Training project management online

Having been training project management skills face-to-face for some time, through the Fundamentals of Project Management course I have been doing this training in a purely online context of late (see this page for details)

Obviously face to face course provision is quite different from online, but each has its advantages. The advantages of online training include the facts that people can participate at a time convenient for them; there is typically more time for people to work on things (developing ideas, creating things, etc); the discussions can be much more in depth (though I should stress “can” rather than “will”); and there is a greater opportunity for reflection and skill building.

So, attempting to make use of that the course mentioned above takes 6 weeks and leads participants through all of the fundamental skills mentioned in the previous post. This involves input, discussion (both synchronous and asynchronous – fancy words for “at the same time” and “not”), tasks, and various project management resources.

This is a sort of shrunken version of what part of the course looks like (Moodle by the way is a great tool for delivering courses.  As someone who does a lot of online training and in different “venues”, I can thoroughly recommend Moodle, and thoroughly unrecommend the awful “Blackboard”)

SLA FPM Moodle

Course image for the "Fundamentals of Project Management" course run by Sue Leather Associates

To give an example of some of the input here is a short introductory powerpoint show from the course (the other big advantage of online learning is that you can hear me deliver a slide show but you don’t have to actually see my face. Result!)

[This was supposed to be embedded but wordpress isn’t cooperating]

Using the wikis available on Moodle, participants build up, over the period of the course, a fully designed project including all of the aspects we have discussed (such as objectives, stakeholder analysis, risk assessment, tasks, outputs and outcomes and a full monitoring and evaluation plan). As with anything, the more one does something the more one learns and makes something even better, but I would say that the course at the moment is proving to be extremely successful at helping people to get where they want to go in learning how to design and manage projects. So far we’ve had over 50 students taking the course, from all over the world.

So, if this piques your interest, you can attend my session at IATEFL on Tuesday 19th April or even sign up for a course! (Go to www.sueleatherassociates.com for more details and to register). Here endeth the brief self-promotion 🙂

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Project Management: What you need to be able to do

Having established a case for project management as a general skill (I like to think I have made that case), what exactly are the skills that a project manager (or indeed anyone involved in projects) needs to have, and what do you need to be able to do?

Basically you need to be good at planning, good at preparing for as many eventualities as you can think of, and good at being flexible and responding to the eventualities you haven’t thought of.  Here’s where I’m going to draw an analogy with teaching.

Managament model

"The Five essential Stages of Management Control" Mullins L.J. Management and Organisational Behaviour London 1993

This picture shows a classic management model, which can illustrate this I think. The manager plans, setting objectives and targets. From these plans we establish standards of performance, what we are expecting to see, and then monitor the actual performance.  The difference between the actual performance and the established standards is a form of feedback, which we then use to make decisions over what needs to be adjusted.  This might mean making adjustments in the actual performance – working out ways to do things more efficiently or effectively for example; it might mean making adjustments in the standards themselves – if what you are learning is that the standards are too high or too low, say; or might even mean adjusting the original objectives and targets.

As language teachers we tend to do the same – we plan courses and then lessons, we set standards of performance that we expect to see/hear from the students, and then we monitor the actual performance. As a result we can adjust what we are doing in the classroom, so as to attempt to bring the actual performance closer to our expectations; or we can adjust the standards themselves, realising perhaps that we are being unreasonable in our expectations, or that the students are completely comfortable with the target language and so we can move on, and so on; or we can adjust the course itself, inserting extra lessons, or recycling work to make sure it is taken on board or even change the entire curriculum.

Project management is basically management writ small. That is, it’s a finite version of management – managing something (big or small) which has a clear end point and a specific budget and (usually) one specific aim.  So, in fact the skills you need for project management are more or less exactly the same as those you would need for management (writ large).  Which makes project management not only useful in it’s own right but actually a very useful way of acquiring many of the skills needed for management in general.

In creating a project you are taking a need or a problem, translating that into a future desired state of affairs, turning that into a set of clear and specific objectives, and eventually reducing that to a set of tasks. You’re thinking about who your stakeholders are, how to communicate with them and you’re also thinking about risks, obstacles and constraints (and how to overcome them). And of course you are thinking about how you will monitor and evaluate the work on the project, and keep track of things, as well as making contingency plans. You are budgeting, and team building, and scheduling, and reflecting, and assessing, and collating and storing knowledge.

To give an example of the kinds of topics that we cover on one purely online course I teach, called “Fundamentals of Project Management” you can take a look at this PDF file which outlines the course.  This, as it says on the tin, is very much the fundamentals of the subject. There are obviously areas in which one can much deeper (we don’t cover budgeting in much depth on that course for example).

So those are the skills and abilities which a project management course needs to be able to offer.  Tomorrow I’ll conclude this mini-series with the ways in which I have tried to adapt face to face training in project management to online training (as in the course linked to above).

 

Natural disasters and the roving trainer

After  a fair amount of consideration, I’ve decided that I’d like to use this space not only to talk about management issues but also to talk a little about some of the issues that face freelance trainers/consultants etc in our field. The former is what I teach and write about, the latter is what I live on a daily basis, I suppose. I don’t think these things are unconnected, but  suspect that they are very much connected for me, but perhaps less so for anyone reading this. Anyway, if you think I’m making a mistake in combining the two, please let me know in the comments below.

Last year I found myself trapped in the UK after a conference, when Eyjafjallajökull erupted sending ash all over Europe and grounding flights. As I sat there in Heathrow airport and latterly in various UK locations wishing I was at home with my family, I pondered how much I’d come to rely on air travel.  It became clear to me that this was not only a lot, but also that it was probably unsustainable (obviously from an environmental perspective all these airmiles are unsustainable, but also from a work/life perspective I began to conclude that it was so as well).  As I read the stories in the papers about the effects on various people of the enforced airspace shutdown, I began to wonder whether the world would be changing in the future, and we’d stop flying everywhere.  In fact the conference I’d just attended (IATEFL as it happens), was very wired and people had been able to participate in it from all over the world.  I wouldn’t have liked to have missed it, but in theory I could have “been there” from home. More and more meetings are taking place online, and I have been teaching ELT management online for ten years now in various formats (and on various platforms). Meeting people face to face is extremely useful, and possibly at times indispensable. But while it used to be the only option, increasingly it isn’t.

So, I mused on this possibility, and the idea that I might be able to cut down a lot on my travel, while I twiddled my thumbs in the UK and then as I took the long train ride to Berlin for my next engagement at the EAQUALS conference.  Would it be that this unpronounceable volcano would finally provide the catalyst for major change in our (and my) working practices?

9 months down the line, and it would seem that it hasn’t really. I spent much of the latter half of last year away from home in various locations, all of which trips involved face to face training, and therefore seemed sort of indispensable (though in the same period I did also start working on a purely online course).  This morning though, I was reminded that natural disasters like the volcano that had disrupted my flight home from IATEFL didn’t necessarily confine their effects to travel and face-to-face work.  One of the IDLTM centres that I work is the Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education at the University of Queensland. In Brisbane. This morning I dragged myself from bed especially early to “meet” my class of students who are all based in various locations around Australia and New Zealand. At 6am I log on to find that the servers are down.  Hardly surprising perhaps given the fact that the UQ campus is by the river.  The Brisbane river which is currently rising very fast and swamping the city.  With many people I know in Brisbane forced to evacuate their homes and take refuge where they can, me not being able to have a class at the scheduled time was hardly a concern, but it did serve to remind me that natural disasters can also affect us even in the 21st Century with our distance this and our online that.  Food for thought I guess while I watch the waters rise from half way round the world, seeing pictures of the building in which I stayed as recently as November which now has water lapping at its doors, receiving emails from friends, colleagues and students who are affected by the rising waters.

And, I find that my friend and colleague, and flat-mate from that last course, Ron White, has already commented on his reactions to the pictures and the stream of news we are seeing, and summed it up much better than I could

Later update: The servers came back online (which is more than the planes did, back in April). I can only assume that they are housed somewhere higher up than I imagined this morning.