For the past seven or so years, I have been studying with the UK’s Open University, working on a degree. I’ve been studying part time for the entirety of those seven years, while also working somewhat full time, switching to completely full time work in August during the school break. It’s been a pretty good experience that has taken up a large chunk of my recent life, so I think it’s definitely worth talking about.
The Open University offers distance learning. It’s the same as a normal university except you don’t go into campus or anything, you study from home, wherever home is. All the courses are taught in English and there is a HUGE array of courses you can sign up for. Courses are separated into undergraduate, postgraduate and masters, but there is also a large selection of short, free courses that you can try as well, in a section called OpenLearn. In fact, OpenLearn also has a bloody enormous amount of topics. They don’t count towards degrees or anything but they cover a very interesting collection of subjects and if you do them, you can put them on your LinkedIn profile.
Funnily enough, back when I started studying properly in 2012, there weren’t nearly as many course and OpenLearn consisted of about 10 introductory courses to see if you had the knowledge and skills to be able to enroll in more difficult courses.
Originally, the Open University was taught via lessons broadcast late at night, but thanks to the internet, almost all Open University courses are now taught online. Some courses do have schools and meetings and things you have to go to, but most of the time, it will just be you, on your own, studying. Any contact you have with others will be via emails and (maybe) phone calls to your tutor and the occasional shared presentation with your tutors and fellow students. This really does depend on the courses you take though.
The courses I did fell into two categories: IT and Design. The IT courses were a lot more interesting than the Design ones, to be honest. While the Design courses, the earlier ones at least, did have a little more hands on stuff in them, they also wanted you to work with others and get things done. But the Design courses were also more subjective, not just on your own opinions but on the opinions of others. Doing surveys and questionnaires and giving them to other people to do were distinct parts of these courses, while the IT courses just got on with doing things on your own.
Studying with the Open University though is alright. It can be hard and lonely at times, but on the other hand, you can study at home (or at work) in your own space. I don’t want to say that you can study in your own time, as every course has strict deadlines on when you have to submit assessments and some courses even require you to go and do an exam – one exam I did happened to be in Athens for some reason, but we nice a nice family holiday out of it that I don’t really remember because I was so stressed and exhausted from said exam. Other exams I did were done in Nicosia, alongside other Open University students, the last of which I found myself alone in a room with 4 other girls, all of whom were doing psychology. Made me feel dumb, doing an exam on design fundamentals.
But yeah, it is a bit more relaxed and it’s certainly a lot cheaper, even if the prices did massively jump up a bit. Going to a physical university in the UK costs at minimum £3000 a year/course and that’s not including things like materials and finding a place to live. Open University courses are generally £1500-£2500 each but that’s for me, living outside of the UK, the prices drop for UK residents. And I don’t need to worry about finding somewhere close to the university or anything like that. It’s not hugely cheaper but you are saving money, especially since you can work part or full time much more easily.
Thing is though, no matter what courses you pick, dedication is required. You need to be ‘in the zone’ to be able to concentrate and make yourself work. Being able to study from home has its downsides as real life will distract you constantly. This is actual university study you are doing and you need to keep up. While options are given should you fall behind, you need to put effort in yourself.
Luckily, there is actually an OpenLearn course which can help you decide whether you can do distance learning or not.
I never did that course, but I decided from the start that I could do it. And one day, I’ll be rewarded for my hard work…