As those of you who follow me elsewhere may know, I’m in the midst of preparing for a week-long training course on project management methodology. Yes, it is exactly as dull as it sounds, only more so. By the end of next week I will hopefully have passed an exam to get me a professional qualification. The only reason I am doing any of this is because it has become a departmental requirement, and therefore the company is paying. On a professional level I see the need for the methodology, in fact for anything at all that might bring a bit of structure and accountability into our current development environment. It’s necessary, and I’m all in favour of companies supporting their staff’s ongoing professional development.
But I have two problems. One is that, because it’s only a professional qualification, on a personal level I absolutely don’t care. There’s nothing in it for me. I realise that I ought to care: not only does my current employer now require this qualification, but it’s actually reasonably well known in the project management world and (rumour has it) is therefore A Good Thing To Have On One’s CV. I might earn more because of it. I don’t care about that, either. I’ve never been career or money focused, I just like to do something new when I get bored. So far there’s been a fortunate congruence between that and steps that now begin to look something like a career path, but it’s not an inevitable upwards climb.
Nevertheless, doing my best impression of a good girl (but with rebellion in my heart), I settled down to study the Workbook and Manual that were distributed for pre-course preparation. And here I ran into my second problem (we’ll take the fact that it’s as boring as fuck as a given). The way I learned to study, a way that served me reasonably well throughout my arts degree and MA, is in no way appropriate to learning this methodology.
Way back in A-level history classes, my teacher was quite particular about the way in which he required us to take notes on what we were reading. You took your A4 pad, folded the page in half vertically, made notes from the text on one half (in your own words), and then your own thoughts on what you were reading on the other half. I like this method. It works for me. It allows engagement and response to the text to be captured in the same place as the notes on the salient points drawn from the text. I suspect that an adherence to this system has shaped my research habits ever since: in through the eyes, out through the pen. To this day, I cannot read and engage without a pen in hand.
When is a text not a text? When it’s a project methodology manual. It is redundant to make notes, because the whole thing already exists in bite-sized paras, bullet points lists and diagrams. It is, in fact, a total waste of paper to have printed it at all when it should clearly reside online and in an iPhone app. The manual is written in jargon that must be understood and reproduced exactly; sample exam questions operate only in precisely the same terms as the manual (to the point of some ‘complete the sentence’ style questions), so if anything it’s probably worse to reword it in your own terms. And finally, there’s no requirement to record one’s own thoughts on engaging with the text because there is nothing to engage with. The methodology has done the thinking; the reader is simply required to remember and follow the instructions. The food has been pre-chewed and semi-digested for me, and all I need do now is tip back my head and accept the resulting pap.
All of which sits uneasily with me. It might be a form of learning, but it’s nothing to do with education.