Using your List of Terms as an aid to learning

This article is part of a set of articles provided to participants in the Project Management Concepts course. It illustrates how two of the key features of the approach themselves out in the course.

Now that you’ve created your List of Terms, it’s time to move from memorising ‘facts’ towards building real knowledge. Here’s the strategy we recommend for you, broken up into steps.

Step 1: Define

Revisit and update your List of Terms every day. If necessary, revise some of your older explanations as you gain new insights about the concepts.

Pay particular attention to the password terms. We’ve incorporated them to stimulate your exploration of formal Project Management and the principles which link to other disciplines.

However, don’t limit yourself to the password terms. Add new terms which emerge from the Formative Tests and Study Group Forum, and from your own work.

How does this help my learning?

“I know you think you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.”

— Author unknown, but quoted by William Dettmer in The Logical Thinking Process.

Sometimes, having clarity about a concept can save a lot of time, money and help preserve sanity, as the right priorities and actions can be clearly set out.

In the Exam (as in real life), you’ll need to understand the term in its broader context, not just in relation to a single question. By exploring the differences in nuance or emphasis that you encounter in other people’s use of a term, you will start defining it better for yourself.

Apart from helping you discern answers in the Exam, it will empower you to ask useful questions which can change the direction of projects at work.

Step 2: Use

Write sentences using the term in a way that it applies to your own projects or work.

How does this help my learning?

This step should make you feel a bit uneasy. You may experience a barrier of uncertainty, frustration or even anxiety.

It’s important to get through this barrier, otherwise you could get into the habit of bashing your way through the Test Series using trial and error. You could end up feeling confident, having done the High Striker Test over and over and increasing your score every time. You may memorise the correct answers to a number of questions without fully understanding what you’re learning, and without realising that you don’t understand. As you near the Exam, you may think that since you’ve made it to here, the final step surely can’t be that hard.

But these thoughts can prevent you from exerting yourself and gaining the exponential value needed for mastery.

The Project Management Concepts course is of little value if it doesn’t leave you with deeper insight, improved learning habits and sharpened critical thinking.

Step 3: Explain

Explain the terms in your list out loud, pretending that your listener is an ordinary 13-year-old. (Give the kid a name. You’re going to get to know each other well!)

How does this help my learning?

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

— An earlier version of this saying is attributed to Richard Feynman, and Albert Einstein later distilled it.

Too often, we think we understand something, just because we know the answer to a multiplie choice question. We’ve memorised the answers. We can recite definitions by heart. “The Critical Path is the longest path through the project. The Critical Path is equal to the project’s duration. The Critical Path is… ag, whatever, etcetera, I know the rest.”

But by explaining something aloud to an imaginary thirteen-year-old, you are forcing yourself to complete your sentences and think through things thoroughly, instead of jumping over chasms of not-understanding to pass a test.

Listening to your own explanation may make you reconsider the validity of your prior understanding!

Explaining a concept aloud in full sentences is a powerful learning tool. It helps develop clear and critical thinking. Later, when you are expected to document Project Management processes (if you follow the PMBOK® Guide, there are 47 of them!), your conversations with your thirteen-year-old friend will start bearing fruit.

Tip

Allow your imaginary thirteen-year-old to ask you questions. Here’s an example, using what and why to reveal weak spots in your understanding:

“The Critical Path can’t have slack.”

“What’s slack?”

“It’s the same as lag.”

“What’s lag?”

“It’s when you wait for something.”

“Why can’t you wait for something in a project?”

“You can, but you can’t do it on the Critical Path.”

“Why not?”

“Ummmm… wait, maybe I am confused. You should be able to wait for something, like waiting for paint to dry, or waiting for something to be delivered. I know you can’t have slack on the Critical Path, but maybe lag is something different. I’d better go and check. I’ll get back to you, OK?”

A conversation like this allows you to juxtapose similar or related concepts (e.g. lead, lag, slack, float, buffer time) to ensure that you really come to grips with the key differences.

This exercise also helps you develop communication skills essential to effective Project Management.

Be extremely respectful towards your thirteen-year-old ‘student’. The next time you use this skill may be across a boardroom table, and the ‘child’ may be an important stakeholder in your project.

For a more detailed explanation of how to use your List of Terms to aid your learning, we have expanded the three steps into six steps in a follow-up article.


PMP, CAPM and PMBOK are registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
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All PRINCE2® courses on this site are offered by Accredited Courses Africa (Pty) Ltd.

Tania Melnyczuk

Director of Programme Design at ProjectManagement.co.za and the Collaboration Director of the Autistic Strategies Network.

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