Instant, easy PR qualifications?

I received an email this morning promising ‘instant’ qualifications, even a PhD, that would help you attain ‘the job of your dreams ‘ with no examinations, no classes and no textbooks. 

Clearly a scam, but it highlights an expectation of instant results and easy personal development.

The recent McQualification debate could be seen as revolving around snobbery in respect of whether on the job training should be equivalent to studying in the classroom.

There clearly needs to be a difference between certificates for attendance and those for attainment, but is learning in a vocational environment less valid than knowledge gained in the classroom?  Or vice versa, as some advocate learning in areas such as public relations can only be achieved ‘on the job’.

What about the use of new technology?  Another email advises of learning via mobile phone pitched as ‘learning on a shoestring’, simple and always available, ‘on the go’ development.

Discussions in adult education are looking to make learning easier (or at least low cost).  Access to study materials is almost entirely online and new ways are sought to reduce costly face-to-face ‘expert’ contact.

As humans, learning is an individual cognitive process – we need to be active in adding new information to our brains and adjusting our behaviour as a result. 

But this doesn’t mean that all learning is easy or instant – or possible without the input of other people.   People aren’t iPods that can be plugged in and information synched to our brains.

It can take time to fully grasp new concepts or practice skills to a higher standard.   We may need personal coaching or suggestions of different approaches to understand what we are trying to master. 

Modelling by studying how others perform – skills gained in a traditional apprenticeship – is a useful approach.  

Reading complicated material isn’t just about time, it involves reflection and digestion of the thoughts of others.  Real understanding may come then from discussion with others.

We also need to apply what we’ve learned – test it and review the benefits and drawbacks. 

Learning even involves failure – one step back to take two steps forward.  Even when we get a Eureka moment; immediate insight is likely to be the result of earlier efforts that have been less successful.

Obtaining real cognitive development and lasting behaviour change, is unlikely to be instant, easy or cheap.   And any qualification that promises gain without pain is unlikely to be worth the paper it is printed, or downloaded, on.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

6 thoughts on “Instant, easy PR qualifications?”

  1. Well said, Heather. It wasn’t until I returned for graduate studies at age 37 that I grasped the need to read, re-read, then discuss complex materials. It simply took too much time, and I was far too busy!

    The epiphany came as I digested about 4,000 pages of ethical theory for a class in which I was the only student NOT pursuing a PhD in philosophy. I struggled mightily, but as a result of that course — now 18 years behind me — I’m sure I bring a higher level of understanding of ethics to the classroom a genuine passion for the topic.

    This morning, in a class on basic “media writing,” I tried to impress on the students the need to challenge themselves by reading good writers and emulating them. I actively stress the importance failure by allowing rewrites for the first half of the semester. In the learning process, we seldom get it right the first time.

    Our field of public relations has its share of complex theories that, I’m sorry to say, too many practitioners haven’t read, let alone re-read or discussed. I see this void reflected often in the online discussions. Yes, we can and do learn from one another in these conversations. But it helps if we first digest the vast body of knowledge already in place. And as you point out, that endeavor is time consuming and seldom easy.

  2. Bill – thanks. I often use a model from Covey’s Seven Habits which offers a grid mapping urgency and importance. Too often we spend time in things that are urgent and unimportant, where the real value is in time dedicated to important but not urgent. I believe that is where real learning occurs.

    I remember the benefits of taking the time to digest complex information. In my case it related to various reports on the car industry and environmental performance back in the early 1990s, when it wasn’t a hot issue. I suddently became the PR expert on the topic, simply through reading things that others had never taken the time to study. As a result, I got to work on many interesting projects, conceive good campaigns and gained future career opportunities.

    I like the idea of allowing students a rewrite – several of the guys at Bournemouth who submitted their assignment after Christmas have already said they feel they could do it better if they did it over. I suppose that is the point of several years’ studying in that they should improve during that time, adding in more complex theories and developing depth of understanding.

    As you say, the shame is that this hasn’t transferred sufficiently to practice, especially in respect of lifelong learning. I update my study materials every year and sometimes wonder why I put in all the effort. But re-reading sources and adding in new perspectives, I believe keeps the material and myself fresh and forward thinking. I also know I am much better as a facilitator of the knowledge when I have really digested information myself rather than just repeating it.

  3. Sorry to be so late returning, Heather. I want to add my frustration over the fact that many students don’t take the time to read and re-read, either. They don’t seem interested in complex issues, even when I remind them that the businesses for which they will someday work face nothing BUT complex issues. They don’t seem to have patience for anything over 400 words in length. Another challenge of the digital age.

  4. Hi Heather,

    I’m currently in my 3rd year of studying a PR degree, and have found your blogs fascinating to read.
    Almost everything you say rings true to what i’m currently learning, and i can honestly say that the public relations degree isn’t as easy as some people would like to believe!
    I’m writing my dissertation on the value of getting a PR degree, whether it helps when looking for a job etc. Your blogs, especially from Jan 07, have been really interesting to read.
    Hopefully i will find that people are valuing the PR degree more nowadays, and that all my hard work over the last 3 years will have paid off!

    Best wishes,

  5. Bill – you are right about understanding complex issues, and I suppose students are typical of many members of the wider population who increasingly expect to be given instant solutions without taking the time to understand the real arguments.

    Carly – your dissertation sounds really interesting. Keep me informed as I’d love to pick up on it and write about your findings.

  6. Hi Heather,
    I also have received emails which promise to help gain that ‘dream job’ but we all know that such programs don’t exist. If something seems too good to be true then most of us assume that it is a scam.

    The most effective way I have found to develop qualified skills in any profession is through the result of extensive reading, and as Bill Sledzik suggests the re-reading of textbooks. But many students these days tend to lose track of what they are reading if it’s more than a chapter. Public Relation is a subject which requires time and effort to perfect the required skill.

    Many colleges offer basic courses on the subject but as I have discovered in my last year at University, PR is not a subject that can be mastered in the time of just one year. What is evident from the course is that more practical based learning is needed so that skills gained can actually be used and applied in the world of work. Courses need to be organised in much greater detail in order to giving students the opportunity to digest the information learned.

    Technology is advancing rapidly but this doesn’t mean that we as humans are able to learn whole subjects from just reading. We do need to interact with each other in order of understanding the contents better, and it helps as we also see the subject from a different perspective. We do need the opportunity to apply our knowledge of skill in the work place during the course of academic studying in order of correct our mistakes.

    As time progresses learning will change as subjects are becoming more hands on. See it would be nice to try and do what you have suggested with applying what we have learned, testing it and then reviewing the benefits but this is not the case for many courses out there. The opportunity to draft your assignments does not exist on my course therefore it’s always a bit harder to judge if you’re going the right way.

    My degree has taken me three years, to some that might be too little or too much, but personally I believe it to be the right amount of time in learning the skilled subject of Film and Media Studies. I just hope that in the end when I receive my degree it is printed on quality paper.

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