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Being an OU student
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2 What do I need to know about distance learning?

Distance learning is probably different from how you have learned in the past. There are many real benefits to be had but, as with most things in life, also some challenges. This isn’t meant to make you anxious. It’s just useful to understand what these might be before you start, that way you can think about how you’ll address possible challenges.

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Figure 1 Pros and cons

Here are some of the pros and cons.

Pro: You can study at a pace and time to suit you

As an OU student you’re not tied to a rigid timetable of lectures and events. So you can fit your learning around your other commitments. There are still deadlines to meet. You’ll have strict cut-off dates for assignments but how and when you work to meet them is up to you.

Pro: You decide where and when you study

Students have a wide variety of approaches to study. You might get up early and study, or study on the train on the way to work. You could study with your headphones on while the family is watching TV or stay on at work for an extra couple of hours where it is quiet and use that time.

Libraries, kitchens, bedrooms, sheds, cars, trains, gardens… the list of places you can study is endless. You can potentially make any space a learning space.

Pro: Working while you learn

Many OU students are working at the same time they are studying. If the module you’re studying is relevant to your job, then this opportunity to practise what you learn is really valuable.

Con: Feeling alone

Studying at a distance may make you feel separate from your fellow students and the university. However, as you’ve seen already there are lots of people you can talk to for support. You’ll also have lots of opportunities to interact with other students, for example in your tutor group forum and at tutorials, so try and get involved in these. There are also lots of social media spaces where you can meet other people – many students form local study groups and also meet up in person. The OU Students’ Association also offers a range of activities and events you can take part in.

Interacting with other students is your choice – while we encourage you to take part in tutorials, the amount of social interaction you have is entirely up to you.

Con: Self-motivation

This can be a challenge but is also one of the key skills you’ll develop and demonstrate through studying with the OU. Your tutor is there to help with and support your learning. They don’t stand over you like teachers at school to make sure you are completing everything. This means that you need to be able to motivate yourself to get your work done and assignments submitted. At times this can be challenging but reaching out to your fellow students and tutor for support may help you stay motivated. It can also be useful to remind yourself why you wanted to study in the first place: remember your personal goals. Why did you start on the journey?

Con: You will need to tell your tutor if you need help

Because your tutor doesn’t see you every week, you need to let them know if you’re struggling. The secret is to be proactive and talk to your tutor or your student support teams (SST) as soon as you feel you’re struggling or have an issue. They are experts at helping you find ways to overcome difficulties with your studies – whether large or small.

We asked some students to think about the pros and cons of distance learning. Some filmed themselves and sent us their films; others were interviewed at a Students’ Association conference. Watch this video to hear what they thought.

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Although there may be some challenges to distance learning there are also strategies that can help you. You’ll get some more tips to guide you on your way in the next section.