I am now just over halfway through my fourth module of my Open University degree. I completed the first two years whilst I was working full time, back in my twenties, and the last two I have done whilst working from home on this blog and looking after the children. Different challenges in fitting it in, but in both cases it has worked. I plan to do the final two modules together next year as my youngest will start school then so I’m going to use my newly freed up time productively! With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my experiences with it for anyone thinking of studying with the Open University, perhaps wondering ‘Can I do it?’
What to Study?
First things first, consider your degree and module options. Why are you doing this, what do you want from it? It might be a professional qualification, in which case, this may dictate your choices here. It might be that you have more scope to choose, and if so, I would strongly urge you to pick the degree/module that really grabs and interests you. Distance learning, often around other commitments, is a challenge, so you need to enjoy what you’re learning to really give it your best and find the motivation to hit the books regularly.
How Does it Work?
The majority of your study time will be spent alone. There are tutorials, there are active online forums and there are likely to be Facebook groups. You can always find other students this way and connect with them if that works best for you, but primarily this is about distance learning. You will be supplied with the module materials a few weeks before your course is due to start and the online support opens up at a similar time. You’ll also be assigned a tutor at this point. Do read my 5 Reasons to Study with the Open University for more on how it all works.
OK, so you’ve thought about what you’d like to study, looked into how it all works, but how will it actually work for you in reality?
When Can I Do It?
Time is often the big concern here, especially for students with other responsibilities. Think about your available time. And I mean really think about it. At first glance, it may be that you feel you’re simply too busy to do this. But there may be pockets of time that you can utilise, things that you can change or give up. For example, when I worked full time, I had that to balance along with my marriage, friends and socialising, and getting to the gym. Where could it fit? I ended up using lunchtimes, which gave me five hours a week, reading on my train commutes and then setting aside an evening each week for studying. It worked, two modules passed! Nowadays I utilise a day that my boy is at nursery to get the majority of it covered, and then use an evening each week as and when I need to.
Tips for Making It Work
This leads me to my first tip around studying, book time in for it. When you’re juggling several things, compartmentalising them can make it easier. I set aside certain times in the week when I can work and where possible I stick to them.
Linked to this, I think it’s important to recognise your own study style. Is it little and often or knuckle down for one full day? This might vary depending on how engaged you are in the unit you’re covering, but generally taking regular breaks works well even if you’re working for a few hours in a row. If your mind is wandering, take a break and you’ll come back to it more refreshed.
It’s easiest if you can have all of your materials ready and waiting for you, so you don’t waste study time scrabbling around gathering all that you need. My text books, paper, pens, highlighters and so on all live together in one big box that I grab when it’s time to study.
Work to stay on track, and if possible, get a head start. There will be a schedule to follow with your module, with assignments dotted along the way. If you can work to stick to this, it takes the pressure off you as assignment deadlines come up and you’ll find you’re on track for the timings of tutorials or online discussions. You do often receive the materials a few weeks earlier than the module starts, so I always get a head start here as I just know that being 3-4 weeks ahead will allow for the weeks I lose here and there to other things.
Use the support available. You will have an assigned tutor, student forums and the Open University are great at offering support around degree selections, so use them all.
I can’t believe that I’ll be making my final two module selections soon and that by next summer, fingers crossed, I’ll be all done. Ask me again next year, but I do think I’ll really miss it!
Could studying with the Open University be for you?