamification pioneer.

Online Learning Is Cost-Effective

We hear it time and again that online learning is cost effective, and by now I think we know that online delivery is bound to have a lower price point to classroom training. However what I’d like to explore here is the cost of not training, of not investing in your workforce. Shift eLearning reported that on average organisations with 100-500 employees only receive 6 minutes of training every 6 months and that 74% or workers felt that they were not reaching their full potential. These figures are astounding given the size and scope of the global training market that was reported by Training Industry above. It seems, despite the availability of training, companies are not investing in the right solutions for the right employees. In other words businesses are not getting their monies worth.

We could ponder this point for a while but I would put money on it partly being related to the change in the demographics of the workforce, with the influx of millennials; a less static, movable workforce for whom a job for life is just ancient history. Online learning fits their ethos, it fits their needs well. In world where we can search Google for pretty much anything, corporate Learning and Development needs to catch up. The way I see it, moving more of your training to effective online learning techniques is a way of future proofing the success of your organisation.

“If you think education is expensive, try estimating the cost of ignorance.” Howard Gardner

So, yes, you can learn project management skills effectively online.

Online learning, especially serious games, allow us to practice safely and fail as many times as we need to in order to learn the valuable lessons. Online learning can be enjoyable and engaging and if designed well appeals to the natural way in which our brains work in cost effective way. What more could you want?