Distance Learning With The Open University


I started studying a Business Management degree with The Open University in October last year (2017) and wanted to chat today a bit about what my experience has been like in the first 4 months. Distance learning isn't something I thought I would ever do, and to be totally honest it's something I always turned my nose up to it a little bit (a lot a bit). Especially when I was in school.

A bit of background:

I left school at the end of 6th year with a decent enough set of Highers that did and could still get me into a 'brick and mortar' university. For a variety of reasons, one being that I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to study, I didn't take the unconditional place I had at the end of school and I had a bit of an existential crisis in the months following. I had always planned on going to University and it is what had always been expected of me so dealing with the fact that I hadn't gone when all my friends were living it up in Freshers Week was quite hard. Thankfully, I landed in a job that I do now love and would like to build a career around, at least for now (until I can quit and blog full-time, duh).

By mid-2017, I had been working in recruitment for 2 years and I started to really miss education and I felt it lacking from my life. I think this was also inspired by starting to feel quite passive in my job and wanting to feel like I was doing something a little bit more than just getting up every day, going to the office, and then coming home.  I've now accepted that the constant feeling of not knowing what the hell you are doing with your life is actually quite normal at the age of 20 and I think I'm okay with that.

Deciding I wanted to study again:

I toyed with a lot of ideas, I considered going to college full-time, I considered a total career change with an apprenticeship, I considered crawling into my bed and never ever leaving (still considering that one tbh). As bad as it may sound, my main motivator for not wanting to give up my job was the money. I've become accustomed to a full-time wage and I ain't giving that up. I had by this point decided that I missed education. I wanted to learn. I wanted a degree, not for the student discount or the cheap booze nights, but to actually improve myself and further my career. I wanted to prove to everybody - and myself - that I could do it.

I think that is a really important turning point in my journey with education. Previously, I was going to University because it was the done thing, because everyone else was doing it and it's what everyone wanted me to do, but I didn't necessarily want it then. This means that now I am studying again, I'm appreciative of what I'm learning, I want to take it all in and I think I'm having a much richer experience for that fact.

Choosing on The OU and applying:

Now I would have been the first to fob off a degree from the OU a few years back. Even a year back. I didn't see the point in it because 'is it even a real degree?', 'can't anyone just do it?'.

I knew I didn't want to quit my job, that was for sure, and I didn't want to go part-time either. I needed to be able to study in my own time, around my own commitments, and when I learnt that The OU was fully-funded, I decided it was at least worth a chance

Getting in was just a case of completing paperwork. I opted to do a Business Management degree (which, to add, will be the exact same degree that someone that attended a normal university will have) as I felt it would be the most useful in my life. It already helps me in my job right now and I want to run my own business one day so it was a natural fit. I had to go through the process of SAAS - as an OU student you don't get student loans but I do get my qualification totally funded as I earn under £25,000 and live in Scotland. It was fairly straightforward and the Student Support team were on hand with any questions, they were quite brilliant actually.

I chose my modules as you would at any other University, and I waited in anticipation for my course to start over the Summer. It kicked off in October in line with English universities and shortly before I received a large box of books - there were 7 books for my main module which is worth 60 credits.

The actual 'learning' part...

As an OU student, you have the following resources: 

  1. Books for each module.
  2. Online weekly planners that give you additional information, videos to watch, activities to complete. 
  3. Online forums
  4. An assigned tutor 

I have up to 6 years to complete my degree, although I can do it in 4 if I wanted to. Being realistic, as I do still work full-time and run my blog, I opted to do 60 credits in 1st year which is equivalent to half the hours of study a full-time student would do. It is heavy going and there is a lot to get through.

I attend about 3 online tutorials a month, and 1-day school a month roughly. I have tutor Marked Assignments to hand in every 5/6 weeks - I've submitted 3 so far and currently dreading my results from my Accounting and Finance block.

After 4 months of study, I can absolutely say my opinion on The OU study has totally changed. It is f*cking tough. And I don't often swear on here. I have shed literal tears trying to understand balance sheets and ratios and economics, I've had to call my tutor at 9pm before a midnight deadline, freaking out because I had started at a formula for so long it didn't look like real numbers anymore (true story). Similarly, I have learnt so much. And having worked in a small business for over 2 years, I feel like I have a more practical understanding of what I'm learning and how it fits into the 'real world'. I actually actively enjoy nosying at financial statements on Companies House now and understand what it all means.

Like other universities, 1st-year modules don't count towards your degree classification (THANK U GOD), but the pressure is on next year as to get a 1st with The OU, you need to get over 90% which is substantially higher than other universities.

My overall opinion:

It is definitely a different learning experience to what my friends are experiencing, but the actual information I am learning is just the same. And honestly, the stress of balancing it all will make or break you. That in itself has been a lesson that a normal university could never have taught me. I do feel like I have missed out on the whole halls and unions and 'student lifestyle', but for me, it's right. Apart from not attending physical lessons all the time, I feel just like a normal student, I have unidays, I get stressed over deadlines and spend hours perfecting and studying notes. I'm so happy to be learning again and I'm so happy I took the leap to do it in a way that suits me, rather than not doing it just because of my own misconceptions about it.

If distance learning is something you are considering or something you haven't considered before but it sounds like it could be right for you, I would encourage you wholeheartedly to at least look into it. Looking back, I'm so happy with my choice and really wouldn't change it.