ITL #380 Distance learning: bite-sized skills training for PR worldwide

3 weeks, 2 days ago


The PR Training Academy provides laser-focused, PR-specific skills training endorsed by IPRA to the industry worldwide. By Ellen Gunning.

The PR Training Academy has commissioned independent research over two years (Spring 2017 to Spring 2019) among PR professionals worldwide to find out what their greatest challenge was, and their perceived solutions for that very problem.

When respondents were asked to identify the greatest challenge facing their business, 57.4% said: keeping abreast of social media and communications.

We asked those same practitioners to rank their most preferred option to upskill. Here’s what they said: 64.2% commuter learning (bite sized information by video, text and audio) 43.3% 24/7 access to quality online courses, 40.3% access to a suite of online professional courses

The PR Training Academy was created, specifically, in response to that research. We are a training platform designed by PR practitioners for PR practitioners.

Pre-coronavirus launch

The PR Training Academy was launched in September 2019 in Estonia, specifically in response to that research. This research was done before covid-19 was even imagined, and before the value of online learning really became evident in a society where face-to-face training is not only difficult but very costly because of social distancing rules.

The coronavirus pandemic has re-shaped skills training and traditional education methods around the world. Let me share some insights with you about online learning worldwide.

Let’s put it in context first. Justine McGrath from ProACTive Coaching is a leadership coach based in Dublin, Ireland. Her clients are struggling to manage a workforce mostly working from home, where they have little opportunity to interact with co-workers and the structure of the work day has totally changed.

These leaders, like their employees, choose to spend time on social and traditional media, trying to establish the truth in this ‘new normal’. They are also trying to learn more about the future of education for their children and what their own work environment will soon look like.

Leaders are also re-evaluating their own lifestyles with the added time they now have without commuting, travel, and rushing from one meeting to the next. As a result, these individuals are comparing the quality of life this new work style provides with their old work style before the virus.

Desirable re-evaluation

Their employees likewise are wondering if they really need the stress and pressure of their old jobs. Maybe this is the ideal time for them to look at a career change and, if they enjoy what they do, ensuring that they keep their skills up-to-date because working fewer hours or being furloughed does not help to keep you abreast of trends and developments. This re-evaluation is becoming a necessary or even desirable outcome of covid-19. Here are some examples:


  • Dr Martin Hendrik Kurz from ILS, the largest distance learning school in Germany says courses are seeing steady and increasing numbers of enrolments in serious diploma and degree courses.


  • Professor Beatrice Ekanjume, the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the National University of Lesotho, says they have moved to distance learning with all their students.


  • There is high mobile phone penetration in Lesotho – all students would have one – but data is expensive. When the university had to change to distance learning, it was clear students would not be able to afford access to their online courses. To solve the problem, the university negotiated a deal with the two national telecom companies that gave students access to data – with the telcos invoicing the university. The National University is paying for data packages for every one of its students, about 10,000 people.


  • Interestingly, EADL, the European Association of Distance Learning has found itself developing new relationships with traditional universities who are struggling to adapt online. These universities lack the skills that distance learning providers have. Delivering a lecture in front of a camera is not distance education! These new collaborations are opening opportunities for EADL members worldwide.


  • In the Netherlands, my colleague George de Jongh from Dirksen tells me one of the challenges they are facing while moving online is having skilled tutors to deliver in this new environment, especially with traditional skills such as welding. He is also conscious of the challenge to make sure students FEEL that they are safe.


  • Traditional industries have been resistant to online learning in the past, but in the wake of covid-19, people like Tony Marks from 20/20 Project Management in Scotland has helped the oil and gas industries move to online training almost overnight.

Global disparity

An estimated 60% of people all over the globe have online access. However, we may be seeing the start of a global divide over access to internet and bandwidth. In most of Africa, distance learning is still book-based. It may be difficult to change this in the near future, particularly on a continent where data is expensive.

So where does all of this leave the PR industry?

The skills that PR people need are always changing at a rapid pace no matter where in the world you are located. In an industry which is constantly moving, access to online training which is just in time and just enough, has never been more important.

PR people are required to be multi-skilled and always ‘on trend’. The communications industry is constantly changing and exciting – but every change has huge impact on your client. You cannot afford to be left behind. The training that you need is not about how to use the social media platforms, for example, it is about how to use these platforms specifically on behalf of your clients to enhance their communication with their publics. The skills training is specific to our industry.

The PR Training Academy gives you unlimited online access to all courses for 12 months from the date of enrolment. You are guaranteed new courses each quarter and you can submit assignments for peer review. It is hard to believe that this industry resource didn’t exist before 2019. Welcome to the world of distance learning for PR professionals.

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The Author

Ellen Gunning

Ellen Gunning is author of Public Relations a Practical Approach, now in its third edition, and the founding director of the PR Training Academy, a global online resource for PR professionals.

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