A Guide to Juggling Distance Learning and Work

A Guide to Juggling Distance Learning and Work

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Juggling distance learning and work can seem like a daunting task, as it involves taking on yet another commitment in your already busy life. But you understand that in order to grab the promotion you want or to make a desired career change, you need to upskill. This means that you need to get essential qualifications under your belt.

Distance learning is a way to get these qualifications without having to give up work or find time on the evening, week after week to attend a college course. That said, juggling a distance learning alongside work can be tough. How have other students accomplished successfully balancing these two?

The biggest issue for many students, including those that study part-time, full-time, as well as by distance, is time – or more precisely, a lack of it.

When you work full or part time, you instantly lose many hours each week of possible study time. Combine this with other commitments, and you might be left feeling that you literally have no time left to study.

Making time may mean looking at some of these commitments and taking a step back – but when giving up work or dropping hours is not a possibility, what are your options?

  • Identify time, and use it wisely – From the 20-minute work commute on a train or bus to your lunch hour each day, there are small snippets of time throughout the day that you can utilise for studying and/or reading. For example, you can spend 20 minutes reading an assignment title, noting down a few ideas or reading through course material. This is all time well spent.
  • Study periods – Distance learning courses are of the same quality and content as those taught in class in colleges across the country. They will come with an indicative ‘time to complete’ measurement; the more hours you will need to dedicate to the course, the higher the qualification. This number – e.g. 240 hours – may sound daunting, but divide that by 52 weeks in a year and you will soon come to a more manageable number of study hours per week.

As with all qualifications, there will be intense periods of study as well as times where you can relax a little more. Even though you may create a schedule of study for the week, don’t berate yourself if you don’t manage to follow it exactly – life happens from time to time!

Build in ‘spill over’ periods in your study timetable so that if you don’t get a chance to study for an hour at the specified time, you could carve out some time on another day.

Distractions & Procrastination
Distractions are everywhere – what one student finds annoying, another will enjoy. For example, do you prefer peace and quiet when you work, or do you like listening to music?

It is important to identify what could potentially distract you, and then take positive steps to avoid these factors.

Distraction is one thing, procrastinating is another – this is where you are so overwhelmed that you choose not to face the assignment at all. It might feel easier to watch a TV programme than it is to work, read through course notes or prepare for a test.

Eventually, you slip so far behind that it becomes (in your mind) impossible to catch up, and so your course (and its potentially career-changing qualifications) slip through your fingers.

The secret to success for any distance learning course, regardless of topic or level, is to maintain regular ‘contact’, whether that is reading a textbook or a related journal, reading through course materials or similar. Keep pushing your course to the front of your mind, keep it within reach, and learn to identify distractions when you are procrastinating.

Study Space
At work you will no doubt have a space that you work from. It could be a workbench or a drawing board, a reception desk or a desk in a large open-plan office – this is your space, and you should make it your own.

This could be something as simple as arranging your desk or personalising it with a photo of your family. All of these small elements combine to make it a place where you feel comfortable to complete your daily tasks.

Your study space should be the same. It doesn’t have to be a grand, large space – the current trend is to create a study nook (i.e. under the stairs) that utilises a small amount of space but does so in a very practical way. It should be comfortable, a place where you can work on your course without interruption for an hour or two per week.

Employers want to hire well-rounded staff that possess a range of skills and qualifications. The better equipped and skilled their workforce, the better shape their business will be in to compete in a competitive market place.

Many employers will offer support to employees that they know are undergoing courses, so it is well worth chatting with your human resources department or reading through the staff manual.

  • Payment – Some employers will pay for all or part of the course fees if the course is relevant to your work. Check what they would expect in return, as some companies insist that you remain employed by them for a number of years after you received the qualification. They may also want you to pay back any course fees incurred if you fail to complete the course.
  • Study leave – When budgets are tight, employers will often offer support in other ways. They might offer employee study leave. This can be one day a month or an afternoon or morning off, or ad hoc hours taken here and there. Again, check the fine print as to when you can take this study leave and (it goes without saying) really should use it to study!

Real Life
As well as paying course fees and/or offering study time, employers will often allow you to use work as a practical element for your coursework or assignments.

For example, a teaching assistant studying for the Higher Level Teaching Assistant qualification may need to use the classroom setting as the basis of a project. This could mean facilitating small group work or delivering a pre-planned session. They may need to be assessed in this role as proof that they can deliver a lesson or facilitate small group work. In this case, the classroom teacher will act as an informal assessor, offering feedback that will prove valuable when completing the course.

Using real life and workplace experiences is a critical part of vocational qualifications, and a good form of support from an employer. This is a great way to achieve balance when studying for a qualification whilst working.

Use experiences past and present to add depth to your course and to your learning.

Be Organised
It is Monday morning and you have a full week of work ahead, full of extra pressures as well as commitments in your family life. To top it all off, you have an assignment that you need to complete in order to move on to the next topic.

Getting and staying organised is critical to balance and success when learning from home. Being organised means thinking ahead, understanding what needs to shift to the back burner, and what needs to come to the fore.

This includes prioritising topics and activities that need to be completed in order for you to successfully stay on track and complete your course.

It is inevitable that at certain times your course will need to take a back seat, giving way to work commitments (and vice versa).

Don’t Cram
When you sign up for a distance learning course it can be tempting to bask in the glory of trying something new – meanwhile, letting all of your coursework fall by the wayside. You need to assign value to your course and the qualification it offers you, as well as to the learning process itself.

This means staying with your course and not leaving assignments to the last minute – just say no to cramming! This is not good for your stress level, and it won’ts get you the desired results.

Try to arrange your work and studying responsibilities so that they are in harmony. Look at your work and study calendars and try to dovetail them together. For example, don’t try and complete a major assignment that requires many hours of study and reading into the same week you are involved in a big project at work.

Take Time for Yourself
In amongst all this work and study is YOU! You mustn’t forget that you need to take some time out for your own peace of mind. Just like you have a day or two off from work, you should have a day or two off from studying.

Enjoy the fresh air, go to the gym, go to Zumba class, enjoy a walk up a mountain, meet a friend for afternoon tea, or enjoy an afternoon watching a classic film on TV – any activity that makes you feel good is a great way of restoring work and study balance!

What hints and tips do you want to share with your fellow learners? Email us your ideas!

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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