Transforming project management e-learning to virtual project management community of practice (CoP)



E-Learning refers to the use of internet technologies to deliver a broad array of solutions that enhance knowledge and performance. It is based on three fundamental criteria:

  • E-Learning is networked, i.e. capable of instant updating, storage / retrieval, distribution and sharing.
  • It is delivered using a standard internet technology.
  • It focuses on the learning solutions that go beyond the traditional training (Kypreos, 2003).

These criteria are especially important for Project Management e-learning. As more and more projects are distributed, to ensure that all project team members are well and just-in-time trained, project management e-learning needs to be networked and web enabled. Due to location of the project team members (often they are globally dispersed), traditional training may not be economical.

Many publishers produced and/or bundled CDs, DVD, or web resources in their project management books. In addition to the traditional paper based books, they bundle e-book as well as learning tools, such as flash cards, sample PMP computerized exam questions, computer simulations, games and additional web resources for project management. Some of the e-books and exam questions can be installed in PDAs and/or cell phones.

Many post-secondary educational institutes, Registered Educational Providers of PMI, offer 100% on-line project management certificates. For example, one university allows qualified students to transfer credits earned through completion of the on-line PM Certificate Program into an Accredited MBA Degree Program.

E-learning resource vendors/providers have multi-modal learning resources, course and solutions to support and enhance the speed and effectiveness of formal and informal project management e-learning. These resources include, Courseware that aligned with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) for PDUs used for credential maintenance, “Referenceware” (i.e. online books) and on-line mentoring services (to provide real-time chats with mentors 24x7 on the subject of project management).

Technology vendors support and supplement their implementation projects of their technology with on-line help as well as knowledge portals. For example: SAP Education has SAP Online Knowledge Products that you can subscribe to. Cisco global e-learning program offers students an opportunity to pursue IT curricula through online instructor-led training and hands-on lab exercises. These just-in-time e-learning solutions can greatly enhance the success of Cisco implementation projects.

Many organizations developed their own project management e-learning modules to provide their employee training for project and employee performance support. These modules are aligned with the organization’s project management standard, strategies and human resource development plan.

Much of our learning occurs in very social settings and it is precisely these social and collaborative aspects of learning that we need to re-introduce into the mix. Project management e-learning happens as we participate in projects, especially distributed projects through e-mail, video, audio and text conferences. Project management e-learning is much more than just taking project management courses on-line.

What is Community of Practice (CoP)?

Community of Practice (CoP) started from Xerox, where groups of technicians met informally to share their experiences about repairing different types of photocopiers. These Communities of Practice demonstrated their value in improving organizational performance through increased innovation and responsiveness; improved worker skills; reduced duplication; connected workers, and raised the level of trust. They could respond to problems quickly, and capture and reuse tacit knowledge.

What is a project management community of practice?

A project management community of practice is an informal group of project practitioners who share knowledge on common development problems while pursuing joint solutions. Project management CoPs contribute to a more informed dialogue with decision-makers, often leading to improved project team development outcomes. They also facilitate problem-solving among members, stimulate learning, promote professional development, address individual questions, and generate the type of knowledge that members need in their project work. Project management CoPs utilize a complementary mix of tools and activities to facilitate ongoing and sustained interaction among members.

You can also define project management community of practice as:

A group of project management practitioners come together to share and learn from one another. They meets face-to-face or virtually. They are held together by a common interest in a project management body of knowledge and are driven by a desire and need to share problems, experiences, insights, templates, tools, and best practices in project management. A project management Community of Practice (PMCoP) is an informal network based on a self-desire to learn how to manage projects more effectively or to understand project management more deeply among members. At the simplest level, it can be a small group of people who’ve worked together in projects over a period of time. They communicate, develop relationship and trust as well as a common sense of purpose and a desire to share work-related project management knowledge and experience.

How do PMCoP enhance knowledge sharing and learning?

PMCoPs capture, organize, and disseminate insights and experiences on project management from sources such as “good practices” and “lessons learned” from projects. They contribute both knowledge sharing and learning. By involving members from different disciplines and geographic areas, they multiply knowledge flows, address knowledge gaps, and foster project management knowledge partnerships. By emphasizing learning in the context of a “practice” (rather than in a formal classroom, in a course or a program), they improve the overall culture of learning. PMCoPs foster and support continuous learning as opposed to courses and programs. By raising the level and quality of project management knowledge sharing, and supporting continuous learning, PMCoPs improve the process of project management decision-making. Many PMCoPs are virtual and web-based. On-line interactions can not substitute face-to-face events entirely. Face-to-face meetings create trust and common purpose within a community. They are critical in the implementation of PMCoP. These events are largely responsible for fostering and personalizing the links between members. Periodic face-to-face events would be needed.

Improving individual and organizational performance through CoP

Lesser and Storck. (2001) showed that the community activities of Community of Practice had considerable and varied positive influence on personal, community and organization performance. The development of social capital in communities of practice, leads to behavioural changes. This positively influences organizational business performance. The performance outcomes associated with communities that link to development social capital are:

  • Connect practitioners who may or may not be collocated: Improved networking.
  • Build relationships, trust and mutual obligation: Improved team building.
  • Develop a common language and context that can be shared by community members: Improved communications.

Lesser & Storck (2001) studied seven organizations’ community of practice. All of these communities of practices are in various degrees related to project management. The following is a table to highlight the communities studied that can be considered as Project Management Communities of Practice.

Organization Community Objectives Community Activities Key Value Outcomes
Multinational lending institution Urban services specialists Share experience and expertise across similar projects * Held informal lunchtime seminars
* Conducted formal training sessions
* Facilitated Web site repository
* Produced CD of relevant intellectual capital
* Captured experiences of retiring practitioners in multimedia
* Faster project delivery
* Greater reuse of intellectual capital developed by projects
Multinational lending institution Land and real estate specialists Share experience and expertise across similar projects * Held informal lunchtime seminars
* Conducted training sessions
* Sponsored conferences with outside speakers
* Facilitated Web site
* Developed Web links to relevant outside content sources
* Faster project delivery
* Greater reuse of intellectual capital developed by projects
* Improved linkages to outside knowledge sources
Telecom company Project managers Transfer experience and techniques across industry groups * Held initial face-to-face meeting with community members to outline community objectives and opportunities
* Developed e-mail-based expert access/question-and-answer system to post and distribute inquiries
* Faster response to project bids and request for proposals
* Greater reuse of existing knowledge assets

(Lesser, E & Storck. J., 2001)

A study on work-based communities with IT architects as an illustrative example

Millen and Fontaine (2003), highlighted the results of a multi-organizational survey of four work-based communities. Three of the communities were in a global high tech firm, while the fourth was part of a global firm in the oil/ petroleum industry. The illustrative description of one of the communities was an IT Architect Community with 429 globally dispersed members. They are responsible for designing solutions and are actively involved in ensuring that projects are successfully executed. To accomplish their objective, they must interact with other IT architects, engineers, and researchers to engage these colleagues throughout the design, sales and project implementation process. This community of practice can be considered as a Project Management Community of Practice with specialization in IT architecture. This survey provided insights into resource usage, time use for various work activities, and also reported individual, community and organizational benefits of a typical CoP.

Resource use and interaction media

The communities studied used a variety of resources: online document repositories, electronic discussion spaces, an online directory and online training materials. Participants used information from the community website as an information portal to locate information about clients (i.e., client or customer information) and job relevant documents (i.e., community documents, research or white papers, news articles, publications or presentations). There was less frequent use of training materials. E-mail was the most frequently used media to communicate with other community members. There was increased use of online chat communication (Millen & Fontaine, 2003).

Time use in knowledge work activities

Time distribution of various work activities varies with the kind of work practice supported. Resources such as information portals, well-categorized and searchable document repositories, and better social networks could result in reduced time spent in search and possibly processing information. Decrease in information search and processing time seems to lead to increase in interaction and coordination activities. Active members showed significantly greater decrease in processing information time and markedly greater increases in interaction and coordination activities. The improved social networking gained by participating in the community led to decreasing time spend in unproductive activities, such as searching for information (Millen & Fontaine, 2003).

Individual, community and organizational benefits

Millen and Fontaine (2003) suggested that the community activities had considerable and varied positive influence on personal, community and organization performance. They increased personal productivity and job skills, knowledge sharing and collaboration among members, and operational efficiencies.

Causal model of Community interaction and individual, community and organizational benefits

Millen, D.R., Fontaine, M. (2003) suggested the central focus of a model of work-based community interaction and benefits, is the level of participation within the community. Increased participation leads to increased resource use. Providing more content (documents, presentations and tools), as well as tools to help organize content, such as portal applications, or easily searchable (e.g., text classification and search engines) repositories would lead to increase participation and make the community’s resources more valuable. Increased participation would also increase resources, as members contribute to the community. This reinforcing loop would increase both the quantity of community resources and the level of participation. Increased participation increases interaction of community members and coordination activities. This can lead to increased personal job satisfaction and job-related skills. The increased satisfaction and job know-how supports greater organizational benefits. Personal and organizational benefits due to the community will reinforce greater community participation. Decrease in unproductive work activities leads to increase in personal time savings. This will result in improvements in operational efficiency. Improvements in personal and organization work productivity attributable to the community will reinforce increasing levels of participation.

Project Management e-learning trends

Adoption by corporation of all sizes

Companies are increasingly seeing knowledge capture and management as being key to competitive advantage. E-learning and knowledge management (KM) focus on getting the right knowledge and information to the right people. Project management e-learning is gradually evolving from delivering on-line courses to sharing and transferring of knowledge. Project Management Community of Practice is where this is going to happen. Part of the trend to greater adoption of e-learning is the linking of project management e-learning to business goals. Since the initial cost of implementing robust project management e-learning can be high and the cycle-time long, clear ROI must be established. There must be a clear and concrete link to individual and project performance. Instructional quality of the content is a key factor. The bottom line is, projects may not have a choice but to embrace project management e-learning. If project team members have to wait until the instructor and the classroom are available, the project will not be implemented on-time and within budget. This is especially true for global projects. Reasonably priced project management e-learning content, resources learning platform, and learning management systems are readily available to corporations of all sizes (The Herridge Group Inc., 2002).


The next best thing to on-the job training as project manager in projects is project management simulation. Project management is complicated. Project team members can’t learn effectively just by reading a book or taking a course. People learn best by doing. On the job-training can be very risky as well as costly as minor mistakes can lead to project disasters. Computerized Project management Simulations allows the project team to apply project management concepts to simulated project cases. One of the leading Project management simulation software, consulting company is Fissure. It provides simulation-based experiential skill-building in Project Management, Leadership and Organizational Change (, 2006).


Internet access can now be wireless. This combined with the widespread adoption of handheld computers and organisers, known as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), opened the door to mobile learning. Mobile-learning enhance e-learning anytime, anywhere (The Herridge Group Inc., 2002). Podcasting is a way to distribute multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet for playback on mobile devices such as PDAs, cellphones, iPods, MP3 players and wireless personal computers (Wikipedia, 2006). Project teams can easily download episodes from websites like “The Project Management Podcast”, and listen to it anytime, anywhere. These episodes are short, just-in-time modules to provide specific project management information and knowledge. For example, if you want to learn about the OPM3, you can download Episode 039: Organizational Project Management Maturity Models (OPMMM) from the site (ScopeCreep Project Management Consultants, 2006).

Incorporation of collaboration into the learning program

Peer-To-Peer (P2P) is a technology that enables the sharing of resources. It allows learners to share data by allowing one PC to link directly with another PC dynamically. This linking can create shared workspaces in which learners can collaborate, share ideas, and communicate (The Herridge Group Inc., 2002). In projects, especially global virtual projects, we can use the shared workspace to create a working knowledge community related to the projects. Users make content available and functional. Community members have to use the shared workspace to search for content, clarify information, and provide feedback as to its usefulness. It is useful for project team members who require collaboration as part of the job. Learning comes in to play when peers (project teams) start to create virtual project management communities of practice and make related content available across the network.

Virtual Classroom

A rapidly growing trend is the use of synchronous tools or Virtual classrooms to create and deliver content. The technology allows synchronous lecture, demonstration, discussion, and peer collaboration via the web. Geographically dispersed users can “come together” online to listen, view and interact with a live instructor and other learners in a scheduled event (The Herridge Group Inc., 2002). The technology is affordable and easy to use. There are many virtual class room products in the market. It is cheaper to develop virtual classroom sessions than asynchronous web-courses. I have developed a project management e-learning course in Virtual Project Management which used a very low cost, $35 per year PC video-conferencing software, iVisit to deliver the course. Virtual class room could be the best solution, for:

  • Coaching on a new software implementation project,
  • Short instruction on a key process change,
  • Providing access to a specific expert outside your project team for a short time with the technology allows a larger, geographically disperse group to participate,
  • Encouraging communities of practice.

Blended learning

Blended learning is to use different approaches to meet different content, learner, and organizational needs. It is basically good learning design. E-learning, classroom learning, knowledge management, and performance support should be blended for best results (The Herridge Group Inc., 2002). A typical blended project management e-learning solution might have some pre-work distributed as web learning a week or so before the course. The core session might be offered in two formats: facilitated classroom learning for those geographically close; virtual classroom will be for those whose time or distance constraints make that option more viable. Post-instructional support could be offered through an intranet-based performance support system accessed through the participants’ personal learning portals or through the participants’ PDAs. Over time, the blend will be less and less classroom and more and more virtual. Gradually, face-to-face project management, high-cost, high-touch facilitated learning will be for high interaction soft skills. Group interactions, business problem solving, performance evaluation, expert observation, culture building, and teamwork are all critical attributes of an overall learning system that, in many cases, is still best suited for classroom experiences.

Avoiding Project Management e-Learning Failure

To implement Project Management e-learning we should emphasize:

  1. 1.    Planning. Involve users in the planning and implementation stages, is paramount to the success of a project management e-learning program. Project managers, team members, and PMO participate in development of the program.
  2. 2.    Alignment. For an e-learning program to be accepted by its intended users, it must be relevant to the organizational project management methodology. It must be aligned with an organization’s values and goals; have visible support of senior management; be effectively and accurately linked to other HR systems, such as performance management or succession management. Senior management should endorse project management e-learning to develop their project teams. Project management knowledge from justin-time e-learning should be applied. The project team members’ performance is monitored and managed as part of performance appraisal and future team member selection.
  3. 3.    Blending and integration. The power, of e-learning emerges when an organization provides options for learners based on their needs, preferences and environmental factors. Project team members should be able to assess the project management material and seasoned domain expert project mentors on-line.
  4. 4.    Motivation and support. The organization must understand what motivates project teams if it expects them to use e-learning. Ongoing marketing, communication and follow-up on project management e-learning are needed to keep learners engaged and motivated.
  5. 6.    Evaluation and refinement. Project management e-learning, is more than just posting on-line courses at the company’s web site. These courses, once in place must be evaluated, its effectiveness determined; improvements and refinements incorporated on an on-going basis (Weaver P., 2006).


In the global economy, more and more projects are distributed, virtual projects. Many of these projects are global projects. Project management e-learning is critical in training and development of these globally dispersed team. Many of these teams are virtual teams. Transformations from project management e-learning to virtual project management community of practice are in three fronts: 1) Technology, 2) Process, and 3) People.

Technology transformation

To provide learning to virtual team, e-learning technology is evolving from basic Computer Based Training (CBT) to computer project management simulation, M-learning in virtual class room. These e-learning technologies would be integrated with collaborative tools such as virtual white board, discussion forum, video / audio / text conferencing in a virtual community of practice in project management.

A Project Management Community of Practice (PMCoP)

Many of the PMCoPs are internal. There are also many public PMCoPs in the web. One of the best PMCoP is the Acquisition Connection, Defense Acquisition University, . It has many Project Management sub-communities within it, such as Earned Value Management, Information Technology, Program management, Risk Management to Systems Engineering. In addition to all the resources, such as policy and guidelines, templates, research library, tools and training centre, there are “Knowledge”, “Discussion” and “Activity” areas. In the “Knowledge” area, members can contribute to the domain knowledge. The “Discussions” forum is where members can “post” questions and answers. The “activity” area highlights the statistics, the popular contributions and discussion questions (Acquisition Connection, 2006).

Process transformation

E-learning provides access to content anywhere, anytime to increase the value of the learning experience. Learning is more than training or instruction. People learn in many ways: by accessing well-designed content, by using new performance-enhancing tools, through experience, and from each other. In project management e-learning, people have access to project management content on line, e.g. Blogs, knowledge centres, webminars; using collaborative tools such as discussion forum, video / audio / text conferencing and collaborating with each other virtually. The lines between learning, communications, knowledge management, and performance support will continue to blur. This blurring allows us to break out of the course metaphor. Instead of looking at project management trainings as linear processions with a beginning, middle and end, we must now look at project management trainings as clusters of independent, stand alone bits of knowledge. In project management e-learning, these bits of knowledge (i.e. knowledge nuggets) are developed, stored, and accessed via the web by the project team.

Project management e-learning is transforming to virtual project management community of practice:

  • So that project teams can be more agile, meet project needs, and increase on-the-job performance.
  • By project team members starting from e-learning to acquire explicit knowledge such as PMBOK® Guide , OPM3®, and portfolio and program management standard to applying explicit knowledge in projects. As they gain more and more experience on-the-job, they contribute as contributors, mentors and coordinators of virtual project management community of practice. Transforming from knowledge acquisition to knowledge sharing and creation.
  • By integrating with performance management to develop the project team on-the-job performance with e-learning and grow the organizational performance with virtual project management community of practice.

People transformation

With globalization, to be competitive, organizations are transforming from functional and matrix organization to projectized organizations. Projectized-organizations are those whose operations consist primarily of projects. The projects often are distributed or virtual projects. Huitt, W. (2004) examined Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the education or learning perspective. Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs can be grouped into: deficiency needs and growth needs. In the deficiency needs, the lower level need must be met. Lower level needs have to be satisfied before moving to the next higher level. Growth needs are the next level needs that one should work towards. If a deficiency is detected, the individual will act to remove the deficiency. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs are:

  1. Physiological needs: For example hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc. These are basic needs. In the work perspective, it is basic employment skills, skills that would land you a job, or get into a project from traditional or basic e-learning courses. Individuals at this level seek information to meet the basic needs. In the project management e-learning perspectives, they are the basic project management courses.
  2. Safety/security needs: For example “Out of danger”. The individual landed a job or is working in a project. They need to keep the job. People at the safety and security level need helping information. These are the domain knowledge and the technical courses that help people do their job. These are the IT courses, engineering courses and project courses that would help them do well in their projects. Face-to-face training or just-in-time learning that would help. They seek information so that they can be safe and secure.
  3. Belonging and Love needs: Are the needs to be affiliated with others and to be accepted. To meet the belonging needs, people seek “Enlightening” information which can be found in books or other materials on relationship development. As people are comfortable, secure and master their job, they strive to belong to a community such as a virtual project management community of practice. In the PMCoP, the “Basic” needs are satisfied by the e-learning courses in the portal. The “security” needs are satisfy by Domain specific e-learning courses as well as the discussion forum for just-in-time advice from on-line mentors and coordinators.
  4. Esteem needs: Are the needs to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition. People at the esteem level seek “Empowering” information. They look for information on how their ego can be developed. They take courses to be the expert.
  5. Self-actualization needs: Are the needs to find self-fulfillment and realize one’s potential. They want to seek knowledge, to take courses and learn to be their personal best. Individuals at this stage would seek information on how to connect to something beyond themselves or to how others could be edified. In the PMCoP context, they are the mentors, technical experts in the community. They continuously engage in learning and knowledge sharing in the community.


The technologies to engage in Project management e-learning and virtual project management community of practice are ready and available for you. It is up to your organization to transform your existing project management business process from traditional learning to project management e-learning and evolve to virtual project management community of practice. Finally, it is up to you to transform your existing personal learning from traditional face-to-face project management training to project management e-learning, participate in and contribute to the virtual project management community of practice.


Acquisition Connection, (2006). Acquisition Connection – Where the AT&L Workforce Meets to Share Knowledge. Retrieved on 07/27/2006 from, (2006). Fissue - Turning Knowledge into Performance, Retrieved on 07/27/2006 from

Huitt, W. (2004). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved on 07/27/2006 from

Kypreos, T, (2003). Building a Business Case For E-Learning, eLearn, Volume 2003, Issue 2. Retrieved from

Lesser, E and Storck. J., (2001). Communities of practice and organizational performance, IBM Systems Journal 40(4) 831

Millen, D.R. & Fontaine, M., (2003), Improving Individual and Organizational Performance through Communities of Practice. Conference proceedings: GROUP‘03, November 9–12, 2003, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA.

ScopeCreep Project Management Consultants, (2006, July 24). Project Management podcast,,

The Herridge Group Inc., (2002). Corporate E-learning Trends, Retrieved on 06/24/2004 from

Weaver P., (2006). Avoiding e-Learning Failure, Retrieved 01/23/2006 from

Wikipedia, (2006). Podcasting, Retrieved on 07/24/2006 from ;,

© 2006, Kenneth Fung, PMP
Originally published as a part of 2006 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Seattle Washington



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