Being an OU student
Being an OU student

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Being an OU student

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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Transcript: The pros and cons of OU study

The materials are of a really high standard and are literally everything you need to study with The Open University. They are literally a complete package. The online materials and the module readers are all brilliant.
When I first started learning to write assignments, I think the hardest thing for me was looking at the language, looking at the layout and thinking, I need to go back and write essays again. That, for me, I think, was the hardest thing that I had to do, was getting in that mindset and re-learning how to write essays, as it had been over a decade since I'd last done them.
I've communicated with other students in Australia and in the Scottish islands and absolutely everywhere. And you just wouldn't get that if you were going to a brick university every day.
The challenge is the exact same thing. The fact that you're on your own, and you're doing it, and the isolation is the biggest issue with the OU. You are there on your own. And you have to motivate yourself. And that's really hard to get into the mindset of. But there's support out there. The OU Students Association will happily get involved and help you meet other like-minded students to do that.
Some people feel quite isolated. Getting involved in student community can help with that. And I suppose self-motivation is the big one. So having to actually get up and be a self-starter each day and work out how you're going to study that day, and where you're going to fit it into your life, that's probably the biggest challenge.
I would say the only downside to studying with distant learning is that it's not the same as in a formal setting. You don't have a teacher teaching you. You have to show dedication and commitment and practically teach yourself. Although the online materials and the module readers are there to help and support you, you need to show dedication and commitment to be able to keep studying at home in your own time, at your own pace. But It's so worth it once you achieve your goals.
For me, sure, the flexibility. I've just- hopefully, if I've passed my exams, I will have got a bachelor in mathematics, which I was planning to do in three years full-time. It's actually taken me seven years part-time, because life got in the way, shall we say. But there was never any question that I would be disregistered from the course. I was never, ever made to feel embarrassed or like I'd failed from my student support team or tutors. I say, I need a break. They say, great, here's your options. And they really allow you to reach whatever you want to reach.
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The pros and cons of OU study
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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.


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