Course Selection Advice

How to compare apples with oranges

AXELOS Limited develops and maintains a broad range of personal and organisational competency enhancing methods such as PRINCE2 and MSP, which it collectively calls Best Management Practice. The APM Group (APMG) manage an accreditation framework for these methods on behalf of AXELOS Limited. In addition, APMG develops and manages a further broad range of professional skills guidance, which are managed under the same accreditation framework.

The number of providers of courses in these methods in Australasia has risen in the last few years. This means that finding the right training course in one of these methods is more complicated. This page is designed to help you find the course that is right for you.

Whether you are choosing for yourself or for your organisation, your choice will be a significant investment of time and money. So it is worthwhile spending the time to make the right decision.

The training market is crowded, complex and dynamic. Suppliers come and go, some with good credentials, others with a poorer history but a flashy web-site. Our aim is to give you accurate and current advice.

First, we’ll look at what ‘accreditation’ means in the APMG training world and why it is important to you.

Then we’ll consider the choices on offer for accredited training.

Finally, we provide a checklist you can use to evaluate training course offerings from different providers, to help you to decide which course suits you.

This page contains advice offered to anyone interested in training in one of the Best Management Practice methods. It contains our opinions, not sanctioned by APMG or AXELOS. It is free for anyone to share and reference. We assume no responsibility for any loss or injury caused by actions you may or may not take as a result of reading this advice.

What is accreditation?

When people talk about training in a Best Management Practice method they can mean one of a number of things. Usually they mean accredited Practitioner training. This normally takes the form of a four- to five-day course including two formal certification examinations.

Whether a training course and its supplier are accredited is important. Why?

Most people attend a training course to achieve a formal qualification; the training is merely a means to that end. By going through an accredited training course and taking certain public exams, you can gain the method's Practitioner Certificate. This entitles you to describe yourself as a ‘Registered Practitioner‘ in that method. In certain parts of the job market, accreditation in methods such as PRINCE2 and MSP has become a valuable credential.

So what does ‘accredited’ mean, exactly? The accrediting body for training in AXELOS Limited products is APMG, which accredit:

  • The courseware, it’s design, whether it fulfils the syllabus set for the examinations;
  • The management system, whether it has sufficient processes to handle the administration, maintenance and delivery of the training in a professional manner; and
  • The trainer, whether they have ‘real world’ experience, have sufficient in-depth mastery of the method(s) they train to answer questions raised during a course and can adequately bring the subject to life in a classroom.

Once courseware becomes ‘accredited’ the training organisation is permitted to offer courses associated with the method.

Once an organisation is accredited it becomes an Accredited Training Organisation (ATO) and is allowed to use the associated AXELOS Limited trade mark logo(s)and APMG accreditation logo(s) in its marketing material, to market public courses in the method(s) and to run examinations as part of their course events.

Once a trainer is accredited against an AXELOS Limited method, they become an Approved Trainer in that method. An approved trainer is licensed by APMG to deliver an accredited course themselves, as well as invigilate the formal exams that may be part of that course. So usually you don’t need to book a different date for the exams; they become part of the course schedule.

APMG assessors aim to ensure through the assessment of ATOs, trainers and courseware, that delegates can expect a repeatable experience from a particular training organisation that is to a minimum quality standard acceptable to APMG.

Accredited Training Organisations (ATOs)

APMG maintain a list of currently accredited ATOs, which can be checked here.

What about other organisations that are not ATOs but are advertising training in one of the Best Management Practice methods? They are likely to fall into one of three categories:

  • Resellers. Resellers are wholesalers which market training courses on behalf of ATOs and aggregate delegates so that courses have sufficient numbers to run. The advantage here is that you have greater choice of place and date for a public course, but the big disadvantage is that you may not know which ATO you are booking with;
  • Affiliates. These are organisations which are affiliated to an ATO and offer courses and other services through the ATO. Affiliates are known to APMG and are registered to operate as an affiliate;
  • ‘Grey market’. These are vendors illegally selling training in the methods. They are not licensed to use the underlying intellectual property and they are unlikely to have any external assessment of quality. They cannot offer a formal exam as part of their course, and it is likely that they will refer you to another organisation for the APMG exams – at separate cost and additional risk to the purchaser. If you find a course like this, we suggest that you ask the provider which ATO stands behind the course. If they cannot answer, we suggest that you notify APMG and do not deal with the provider.

So are all accredited courses the same? Definitely not!! APMG’s accreditation scheme leaves some latitude for the creativity of the course designers. Accreditation gives a minimum quality assurance.

Are all trainers the same? Trainers are people too, with different personalities and styles. They are certainly all accredited to the same standard, and should be able to ensure you gain an understanding of the method and are well prepared for the APMG exams. Some trainers have practical understanding based on significant experience in using the method they train, others have only a theoretical understanding.

So that you make the most of this investment in yourself, you need to look a little deeper.

Beyond Accreditation – What to look for

If not all courses in Best Management Practice methods are the same, how do you choose the best?

Courseware

The courseware materials the ATO produces can give you a very good indication.

For example, are the Delegate Workbooks in full colour or are they in tones of grey? If the latter, that’s good cost-saving by the training organisation, but it is unlikely to stimulate your learning and help your recall in the exam. There is now quite a body of research that shows that colour is important in both cognition and recall.

Also, what is the format of the Delegate Workbooks? Is it merely printouts of PowerPoint slides? Again this is easy for the ATO to generate, but there are two problems for the learner with this:

  • Where is the added value to you of this written documentation beyond making sure the trainer covers all the material?
  • What works for you as a visual in the classroom discussion and what is effective as notes for reference some time afterwards are two very different things. They should correspond, but what is a suitable design for one, is not a suitable design for the other.

Talking of which, are the slides all bullet points? This is not a very clever use of a visual medium in the classroom. Have you ever experienced ‘Death by PowerPoint’? If so, you know what I am referring to here. Often training organisations give so much text on a slide that it amounts to mere re-presentation of the text in the relevant manual. Is there much value add by the ATO?

More than that, many training courses have a design driven by PowerPoint, and where the trainer uses each new slide primarily as an aide memoir of what they are to say next, like a sort of elaborate tele-prompter. PowerPoint is a useful tool but can produce a fairly boring visual design. Also, do you want to look at visuals that aid your learning or that are produced for the convenience of the trainer?

If PowerPoint is used, does the Delegate Workbook contain a copy of the slides, or does the ATO just provide freeform text? Most delegates want a copy of the slides, so that they can follow what the trainer is saying. If the training company provides free form text rather than the slides, most participants find they spend more time on reading this text than in following what the trainer is saying over and above the content of the slide, so they may miss important points.

Course Design and Delivery

Behind the materials, of course, is the method the training organisation uses to design and deliver its materials.

As we mentioned above, default use of PowerPoint, for example, is a method, but is likely to produce a pretty dreary learning experience.

Some training organisations now use Activity Based Learning or Accelerated Learning. Here the design changes from being focused on what the trainer needs to deliver the course, to what the learner needs. In this kind of design, sessions are designed around the exercises and games that stimulate learning. Emphasis moves away from lecture mode to practical engagement with the subject by the delegates and the learning that arises from that. This approach is more likely to give you both your qualification (exam passes plus qualification) but also give you some confidence about putting the method into practice afterwards.

There is the pre-course work: setting correct expectations, pre- course study and exercises to prepare you to gain the most out of the event.

Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques. Recent research into effective learning methods compared three study techniques:

  • Repeated study of the material (memorisation, cramming);
  • Development of conceptual maps (diagrams, summaries, mind maps);
  • Practice in retrieving and reconstructing knowledge (quizzes, crosswords, activities).

Participants in courses which practiced retrieval were found to be able to retain about 50 per cent more of the course material compared to other methods.

Another aspect of your learning is that it is so much more than just the training event. After the course you have to put your learning into practice to become competent in the method. Is there any support from the training organisation to help you do this if you want it? Do they provide value-added materials you can use after the course?

Then there is the whole area of evaluation of your performance in projects. It may be that through no fault of your own, you are not getting the results you want from the training you have received. Where are the measures that might indicate you or your project sponsors need a different or supplementary kind of coaching? Does the training organisation provide that?

In the learning and development profession this is all called the learning cycle. Your training course is only part of this cycle. Check to see whether the training organisation could support you through your whole learning cycle.

Courses not leading to certification

Of course, certification may not be suitable for you or your organisation. In fact, there are some very positive benefits for considering a non-exam based course:

  • Your organisation does not formally use a Best Management Practice method such as PRINCE2 but uses a derivative of it;
  • You need a workshop to engage your senior managers who need to sponsor the use of the method;
  • You do not need to be trained in all the aspects of the method but merely in its essentials;
  • You and your organisation have identified that you have a specific training need in an aspect of the method, rather than the entire method;
  • You and your organisation want to use an internal project as a case study during the training, so that you can take outputs from the training and immediately use them;
  • You may use a particular computer tool to support projects (e.g. Microsoft Project) and you want a training event that coaches you in both at the same time.

All these are excellent reasons for considering a route other than certification. Taking the formal examinations out of the event does help you and the other delegates focus more on the practical aspects of topics, how you would apply the Best Management Practice methods in the workplace, but without the distraction of formal exams.

All that has been said previously about checking the quality of the training organisation still applies, though. The competence and learning credentials of your supplier are still important.

Checklist

Here is a checklist to help you choose the right course for you. It summarises most of the rest of this page.

  • Is the course run by an Accredited Training Organisation?
  • How many years has the ATO been providing accredited training?
  • Am I provided with pre-course material? If so, does the ATO tell me how much time I need to set aside to complete this work?
  • Are there modular solutions?
  • Does the price include the reference manual and the APMG Examination fees (Foundation and Practitioner)?
  • Is the ATO able to provide me with their recent pass rates at Foundation and Practitioner levels?
  • Does the ATO have people involved in the development of Best Management Practice methods?
  • Will the course come with additional documentation (Delegate Workbook)? If so, can the ATO provide me with a sample of its contents and format?
  • What design and delivery approaches does the ATO use?
  • Does the ATO provide Activity-Based learning or Accelerated Learning?
  • Are there plenty of games, exercises and discussions throughout the course?
  • Does the ATO include plenty of retrieval practice during the course?
  • Does the ATO provide practice exam questions in addition to the standard APMG sample exams?
  • Does the ATO's Practitioner course entail more than just going through APMG's sample exams?
  • Does the ATO provide e-learning solutions?
  • Does the ATO provide non-accredited training in the methods, such as executive briefings and short courses?
  • Does the ATO provide additional diagnostics/questionnaires as parts of senior management briefings on each method?
  • Can the ATO provide me and my organisation with full support throughout my learning cycle?
  • Does the ATO provide value-added materials I can access after the course?
  • Does the ATO provide accredited training in multiple methods if I need it?
  • Does my course fee include lunch?
  • Do professionals within the ATO publish regularly – via articles, books or blogs – on wider issues around Best Management Practice methods?

So, why wait?

Contact us today to get the most from your investment in projects.

Still not convinced?

Check out our Top 10 reasons to train with us page.


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