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Distance Learning with the Open University – Jake

Jake _Smith _degreeshow

Jake, who works as a senior marketing manager for an insurance company, is 41 years-old, married with two young children and lives in Brighton.

He originally went to Imperial College to study physics but dropped out after a year. A decade later while working for Legal and General he started taking a succession of distance learning OU courses. Last year, after seven years of study, he graduated with a first class BA Hons (Open) degree.

Why did you choose to study for a degree by distance learning?

  • I always felt that it was unfinished business – not having got my degree the first time round. 

Did you enjoy it?

  • I found the experience of studying for a degree by distance learning immensely inspiring – the pleasure of discovering how much fun learning is again the second time round.

What courses did you take?

  • My first OU course was a certificate in web application development. At the time I was designing internal web sites for Legal and General and wanted to get some professional training.
  • I then got the bug for learning and went to do a second certificate in Music and Technology and four more courses in the history, theory and technology of music.
  • I became aware that I could build up a degree by earning credits for these courses and for my year of study at Imperial College.

What skills did you learn?

  • Doing that web applications development course was very useful. It definitely helped me be better at my job, come up with ideas and deal with the rest of the business on a more informed level.
  • The music courses were academic courses. There was lots of essay writing and making cogent arguments. It really helped my writing. I have not had to write an essay since I was 18. Just the act of remembering how to plan – a beginning a middle and an end. How to set out your arguments. How to make sure you are concise. Stick to the word count. Get your points across with well chosen examples. That you can reference things. That you can research. All of those skills are immensely useful.

Did the OU support your learning well?

  • The support from the faculty was good and the online support was really good. The Open University students’ association site had chat rooms. The summer school on one of my courses was one of the highlight of my learning.
  • My dad, who used to be a university lecturer, helped me an awful lot with my essay construction and proof reading.

What are the advantages of such a way of learning?

  • There was no way on earth I was going to be able to afford to stop working and do a degree full time. I was going to have to fit study in around work and distance learning is set up to allow you to do that – to be able to pick up learning as and when.
  • The focus that learning and planning and studying can give you helps you to focus on what the goals are in your job. I managed to get three or four really decent promotions during the time I was studying with the OU. This was definitely linked to the skills I was learning and the dedication and commitment you have to put in to something like that and how that can transfer to other aspects of your life.

What are disadvantages of such a way of learning?

  • It is definitely hard combining study with work and home life. My routine was get up early with the kids, a full day’s work, spend some time with family, have dinner, watch a bit of telly with the wife and then stay up for an hour or two most nights either reading or working.
  • You should not underestimate how much time it can take. Distance learning can be very individual, almost lonely. You have to take advantage of online forums and any face-to-face tutorials that are offered. My tutors were generally very helpful and giving of their time either on the phone or by email.

How much did it cost you?

  • I had to pay for four of the courses, £600–700 per course, less than £3,000 in total.
  • My company paid for the first two certificates about £1,000. Legal and General also gave me interest-free study loans.

What was the experience like?

  • It’s a great thing to do. It is really important to have a degree on your CV. Distance learning should definitely be thought of as an option because of its flexibility and the way it can fit around most people’s lifestyles.
  • If you are going back to learning the most important thing is to re-discover the joy of learning. The fact that I could mix and match the degree – to pull in bits of technology bits of music, bits of science, bits of maths and get a degree out of it as well as a diploma and a couple of certificates is brilliant.
  • So I am Dip Mus and BA (Hons) Open First Class. And I have a certificate in web app development and a certificate in mathematics and technology.

More about distance learning.

Take a look at our profile for the Open University.