Why I love online learning and teaching — especially for project management

I must say, I overwhelmingly prefer the online environment to the physical classroom environment for project management learning. I know the arguments that critics have about it … it doesn’t have the same social bonding benefits as meeting students face-to-face, it’s hard to demonstrate skills, it’s not as fun, etc. And I admit that there are some people it doesn’t work for. But to many others (especially those who are computer savvy, good readers, and self-motivated) it is a valuable learning method.  Consider the benefits!

1. Impartiality.
Impartiality in the learning environment help us focus on the issues instead of the distracting personal traits of the people we are communicating with.

“Wow, they are pretty/ugly”. “They talk/dress/act/walk funny”.

Isn’t it nice to remove those distractions while we focus on the topic of learning good project management processes, tools, and techniques?

2. The Internet is the work field for Project Management.
Learning project management online helps us practice in the same virtual environment
where many project managers will be working. Most professional project managers  today are working with multiple virtual team members and vendors. At a minimum they are using e-mail and instant messaging (often even when co-workers are located in the same building). In today’s business world, some project managers rarely meet their project stakeholders, communicating primarily through posting project reports and information to project portals and tracking systems. Therefore it is important to feel comfortable communicating and working online. What could be a better simulation of this than online courses?

3. Save the logistical hassles.
Driving, parking, and finding the room on a big campus, is not value-added time. Memories of speeding to campus to make it on time, struggling to find a parking spot, plugging the parking meter, and running up steps to get to class is a big part of my student life memory. I also remember plenty of times that I would arrive to find that my instructor was sick and had cancelled class!  According to DreamSchool.org, one of the most common reoccurring dreams that people have is to dream of forgetting which room of the school the class is being held in, or they may be unable to find their locker to get their books.  But, I’m happy to report that online courses do not seem to trigger that stress response!

4. Students tend to learn best when they are relaxed and comfortable.
Sitting at home with bunny slippers up on the desk, sipping a cup of coffee and working online at a time of convenience is absolutely the best learning environment. Critics will say that there are too many distractions at home, and it takes discipline to stay focused. One of the discipline tricks I use is to mentally note a short progress milestone, usually about 30 minutes out, which when achieved, I will reward with a distraction (to throw in a load of laundry, play with the pet, check social media, etc). These distractions, although real, are not more challenging than the distractions of trying to pay attention to a boring lecture, or trying not to think about the sometimes strange student sitting in front of you.

5. Geographic and organizational diversity of students.
When I physically attended college, my teachers and all of my fellow students were from the same general geographic area, most worked for one of the local employers, and there was very little ethnic, intellectual, or cultural diversity.  Online classes are much more diverse than the physical classroom. The online classroom provides a wider pool of teachers and students, which greatly adds to the richness of the group discussions.

6. Skip the busy work.
The online environment does not tempt instructors to “fill up” class time with low-value activities. When teaching and learning online the courses tend to be structured to jump into the topic, ensure learning, and then move on when the student has individually mastered the topic. Students are better able to work at their own pace rather than be forced to “fill a classroom hour”. Minute for minute, it eliminates waiting for others and therefore online is just more productive.

7. Deadline orientation.
In the project world, schedules are focused on milestones and deadlines rather than
specifying exactly when work should be performed. The physical classroom tends to treat learning as a timed meeting.  Different students work at different paces. Some people are new to the material and need more time, others might be slower readers or workers, and it can be very difficult to accurately estimate the time it takes a students to do an exercise. Classroom time is often structured for exercises to be lecture breaks for the instructor. However there are always a certain percentage of students who don’t get to complete the exercise, while others complete their work early and end up politely wasting time. The online environment is structured around milestones and deadlines, the way real work projects are. There is no wasting of time. Students learn to complete assignment deadlines rather than to just show up.

8. Safety.
Many adult learners attend evening classes that often conclude around 10:00 pm. After class there is the long, dark walk to the car. This is followed by a long drive home in an extremely tired state of mind, after doing double duty as a full-time employee followed by four hours in the classroom. There are personal safety and public safety issues involved with this scenario that are completely eliminated in the online environment.

9. Earlier true view of the course.
Online courses provide students with the opportunity to “see” the reality of the course much earlier than the traditional classroom setting. In both formats, a good instructor will initially provide a comprehensive course syllabus outlining the content of each class or unit. These descriptions, although well-intentioned, often are difficult for a student to comprehend until the student understands the instructor’s vocabulary, style, and meaning. Many students in traditional classes don’t feel like they really understand the flow of the class until about 40 to 50% of the way through the semester.  The online course is an open book to students. As soon as they gain access to the course, they generally are free to view all of the assignments and activities in all of their detail. They can very quickly determine what they will be experiencing. They can make a much quicker assessment on if they want to complete the course, or if it wasn’t what they wanted or expected, they can drop it before they have much time invested.

At Successful Projects we strive to make our programs and courses more engaging through quality instructors selected by the learner, use of different mediums to engage students to the content, real-world experiences shared. Come check out our Frank P Saladis Certificate in Project Management Program to get started with a customized and rewarding virtual learning experience.

adapted from an article by Kay Wais of Successful Projects

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