I am now in my final year of my Open University degree, studying two modules this year making me a full time student. It feels a little strange to type that, odd to think that I only have a few more months left of this study life. Anyway, over the years I have found a few ways that ensure that I am at my most productive studying at home. I think that with studying like this, it can be tricky to remain motivated and to establish any kind of routine or best practices, so here are a few of my distance learning study tips…
Create a Workspace
It really doesn’t matter where it is, it just needs to work well for you. For me, that’s my kitchen table. It’s warm there, spacious and clear of clutter and distractions. I can grab my stuff and get working straightaway. Which brings me to my next point.
Have Everything to Hand
I keep my modules and work in boxes, one for each module. The box holds the module materials, notebook, pens, highlighters and sticky labels. It’s all that I ever need when I am studying, so I can simply get the box, pop it out on the table, and I am good to go. There’s no time wasted rummaging for pens, books and so on. Using time effectively is definitely key to distance learning.
Be sure to build in study breaks, and learn to recognise your own moods as you’ll then know when you need a break. If I am writing an assignment I prefer no break, but to sit for as many hours as it takes to get it written – once I’m in the zone, I want to stay there and get it done! But when I am working through a chapter, it really can vary as to how long it can hold my attention for before I catch my mind wandering. You need to spot that happening and take a break. Build in rewards, use timers, or just learn to recognise when you’re no longer taking everything in effectively. Go make a drink, have a snack, move around, whatever you need to do, before getting back to it.
Sometimes there are days when pretty much everything is more tempting to do than study! If you’re not in the mood for it, and can afford the time not to, then I’d recommend waiting and coming back to it when you are feeling it. But that’s not always an option when you’ve limited time or a deadline looming, so in those cases, you’ll need to do all you can to minimise distractions and opportunities to procrastinate. Distractions will vary from person to person, environment to environment, but for me, this would be my phone. It’s so easy to just pop there and see what’s happening in the world rather than read. So I either mute it or put it far, far away from me!
I struggle to concentrate without some background noise, but I get distracted with most music as I end up singing along in my head! So for me, classical music works best. I know some people use white noise or soundtracks of natural sounds, all will work as they are unlikely to serve as distractions.
Work Out Your Study Times
You’ll need to look at your own routines and commitments and then work out where studying will fit best for you. Do take into account when you are at your best, too. For me, I know that I am a morning person so tend to work best earlier in the day than late at night, though I know plenty of people would be the other way round. I completed my first couple of modules whilst working full time, and found that using my commutes and lunch breaks really worked well for me, then a little more over the weekend. Nowadays, studying with my kids around me just doesn’t work. They either need to be at school or in bed, their background noise does not help me at all! I structure my time so that I have study slots built into my week, and I then see them as a commitment that I need to fulfil, which helps me to keep on track.
Stick to the Schedule
There will be a week by week suggested study schedule, and whenever possible, stick to it. I have yet to let this one get away from me, as I know myself well and I work best when feeling that I am on top of things. However, things do crop up, so if you’re falling behind be sure to let your tutor know in the first place and seek guidance. It may sometimes be the case that you look at your materials strategically and skip any areas that you can in order to catch up, or request extensions.
Wherever possible, take advantage of tutorials. Distance learning is very isolated, as you work alone to understand that module, so tutorials can help cement learning, are a chance to raise questions and connect with other students. I tend to book them in as soon as they are available so I can work them around my diary and schedule. This year, for the first time, I have attended a couple of online tutorials which have been useful. I’d say that I still favour face to face tutorials, but there’s no doubt that the online ones are far more convenient and take up a lot less time. I’ve had a good mix of both this year, and there will always be something to take away from them.
I hope this has helped if you’re distance learning or are considering doing so at some point. I’d definitely recommend it, as I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences with the Open University. Staying disciplined and motivated will get you through, best of luck.