IPMA International Project Management Association
24 May 2018 / 11:09

Project-based learning for a changing world of work – Part 3

Project-based education and training approaches

 The terms “education” and “training” are interrelated but represent two different concepts. “Education” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as follows: “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at school or university.” [Oxford 2018a] Therefore, it refers to learning in classrooms for acquiring knowledge. Education helps for developing a sense of reasoning, understanding, judgement and intellect in an individual and typically prepares an individual for a future job. It´s a process of facilitating learning for acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits.

Education in project management or related topics typically starts at the university level. In the Germanic Countries, there are offers for education in project management already for secondary schools [GPM 2018]. The approach builds on a project-based pedagogy, which actively engages students by working for an extended time period to research and respond to a complex question or challenge. For example, research into nature, organizing social activities or solving a difficult technological problem could be the starting point for a project, dealt with through the eyes of project management. At University, students may be educated in project management through specific lectures during their Bachelor or Master studies. In some countries, there are also specific Master Courses with focus on Project Management. Besides learning through lectures, the content of the classes is delivered through real-life case stories, project-based learning or other forms of transfer into practice. At the highest level of education, some offerings are available for obtaining a Doctor of Science or a Ph.D. with focus on project management [Alma Mater 2018]. The educational methods at these higher levels of education include but are not limited to self-reflection or -learning, discussion, story-telling, teaching, training, and directed research. These can either take place in a rather formal or in an informal setting, physically or virtually, in a homogenous or very diverse group.

Both, project management-related teaching and project-based education help students to understand the key challenges and acquire the basic ideas of managing a project. Through participation in this kind of education they can gain first experiences in real projects.

The term “training” addresses in general “the act of teaching a person… a particular skill or type of behaviour.” [Oxford 2018b] It´s developing in oneself or other individuals, any skills and knowledge that relate to specific competences needed for a job. Furthermore, it could also improve an individual’s capability, capacity, productivity and performance.

Professional organizations refer to this as “Professional Development” and usually provide specific curricula, schemes, and frameworks for this. As example, the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered body for the project profession in the United Kingdom provides a framework for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and is highlighting the following formal and informal CPD activities [APM 2018]:

Formal CPD Activities:

  • Validated and Accredited Qualifications;
  • Branch & Special Interest Group events;
  • Formal distance and open learning courses;
  • Attending relevant courses;
  • Attending relevant conferences and/or seminars;
  • Attending relevant workshops;
  • Job secondment;
  • In-house presentations.

Informal CPD Activities:

  • learning on the job;
  • peer guidance and discussion;
  • structured reading;
  • work shadowing;
  • preparation of CPD presentations to colleagues and other professionals;
  • exposure to new situations at work which require action;
  • participating in careers conventions and seminars;
  • listening to podcasts, webinars, webcasts and other learning for research purposes and technical information;
  • reading blogs, articles, e-books, journals that increase your project related knowledge or skills;
  • participating in activities such as membership of committees where new ideas and initiatives are discussed;
  • sharing knowledge and experience with others;
  • acting as a coach or mentor for a fellow professional;
  • being coached or mentored by a fellow professional;
  • self-study through reading text books or study pack;
  • volunteering;
  • relevant non-work activities.

Employees of project-oriented organizations may follow a special career pattern. It´s rather fragmented, and the “nomadic lives of project personnel are plain to see. Project personnel move from one project to another, which take place in different contexts. This creates a picture of ´project nomads´, who can be considered as adventurous. The project-oriented career is characterized by a series of projects… A career thus becomes a succession of projects, not a series of steps up a career ladder. ” [Huemann 2015] The entry point of a career in project management may be a university education or a vocational training in which project management knowledge is taught and maybe also applied through a project-based learning. The next step in the career may be to join a project team, perform activities and support the project management. Later the role as junior project manager or manager of a sub-project may prepare someone to take over responsibility as project manager for a non-complex project. Throughout their careers, the (senior) project managers will manage increasingly complex projects and qualify for leadership roles in project management of the organization, for example as head of the project management department, as head of a project management office (PMO) or as manager of multiple projects or a portfolio.

Competence development is intermingled with activities of the individuals performed during their career in project management. While performing tasks in projects and programmes, they acquire knowledge, skills and abilities. In other words, they learn. Furthermore, they interact with others and could thus share knowledge, exchange experiences and support each other in performing activities; for example through feedback, reflection sessions and so on. The IPMA ICB advocates the learning opportunities of “communities of practice” as an example of individuals interacting in a formal or an informal way and collectively developing their competences. “The individual could use a community of practice to facilitate learning through discussing, experimenting and reflecting on all kinds of practical issues. It is also a means to feed information back to the embedding organisation that could make use of the lessons learned in other projects.” [IPMA 2017]

IPMA ICB summarizes the possibilities of developing necessary competences for managing projects and the prerequisites that should be in place before implementing the development measures. These may depend on preferences of the individual or the organisation, the situation and the availability of resources, whichever of the following fits best and is chosen [IPMA 2017]:

  • Self-development, e.g. reading books, standards, case studies and articles helps to gain knowledge, reflecting on the application in practical situations and deriving learnings from that. Other ways of self-development are studying, experimenting, trying things out or learning by doing. The latter helps to gain experience in a certain context or to develop certain skills.
  • Peer-development, e.g. reflecting with colleagues on how things are going, asking for a feedback on one’s own performance and ways for improving it. Learning partners from different disciplines could help to see a situation from a different angle and lever the development to the benefit of both peers, e.g. one through the questions asked and the other through the insights provided.
  • Education and training, e.g. attending a seminar, lectures, and training sessions, where the trainer delivers specific know-how. This could be done through a presentation, interactions between the participants and the trainer as well as using case studies, group exercises, and simulation games. The development of individual competences may depend on the number of participants, the mix of methods used or the duration of the sessions.
  • Coaching and mentoring, e.g. getting feedback, advice and support by a coach, leader or mentor whilst performing certain activities or striving to develop specific competences. Typically, a coach, leader or mentor is an experienced person that does not deliver direct answers, but challenges the individual through questions that draw the attention to certain aspects and requires finding an adequate answer.
  • Simulation and gaming, e.g. developing competences through case-based simulation games (board or computer games), reflecting on interactions and behaviours of individuals shown in such a setting. Often simulation games and other forms of game-based learning are a mix of approaches, e.g. enabling self-development combined with peer-development and coaching in a training environment. It could also be helpful to combine these approaches based on the previous experiences, the stage of development an individual is in or the possibilities an organisation is having in its circumstances.

For individuals working in an agile context, project-based learning is embedded in methods such as ´Design Thinking´, which embrace the creativity of people for innovative solutions. Simulation and gaming is also popular in the context of agile projects, e.g. the ´Estimation Poker´ for difficult estimation tasks or ´Lego Serious Play´ for analysing the project context. Learning is increasingly embedded in the process of performing projects, training is done in real-life, on-the-job and by the experts in the field. In several agile methods coaching is the approach of choice, replacing the traditional classroom training.

Professional organizations typically act as standard-setting bodies, accreditation centres and certification bodies. They define the standards with indicators and thresholds for individual competences, they set frameworks for assessing the competences against the standards and they regulate processes, methods, tools and roles for trainers, coaches and assessors. There are also International Standards and regulations for assessing competences of individuals, e.g. ISO 17024 “Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons” and ISO 19011 “Guidelines for auditing management systems”. The latter provides guidance on auditing management systems, how to evaluate the competence of individuals involved in the audit process, including the person managing the audit programme, auditors and audit teams. In the context of project management, the term “assessment” is used instead of “audit”, because the focus is on competence development.

National or regional Certification bodies, accredited by an accreditation centre or validated by a professional organization like IPMA, assess individuals based on a standard, identifying the strengths and the gaps to pre-defined thresholds as well as the path for developing individual competences within a given framework. Typically, the assessment needs to be repeated for reassurance, whether the individual is still acting in a project management role and whether or not the competences are still up-to-date.



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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.