Organisations that regularly implement project-based work agree that training is not just important for project managers but essential. The field of project management is ever-changing, and to keep up with new approaches and methods, it is necessary to ensure that project management skills are always as up to date as possible.
For this reason, training should, in an ideal world, be ongoing so that organisations build a strong project management capability that ensures the consistently successful delivery of projects.
But, of course we don’t live in an ideal world – there are all sorts of reasons why a company may not prioritise training: an economic downturn is the obvious one but also, as we are experiencing right now in the UK and across the world the corona virus pandemic.
On a more practical level finding the time to embark on a training course can also be difficult for project managers with a busy role that can demand a significant amount of attention. When you move from one project straight to another, there can be no time to attend courses that require classroom attendance.
So whether finding time is restricting the ability to attend face-to-face learning, the economy has taken a hit or there are major global health concerns, there is always the option of distance learning.
Distance learning provides a very real alternative in situations such as these; however, it is not for everyone. So, if you are looking to complete a project management training course but are not sure which option would be best for you read on as we delve into the pros and cons of both distance and face-to-face classroom learning.
Note that as another alternative, we also provide virtual learning over a 6-week period with a weekly programme of learning, weekly homework and feedback.
What is distance learning?
Distance learning, or e-learning as it is sometimes referred to, is the provision of training to candidates without them having to attend a particular location in person in order to study. Distance learning has been around since 1940, when Sir Isaac Pitman launched his distance learning shorthand courses.
Traditionally a distance learning course would have involved some form of correspondence course where the student received work by post and submitted it the same way. Thanks to advances in technology, this can now all be done instantly online, making it even more accessible to a wider variety of people. Some distance learning study may require occasional visits to a learning establishment or to a classroom on-site at your organisation. This type of learning is referred to as blended or hybrid learning, and the classroom learning part offers delegates an opportunity to meet other people taking the same course as well as the benefits of both learning environments.
Because of advances in technology, distance learning no longer needs to be a solitary learning experience with each student studying on their own, something that can be quite a lonely experience for some. Some courses allow delegates access to participation on a larger scale with access via the Web to collaborative platforms and forums. This allows them to learn while also interacting with other delegates remotely and from the comfort of their own surroundings.
What are the pros of distance learning?
As with any type of learning, there are some significant advantages to distance learning which can make it a very popular option. This could be especially true for those who are already working in the field of project management. It could very much benefit those looking to improve their skills or brush up on some techniques while keeping up to date with new ideas. The main advantage is obviously that you can fit this type of learning in around your busy home and work life. Other advantages include:
- You can often set your own pace for your studying – within reason.
- You can choose when and where you study so if you have some unexpected free time you could choose to use it for study.
- Your location doesn’t matter. No matter where you are in the world, you should still be able to do your studying in order to gain the qualification. If you travel a lot as part of your job, this means that you could also do your studying while travelling.
- You can gain some very handy transferable skills such as research and planning from distance-learning where you are in charge of your own schedule with only a few deadlines to guide you.
- Often a distance learning course will cost less than a classroom-based one.
- You can work at the same time if you have financial commitments such as a home and family. Learning while earning can be an convenient way of progressing your career. This would allow you the education you’re looking for and the ability to earn at the same time.
- Distance learning may save you time, as travelling to and from the place where you are studying may take considerable time. If you already work long hours, then this may be time you do not have. Distance learning from your office or home would cut out this travel time.
What are the cons of distance learning?
Of course, distance learning isn’t all advantages. There are some disadvantages too, and it certainly isn’t a method of learning that works for everyone.
- Frequent online contact can go some way towards alleviating the loneliness that can be felt by those studying on their own via a distance course. However, there is no denying that a huge disadvantage of distance learning is that you are not in a room with the people teaching and other people who are also studying the same subject. When you are in a classroom situation, the person leading the training can tailor the material for the delegates because they receive ongoing feedback. If needed, they can go back over topics that people struggle with and can move quickly through those topics that people are happy with. There is less scope to do this when the people learning are doing so at a distance.
- Often you set your own schedule. For those people who are busy with home and work life, then this can sometimes be problematic. Whilst one crucial skill that any project manager needs is the ability to prioritise and be organised, many find this problematic in a learning environment when there may be other distractions. If you will be doing your distance learning in the home and you have young children, then you may find them a significant distraction.
- You may not have the same access to your “tutor” via a distance learning course that you would have in person.
What is face-to-face learning?
This type of learning is fairly obvious – it takes the form of learning that is conducted in-person by professional trainer in a formal venue – either somewhere arranged by the training company or on-site within the organisation whose staff are being trained. These types of courses often include intense learning sessions that will take place over just a few days. They may also, however, take place for a short period of time over a number of weeks, in much the same way as many other types of extra learning occur.
Traditionally, classroom courses such as those for project management training take place at the premises of the company delivering the training. However, there are often other alternatives available, especially for those companies who have a large number of employees who will be attending the training. Many organisations choose to arrange for the training to take place at their own business premises, which can be more convenient for the company, their employees and also the company delivering the training.
Onsite learning allows those people undertaking a course to benefit from the participation of other people in the class, asking questions and bouncing ideas off each other. If the course is held with employees from a number of other different companies present, then this can also offer not only the chance to learn but also to network during breaks. Networking with other people who work within the same industry, or even those in different sectors but the same role can offer advantages later on in your career.
What are the advantages of face-to-face learning?
There are a significant number of advantages to this type of learning:
- One of the most significant advantages of face-to-face learning conducted at an organisations’ own premises is, of course, the flexibility that it offers. Courses can often be tailored to an internal project management framework or method; and can also use highly meaningful case studies relating to a particular sector of industry. Training can be arranged at a time that works best for the company, potentially during one of their slower spells, or even between projects, allowing their employees to focus entirely on the training.
- Adaptable courses are much easier to organise when they are arranged on site. Courses can be arranged to fit in with the team that will be learning, their strengths and weaknesses and even any particular areas that need to be touched on. The adaptability of onsite courses is limited only to the company providing the training and the company who want the training delivered.
- Onsite training can be tailored to the type of business that you have and provide particular insights that are most relevant to your employees.
- Face-to-face learning delivered to a full team can be very cost-effective, providing learning for a larger group can often work out cheaper than sending individuals on training courses.
- Sometimes it can be important to keep details about your company’s business private. If this is the case, onsite learning that includes only your own employees can be the most appropriate course of action.
- Visuals are more easily understandable in person, and onsite learning will not only allow you to see these visuals but ask questions easily as well.
What are the disadvantages of face-to-face learning?
The disadvantages of face-to-face learning are also worth considering as well:
- The same voices – most companies have employees who speak up and out more often than their fellow team members. When you provide onsite training on your own premises with only your own employees, you run the risk that these employees will be the ones getting more involved. This could leave their equally capable colleagues behind because they are perhaps quieter or prefer to be in the background. This is potentially less of a problem when the training is delivered at the site of the company running the training, and a good trainer will help these quieter voices to speak out.
- Onsite learning that takes place at the training companies’ premises can often result in a number of your employees being away from your building at the same time. This is often at a time that is suitable for the majority of the attendees from a range of different companies. This may not be the most convenient solution for your company.
Whatever type of project management courses you are looking for, onsite or distance, there are significant advantages, and of course disadvantages to be had from both. What works for one person will not necessarily be the best choice for someone else.
Personal circumstances, the point you are at in your career, and even your own individual personality may have an impact on your choice of learning route. Whichever choice you make for your project management training it is important to consider all of these advantages and disadvantages before making your decision.