When you think of studying, do you think of University Students, hunched over a desk in a dimly-lit,
musty smelling library at ungodly hours of the day (possibly because it is the only place they can find
with heating…), poring over dusty academic journals on topics that have no bearing to real life
situations? Admittedly, that is what studying really is like for some unfortunate souls, but it doesn’t
have to be – in today’s ‘Digital Age’, it is possible to study towards professional, recognised and
accredited qualifications online, and alongside your day job.
Studying online doesn’t suit everyone, but it can be incredibly rewarding. If you’ve never studied
online before, here are a few hints and tips that could help to make the transition from Distance/E-
Learning novice to fully-fledged, expert online learner!
1. Try to schedule in regular time for your course, around your day job, regular household
chores and hobbies: By scheduling in time specifically for your course, not only will you be
able to see whether you physically have the time to dedicate to an online course, but you
will be mentally prepared to study when the allotted time arrives! It can be so easy to
‘postpone’ studying after a long and stressful day at work, but putting off half an hour here
and half an hour there just means that one day, possibly a few days before a big assessment
is due, you are going to have a monster 36 hour studying binge to deal with… and trust me,
there is only so much coffee your body can handle!
2. Set yourself up a dedicated learning environment: Thanks to the invention of the trusty
Laptop, it is now possible for people to work anywhere where they have an internet
connection. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good thing! Many a day I have sat down
in front of the television, laptop fired up and ready to go, and found myself engrossed in a
Bear Grylls marathon 4 hours later, having only typed up 3 lines of text! If you have space for
a desk, or can set aside some space at the kitchen or dining room table, away from
televisions and the general hubbub associated with a regular family home, you won’t regret
it! The fewer distractions that you have around you when you are trying to learn something
new, the easier you will find it to take in the new information. Once you have finished your
studying for the day, you can then get up and leave the computer and your work behind,
and relax comfortably in a space that you don’t associate with work or learning – just what
you need to reward yourself after a good session studying!
3. Join an online learning community: When you are studying online or via a distance learning
course, you miss out on the traditional camaraderie that a physical learning environment
can bring. No matter how supportive your friends and family are, they can only feign
interest in your tales of mammoth reading sessions and complicated exam questions for so
long. If it is possible to get in touch with people who are doing the same course as you, I
strongly recommend it – they will be able to laugh at your ‘in-jokes’ about the subject area,
as well as share experiences with you, and possibly recommend some good learning
resources. It’s nice to feel part of a wider learning community, especially on those long, dark
winter evenings when you are faced with a mountain of academic reading material and feel
a little isolated.
4. Ask for help if you need it: For most online courses, you are allocated a tutor – don’t be
afraid to approach them for advice! You shouldn’t consider them as a shadowy, otherworldly
figure who is above answering your trivial questions, they are there to help. If you don’t
understand certain terminology or an academic theory, or are confused about what is
required for a certain piece of work, don’t suffer in silence! By clarifying any issues you have
early on, you are saving yourself hours of headaches and worrying later on. You won’t be
considered a failure if you ask for help – your tutor is there to help you achieve the best
marks possible for the work that you complete, so take advantage of their knowledge and
experience, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Please also don’t worry too much about
constructive criticism if you give them some work to look at prior to officially handing it in;
once again, your tutor wants you to achieve the best marks possible, and will provide useful
guidance to help you do this. Look at what you can improve on, rather than what you got
As I mentioned earlier, online learning doesn’t suit everyone, but if you have got enough time to
dedicate to an accredited online course in a subject that you are really interested in, give it a go!
There are plenty of free, short online courses for you to have a go at first –
https://www.futurelearn.com/ is one great source, offering free mini-courses from some of the UK’s
leading Universities that are entirely online and which can really help you to determine whether the
online learning route is right for you. If it is, good luck! At Footstep Training we have a wide range of
courses to help with your continuous professional development, so why not take a look?