Meet the online learners who fit study around their lives

Nov 13, 2013 by

Libby Page – You could study for a degree from a beach in Thailand, or while juggling work and looking after children – thanks to the flexibility of online learning

“Studying online means I can fit my studies to my life, rather than fitting my life around my studies,” says Anna Enos, who studied online for an MSc in information and library studies with Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

Online learning, whether for a degree or as a short course, offers a flexible study option for people who can’t commit to fulltime study, or don’t have access to a nearby university.

If you’ve been out of education for a long time, the thought of going “back to school” and fitting study into a busy schedule, can be daunting. Life commitments mean that going into class every day is not always an option.

Caring responsibilities meant that Lyndsay Briggs didn’t think of studying as an option, until she found an online course that suited her. “I have a two-year-old son called Alfie and looking after him takes up most of my time,” she says.

Briggs is now studying for a diploma in counselling skills at Stonebridge Associated Colleges.

She says: “When my dad died this April, it was something of a wake-up call. I lost my mum in 2007 and losing dad as well made me think seriously about education again. I wanted to make my parents proud and decided that now was the time to pursue the career I’ve always wanted.”

Some people put off studying, others don’t even see it is an option.

“I never thought that I’d be able to go to university,” says Kerrie Hallam, who recently completed a foundation degree in drug and alcohol counselling via distance learning at the University of Leicester.

She says: “I always wanted to, but I thought I wasn’t intelligent enough to do so. Graduating with a distinction has been a huge boost for my confidence.”

Online learning breaks down the barriers that many people put between themselves and studying. It also helps overcome practical problems that can make studying for a degree a challenge, or simply impossible.

Anna Wood has ME, and a relapse in 2008 left her housebound; online learning was her way of keeping connected to the outside world.

She says: “When I had my relapse I lost my job and because of that I wanted to do something to keep myself occupied.

“There’s no way I could manage to get to a college or university, so it had to be distance learning.”

Because of the flexible structure of online learning, Wood was able to structure her studying to fit her illness.

She says: “In a typical day I would aim to do three lots of half hour study sessions, with breaks in between.”

Wood has recently completed an MSc in digital education at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with a distinction.

For Ellie Hodgkinson, online learning allowed her to retrain as a primary school teacher after pursuing a career in the performing arts.

She says: “I could have gone to a conventional university at 18, but I was pursuing a career in the performing arts so I went straight into a show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, instead.”

“As time went on I decided I wanted to get a degree because I couldn’t see much career progression in the performing arts.”

Hodgkinson studied for a degree in literature with the Open University while working; it was the stepping stone to another course that allowed her to train as a teacher.

She says: “Without the flexibility of the Open University I don’t know how else I would have got to be a teacher. I have been teaching for six years now – I would have entered the profession much later and with much more debt if I’d gone back to being a fulltime student and stopped working.”

In 2011-12 there were over 100,000 people studying overseas but through a UK university, with the help of online learning.

“I have lived in three different countries since starting my degree,” says Hallam, “studying via distance learning means that I have been able to continue studying, regardless of where I am.”

Even if you’re living in the most remote of locations, you could still be studying for a degree.

Lindsay Hartlay-Backhouse is currently studying for an MSc in international animal welfare, ethics and law through the University of Edinburgh. She lives on Koh Lanta, an island south of Thailand. She and her husband work for an animal welfare charity, organising international adoptions of rescued cats and dogs.

Hartlay-Backhouse says: “There’s no way I would be able to physically attend a university while living and working on Koh Lanta, it just wouldn’t be possible.”

Many students take up an online learning course through a desire for a career change, but for some students, online learning is an opportunity to study something completely outside of their daily life.

Vicky Allen, who describes herself as a “somewhat reluctant stay-at-home mum”, undertook a Mooc (massive open online course) in justice and moral philosophy to give herself a focus beyond “toddlerdom”.

She previously worked as a community educator and hopes to pursue a career in art, but chose the online course purely out of personal interest.

She says: “The justice course has nothing to do with my desire to work in art, but I am a curious person and I like to experience lots of different things. Doing the online course reminded me that I do like to study, just for study’s sake.

“Yes, we need to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, but it enriches us as individuals and as a society when we engage with ideas that are bigger than what we might have immediate use for.”

via Meet the online learners who fit study around their lives | Education |

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