Open university: My advice to all expectant mothers and parents who are considering distance learning.

During my first pregnancy I suffered pretty badly with anxiety. Luckily having my son really gravitated me and I was lucky enough that my anxiety majorly improved. So when I found out I was pregnant with baby #2 I realised I needed to find something to keep me (and my nerves) busy during the downtimes such as when #1 was napping or in bed for the night.

I’d always thought about further education but I’d gotten as far as the financials and been totally put off, I was unsure about the idea of a huge student loan. The idea was really unnerving and I come from a family who are very financially aware and always preach against any form of debt or loan.

Eventually though I decided to read the information offered by the university and the government and felt significantly reassured. I’ve recently completed my first module. Here are some things I’ve learnt about distance learning;

1- Study a subject you are passionate about.

Or at least something you can really enjoy. Originally I thought about studying accounting, it would offer a wide range of job opportunities, Problem was, although I had some experience in the subject it had never particularly interested me and I’d always had motivational problems completing my work. I knew taking on a course during pregnancy and a new baby with a pre-schooler was going to require a lot of dedication and time so I had to be really motivated.

I took some time and thought about the things I was interested in. I kept coming back to history, I loved documentaries about historic figures their influences, actions, designs and inventions. Before I signed up to the course I had a look online at what kind of job opportunities were available. where I live has a pretty rich history (not all pleasant I must admit!) and there are a surprising amount of jobs for history graduates. So I took the plunge and sent off my study & loan applications.

2- Make sure you have time to study

For a part time course the recommendation is that you take 16 hours a week to study. You might not need that much time every week but you will definitely need plenty of hours! Finding time to study and pen essays is the hardest part of distance learning as a parent – particularly when you have a new-born who doesn’t have a routine and who you want to spend every second cuddling or staring at!

Sometimes the best plan of action is just to study as and when you can such as when the kids are sleeping or when older children want to play independentally. If you have older children and you have a set routine where you have enough free time I cannot recommend enough using a weekly planner to allocate study time, this way you’ll know before hand that you are going to study and it really does make it easier to motivate yourself.

I was absolutely terrible at managing my time, I would find myself trying to read 2 or 3 chapters in one week and writing my assignments in one evening far too often. I was lucky enough to still mostly achieve (mostly) high passes but if I had been more organised and planned my time better I could’ve been on track to achieve distinctions!

If you can I would even recommend getting a week ahead of your study, this allows for any unforeseen events. I left writing my final assignment to the week it was due and unfortunately my tiny person came down with a really horrible cold, I was so busy caring for her 24/7 that I ended up behind and submitted my end of module a day late and had to receive a -10% penalty. It was gutting but naturally our children will always come first. If I had been working a week in advance I would have been fine.

So making sure you have time to study, plan/write essays and engage in tutorials is really, really important. Trying to cram too much in to too littler time can really be detrimental to your grades.

If you are pregnant its really important that you have a good comfortable chair to sit in whilst reading or on a laptop. There are some really great support pillows that you can buy, also make sure you keep a big water bottle near by to keep yourself hydrated!

3- Get involved with the community

As a stay at home mum it’s always nice to talk to other people. I don’t like to go out without my little ones much so forging these online connections with people all over the country from the comfort of your own home is a great way to socialise. It’s also a really great boost to your course, whilst of course you can’t be involved in each others work you can chat about materials, relevant experiences and discoveries etc.

The forums provided are excellent if you need help with something in the materials and for gaining motivational support from others. My course also offered guest forums too where we could interact with a person who held importance in our particular field, which was always educational and inspirational. The best part is that forums aren’t just instant conversations, you can post at any time and someone will always get back to you which is great when you are working around young children!

Getting involved in the community is really important from a social aspect and a study aspect but also so that you don’t miss out on great opportunities such as career forums and invitations to events and panels.

Overall, I’ve really loved my first module as open university student and have found that it is doable as a parent – as long as your willing to dedicate whatever small amount of spare time you have to your studies because you will need every second of it. I’ve been lucky enough to have met some really great people and to have had an excellent tutor who was more than happy to help when I needed it and was really understanding about my need for an extension when I was in the hospital being induced with baby #2. The material has been consistently great and has really helped blossom my interests. Best of all it really helped me avoid another anxious spell because between a 2 year old, a pregnancy and a degree module I didn’t have a single second left to worry!

One thing I will say though is if you are considering Distance learning with the open university make sure you read up on the financials and are in complete understanding of the financial terms you are agreeing to with loans, grants and other methods of payments.

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