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How expert are you?

How expert are you?

Project managers have an edge over other professionals in gaining expertise because of the organisational skills they learn as a natural course of their profession and apply it to retrieve information, says Michelle LaBrosse.

The marketplace has seldom been so competitive and the search for increased job security and career advancement has hardly ever been so challenging. More and more companies are trying to pinpoint what skills will be needed to position the company for future growth. Continuous learning is the order of the day, and it's not enough to be good. You have to be an expert.

I was relieved to know, according one source, that that it doesn't take hiring a press agent for one to be an expert (although it couldn't hurt). A study called “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School”, issued by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 spelled it out.

Among other findings, researchers John D Bransford, Ann L Brown and Rodney R Cockling, reported that people who excel have some distinct characteristics—ones that indicate that project managers have a real advantage—at least in the first two:

Experts are easily able to retrieve important aspects of their knowledge: When setting up systems to organise assets for any given project, project managers are often perceived as the expert. The reason is that they can get the answers and retrieve information quickly and effectively.

Experts organise their knowledge better: Their organisation of information reflects their deep understanding of the subject matter. Project managers have, as a matter of course, their lessons learned at the close of each project, which organises intellectual capital. Capturing and organising institutional memory allows project managers to build on knowledge and experience, instead of recreating the wheel each time.

Experts understand context: Novices make decisions or arrive at conclusions based on one or two isolated facts and a handful of assumptions. Experts have a wider field of experience and a more expansive context.

Last, and most importantly, Experts notice patterns and features that beginners don't: To see patterns, you have to recognise them. To recognise patterns, you have to see a lot of them. To see a lot of them you need a lot of experience. Experts spend hours in their field of study—they are not only learning, but applying concepts.

This last point confirms my view that to learn effectively, textbook and classroom learning must be augmented and enhanced by the application of lessons—linkage to real work scenarios in order to move beyond basic understanding to superior knowledge and ultimately, to expertise.

In other words: how does one become an expert? It's all in how you learn.

In my research as a project manager and as a trainer, I've discovered accelerated learning techniques that have helped thousands of people successfully prepare for the Project Management Certification exam by enabling them to learn and retain a great deal of complex information quickly and permanently. Here are some highlights:

Making Learning Stick: Durability

The key to becoming an expert is effective learning, and one characteristic of effective learning is that it's durable. The learning lasts, and has lasting, long-term impact in other kinds of learning or performance. This is one reason why I stress application is the key to mastery. Learning something in a classroom context has more durability if it is linked to real scenarios. The best way to make learning stick is when you're immediately applying that knowledge and putting it into practice.

Practice is not only about doing something many times. More importantly, it's about monitoring your learning, getting feedback and activating that feedback, incorporating it into your reality, and practicing the new reality.

Making learning stick: Multiple Learning Modalities

We know that repetition improves memory—in advertising the maxim is that people need to see an ad eight times before they will remember it—but there are distinctions in how we remember. There are many ways to retain information, and the more of them you use, the better your grasp will be: we use mind maps, flash cards, acronyms, and much more in our classes. For key points you want to remember, find at least three different ways to convey it, and describe those three ways at least three times. Here's an overview of just some different ways we learn and remember.

• Music: Some classical music carries the same cadence as the Alpha brain wave; many think the alpha frequency boosts learning capabilities. In fact, many educational entertainment programmes include classical music because of its ability to accelerate learning in children.
• Kinesthetic: Learning through a physical activity, versus listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration. People with this predominant learning style learn by doing.
• Logical Spatial: Learning through a natural progression such as a process map or tree.
• Linguistic: Using words to guide the learning process, such as writing down the ideas and then verbally presenting the ideas back to the group.
• Intrapersonal: Working solo on projects and then sharing information with others after having ample time to think them through.
• Interpersonal: Works best for people with strong social styles. They like to develop team based solutions and operate through social activities. Perfect for problem solving and brainstorming new ideas and solutions.
• Emotional: Learning through a vested activity or experience such as a competition. This can be used for team building through scavenger hunts or developing a fresh and new solution to a common problem.

Online vs in-class

Supportive learning environments focus on interaction and feedback, and give you the opportunity to participate. Online learning can also meet these criteria, as anyone who has worked on a virtual team will attest, and adds a lot of convenience to the mix. As long as interaction and feedback are available, online learning can be very effective. In our online learning courses, students interact with instructors via email and on the phone, but they are also required to apply their learning to a real life project. The addition of an application aspect, with its durability, to online learning, adds to the effectiveness of the class, as well.

Take Action

Now that you have the inside track on what it takes to become an expert, take action. Sometimes it's difficult to know where to begin in your strategic plan to reach expert status as a project manager. A good place to start is to take a Project Management Assessment course—such as the one we offer at Cheetah Learning—which helps you to identify not only your competencies, but also where you have room for improvement. This assessment incorporates the feedback of five participant responses in evaluating your PM competencies, giving you a comprehensive understanding of your “PM IQ”. When you can identify the areas that you need to improve upon, you can be more efficient and effective in creating a plan to shore up your weak areas.

You can show your expertise to the world buy gaining a Project Management Professional certification, and you can become an “expert” in passing this exam by taking our intensive exam prep training course, which utilises multiple learning modalities, as well as focuses on the body and mind relationship, in order to accelerate learning your learning.

The four-day classroom Exam Prep for the PMP Exam can get you from petrified on Monday to prepared by Friday to take and pass the PMP exam. The online option fosters the same level of interaction and variety of learning modalities as our live course, and provides greater flexibility for those that may not be able to take time off of work or travel. There are many ways to reach expert status—which will you choose?

Once you achieve expert status, however, you can't rest on your laurels: it s a continuous process to stay on top of new technologies and new developments. You may not ever get to be on television, but you will surely have a more interesting, successful career.

The US-based author is the founder of Cheetah Learning (www.cheetahlearning.com) and has been recognised by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

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