Following up from my first blog post, I thought I’d include questions I have received. Thank you to everyone who contributed and I hope you find the information and advice useful.
1. I have considered (several times really) about going back to University to get another qualification. I’ve considered part-time and distance learning, but I worry about having a lack of motivation to do the studying. Just wondering what has your experience been in that area? — Bert
Motivation is a funny thing. How come when I’m really busy with other things I want to study, yet when I have nothing to do I suddenly find housework inexplicably alluring? Being a distance student means that here is no consistent schedule of lectures and tutorials, and so I have to motivate myself if I want to succeed. That said, there are a multitude of factors that can motivate study: the satisfaction of receiving a good result in an essay is enough for some; others find focusing on long-term goals such as the career prospects helps to drive them; many that find a particular subject of interest will mean they put a lot of effort into it because they enjoy it. Personally I find a mixture of these factors motivates me. For me there is nothing better than learning something new. When I find myself lacking motivation, I simply stop studying. Better to stop than to crawl along and not fully take in what I’m reading.
2. i am presently a senior health inspector with 20 years of experience and holder of a diploma in sanitary science in mauritius and is willing to follow a distant learning professional and postgraduate course to enrich myself,earn academic skill and to be on top.my fear and doubt are;will this investment in terms of money,personal involvement,time be a good investment.please could you help and advise. — Michael
The issue of investment is a tricky one when it comes to any sort of further or higher education. I’m sure you’re well aware that a degree – even at a postgraduate level – no longer ‘guarantees’ any sort of employment, never mind what would be considered a ‘decent’ salary. The fact that you have a lot of experience and already hold a diploma will definitely give you a head start if you do decide to follow a distance learning postgraduate course. You are investing your money not only in your career, but yourself. I think that, as long as you can afford it, furthering your study is a great idea. It is worth looking further into courses that interest you. Good luck!
3. Reading this has given me extra hope for going back to learn new things. but like alot of people paying for the travel can be a deal breaker, especially when also have other bills and whatnot. But distance learning could be a good option — James
It is a good option James, especially if you would like to study a particular course but cannot find something suitable at local Universities and are not prepared to move far away to study. Of course the best part is that you can generally work more hours while studying from a distance, as long as you are prepared to perhaps spend longer studying a degree than a full-time student. Personally I find it works out very well. It’s always good to have money and the joys of student discounts. The down side is finding time to relax and unwind (and use that student discount). There is no doubt about it – work, personal and studying commitments will always clash at some point and the temptation to go out to the pub rather than sit and read on a Saturday evening is never easy.
4. Considering you work full-time, how do you find being able to combine a full-time job and distance learning? Do you struggle for time, or can it be handled with decent time management skills? Though I enjoy my work at the moment (train driver) I find the idea of studying and learning a new craft intriguing, so I’d appreciate to hear your thoughts — Adam
I covered some of this in the previous question and the answer — as you’ve said yourself — is time management. Essays don’t write themselves (unfortunately) and until they do, time management is the best way to ensure that you don’t fall behind with assignments or spend too much time reading and not enough drafting essays. Balancing work and studying is something that gets easier with time if you are realistic about your goals and stick to a schedule. At the end of the day it is only yourself you are letting down if you fail, so it certainly pays to plan ahead and the benefits will soon become apparent.
5. Surprisingly I am finding distance learning is not as overwhelming as I expected, not as yet at least. However, I do think that I need to be doing more reading regarding the essay assignment —
R. Samuel, Security and Risk Management student
I know how that feels. Particularly at the beginning of the course it can feel like there’s so many things to take on board, even if you have completed previous further or higher education courses in the past. I suppose the only advice I could offer would be to think carefully about what it is you’re reading, and relate it to the assignment question, before you begin reading mountains of information that may be interesting, but not very useful. As time goes on I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it – and of course utilising the index in books and ‘required/suggested reading’ information included with assignments are always godsends 🙂
And here are a few of my thoughts and tips:
1. Get involved
Being a distance student is tough at the best of times. It’s perfectly normal to feel a little isolated from everyone else – after all, your fellow students are likely to come from a variety of countries! Getting involved in the online forum (e.g. on Blackboard) for your course, signing up to receive the latest news from the student union and taking part in the Distance Learning Student Staff Committee all help to immerse yourself into the student environment. Unfortunately I find the forums go mostly unused and are undervalued, however perhaps this varies depending on the course and student count.
2. Buy a diary
Or at the very least, use your mobile phone’s calender function. Use it to keep track of work and personal commitments, then work in your study plan around it. I find that if I make a list of things I need to do, it is more likely to get done. I find prioritised to-do lists tend to work best. The most effective way to compile a prioritised list is to write down outstanding tasks (breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones) and then run through them one by one, rating them numerically (or similar) depending on their priority (and don’t forget to prioritise those with a looming due date, even if it is something horrible like writing a 3000 word essay in 24 hours…you know, the one you kept putting off…).
3. And while we’re on the subject of time-keeping…
…don’t leave everything to the last minute! Most students (this one included) will at some point find themselves behind with assignments. For example I had a small operation last year and, despite attempting to get ahead beforehand, I was unwell for a longer period than I had first anticipated. I knew I wouldn’t make the deadline for the essay, so I did the sensible thing and informed the course tutor, who was very understanding and granted me the short extension I required. If you find yourself in a similar scenario, let your tutor know ASAP so that you can agree upon an extended deadline. NB: procrastination on the likes of LOLcats and/or Facebook does not count. Boo.
4. Make the most of available opportunities
Can your employer sponsor all or part of your degree? Can you make it to any lectures, study schools or other University events? Could your degree assist your career progression? If so, how? Be realistic of course, but by all means be ambitious. It is understandable that many students will find it geographically impossible to attend lectures. However seek out as many opportunities as possible. Make the most of studying. I like to attend as many lectures and seminars as possible, in order to network and take notes on information that may at some point become relevant.
Seeking opportunities to apply the theoretical knowledge that you gain through studying is also an option. Of course it helps if you have a degree of flexibility, or even a management role within the workplace, but even if you cannot practically do much to solve the problems in your workplace, there is no harm in applying theory hypothetically and perhaps exploring what you would do if you were in such a position to make decisions.
5. Take notes
Lots of notes. I once read in a particularly useful book about researching (groan…I suppose I should reference it properly…) how the author approached note-taking. ‘I keep a record of everything I read, even sources which have proved to be of no interest or use to me’ writes Bell (2010: 66). While you may or may not agree with this statement, it does help to take as many notes as you can, whether you are reading textbooks, journals, news articles, websites or anything else for that matter. Not only will it make your life easier when it comes to writing up assignments and could prove to be useful in the future, it also gives you practice of referencing properly – and trust me, you can never reference too much!
Bell, J. (2010) Doing Your Research Project, 5th edn, Berkshire: Open University Press
— Incidentally, the above book is a great source of information not only for those embarking upon research projects, but for any student who would like advice on note-taking, reading, Harvard referencing and a whole host of other useful bits. Definitely worth a purchase.
And that’s about it for another blog post. If you made it to the end, congratulations!