Establishing careers, starting families and feathering nests can absorb a lot of our free time. However, when the kids go to school or flee the nest, or when all is done and dusted in the home, many of us look to further education to fill the time and advance our careers.
We asked for your top tips for entering and surviving the world of adult education. This excellent entry reflects some of what you had to say.
The Open University
The Open University provides a booklet on 'How to Study', which gives fabulous tips concerning the importance of:
Planning Your Day - Figure out what you've got to do for the week, make sure your study time is timetabled for when there are likely to be no distractions.
Peace and Quiet - Setting aside a quiet place to study in is vital. Having a PC in the bedroom is difficult, because it's easy to flop down when you've had enough! Likewise, having a PC in anywhere other than a 'study' makes things more difficult, because you associate the room with other activities apart from studying, and generally end up doing them, instead of studying!
Getting Organised - It's worth investing in folders, dividers and punched pockets because, if you know where everything is, you don't get brain ache from thinking you'll have to sort through mounds of paperwork to find the one particular piece of paper you have to study on/research.
I'm doing a degree with them (the Open University) at the moment, and cannot recommend them (and, by extension, adult education) enough. Admittedly, I am studying by choice, rather than for career obligations, but I have loved almost every minute of it. Discovering that entire philosophies had been written on things I'd always wondered about has been incredibly uplifting!
For me, it has been literally life changing - I look at everything in a different light now. Returning to study as an adult is daunting. You will have self doubt, and you will think at times that you can't cope with it. The thing to remember is that you are capable of very much more than you realise. So keep calm, keep disciplined, speak to your tutors, speak to the other students, and enjoy feeling your brain firing on all cylinders for the first time in years!
A Few Tips From An Ex-evening Class Teacher
As the title suggests, what follows are the rich pickings taken from the valuable experience of a former evening class teacher.
Firstly, register! If you turn up on the first night (or later) you won't get the book list until then.
On the subject of the book list: if your teacher doesn't recommend a book (as in 'This book is not recommended'), there's usually a good reason - often it's because it's either the wrong standard or just downright wrong!
Please take a notebook and pen/pencil to your first class. Be prepared for the first lesson to be on general topics (because some students might not have registered before then...)
If you're taking an academic subject - especially an 'A' Level - in one year, the course will be intensive and you may not be able to discuss topics as much as you would like to. Hopefully your tutor will talk over these topics in the coffee break - or better - my class used to adjourn to the pub afterwards where we could carry on the discussions. If you are taking an 'A' level, there will be a lot of written homework and additional reading.
My students were recommended to do at least seven hours homework a week (hey, you can read in your lunchtime!)
Be very careful when depending on Internet sites for information. Some sites are not, er, well-researched; always double check the information.
Finally, a plea from the heart - your tutor (or the centre) may not allow food or drink in the classroom. If food or drink is allowed, be aware that crisps are very noisy - and oxtail soup is downright off-putting.
Most importantly - enjoy yourself. No learning is ever wasted.
Let's hear some more from the teachers!
I teach an 'intro to photography' class to enthusiastic amateurs at a Canberra technical institute. I love it, teaching a subject matter I am passionate about and applying my personal philosophy: stimulating students to learn by making them want to explore the concepts, being enthusiastic about the subject and having concise answers to real questions ready is the best way to maximise the students' results from such a course. Which is the point of you being there. You lead them to learn, you can't make them learn.
Have a supportive home environment. Get your family and friends to make dinners, be quiet, proof stuff and generally not try to entice you to skip study in favour of other pursuits. This is invaluable.
Remember it is all over soon. The breaks you get are cherished and the time spent in your 'old' leisure pursuits are heightened. Just walk away from the TV, keep your hands in the air and don't look back!
Keep reasserting to yourself that this is important and it will be done. Good luck (and it is always easiest if you are genuinely interested in the subject to start with, so choose carefully).
I find the best students I have are the ones who come to explore a passion they have yet to unleash. I love being the one to set them free. Most fulfilling!
It's never too late to grab hold of the rudder, give it a good old yank, and to steer your boat in a completely different direction. As the following anecdote demonstrates:
I was 38 when I went to university for the second time round - I studied performing arts the first time round, and had a complete career change 20 years later and studied law. I'm now 49 and reading for a Master's in law by distance learning. Hard work but fun and very rewarding. That's not by way of showing off, but if I can do it, anyone can. All you need is heart. Who'd have ever thought an ex-hoofer could have this sort of career change?
Opportunities in London
London University and City Lit offer some excellent opportunities fro those who want to further their studies while living and working in the big city.
London University - External Programme
The following is a really inspiring tale of how one Researcher - in that face of much negativity, it appears - managed to find a course on an external programme at London University and who now appears to be doing rather well...
Well. After being told one too many times that I'd never amount to anything and that I'd never get a promotion within my company because I didn't have a Uni degree, I got somewhat peeved. Royally, in fact. So after a few years of looking for either distance learning that didn't cost an arm and a leg, or something local that was tailored around working people, I started looking in earnest.
Just before application deadlines at London Uni, September last year, I found their website and sorted everything that was needed. I managed to sort an application, decide on a course of study and send my info off in about 10 days. I don't particularly recommend this kind of haste, but it did work. Because I'm not getting any tuition, I'm not paying for it. So the fees are quite manageable for someone working full time, which is excellent. There are fees to be paid to the local institution that administers exams, but those shouldn't be too bad either.
I feel really good these days, exams being over probably helps, but mostly I feel good because I'm doing something with my life, I'm taking it into my own hands to change it. After getting off to a rocky start, study-wise, I've managed to read about 8-10 hours a week, which is ample for one course at a time.
The thing I find it most difficult to think about is how long it will probably take me to finish - I'm looking at graduation in 2008 or so. I was going to take my certificate, have it framed and then do something rude with it to show my ex-boss that he was wrong about me. But then I decided that I'd probably rather keep it myself, after all this hard work.
The City Lit
And still in London, here's another alternative way of beefing up your brain cells. Read on...
I can't recommend the City Lit highly enough - I only speak from personal experience of learning Italian there, but the prices are very reasonable, the teaching is of a high standard, and the kind of students it attracts makes attending the courses pretty interesting. In fact, quite a few excellent teachers choose to teach there in the evenings on the basis of the students that attend.
On a general note, at the first couple of classes, be careful about who you sit next to! People tend to sit in the same places throughout the course, so if you don't feel compatible with the person next to you (either you find them annoying, or they don't work at the same level as you) then make sure you sit somewhere else the following week.
Where To Look For Adult Education Centres, Grants, And Advice On Which Courses To Attend
Try and find out from your employer if they have a scheme. Next, go tp your local council's education department. They probably have a fund or are able to advise you of potential sources of funding. At university level there are often hardship funds and bursaries for students, so that is another possible source. Library resource centres may also be able to provide you with any other local funding that may be available.
Choosing The Right Course
One Researcher discovered there were a couple of questions that you needed to know the answer to before you can get going. It may sound very silly, but study may well form a major part of your life, so it is in your best interest to get things right before they affect you and your family.
I have completed an Open University full credit at second level course and found it most enjoyable, but for me the degree would have taken me about eight years to complete and would have given me a qualification that might have been inappropriate for what I wanted to do after graduating. I have done courses at the City Lit which have been eclectic and significantly not of degree standard.
It is a case of horses for courses and for those long courses it pays to use the right horse!
What You Want To Study
The first thing I needed to do when looking to improve my education was to decide just what I wanted to do by way of a course - subject and level. This is particularly useful if you are studying for a purpose like changing your career path as it makes you think of your specific learning aims to achieve your required accreditation. It took me three years to make up my mind, but then again I am a procrastinator.
When You Want To Study
Once you decide what course you want to do, the next question is are you in a position to do it. Can you give up work or do you need to hold down a job as well.
I decided to keep my mortgage going, and 'survive' on a four year degree course. I needed a sum of about £50,000 which was unachievable if I wanted to study before I retired, so for me the decision was that I had to keep working.
Where You Want To Study
Then the process of starting to look for college/university locations begins. But there may be restrictions as to where you can attend. For some this is less of a restriction. There are plenty of places to study out there its just a case of finding the right one for your specific needs.
As I had a mortgage and needed to keep my job I had to have my course in central London or close to home.
How To Juggle Home, Work, And Study To Great Effect
If you are doing something like a degree, be honest with your employer about your college work. If they know you are studying to improve yourself then leaving early, exam leave, revision leave and field trips become so much easier. If you have a family that makes demands on your time, set aside regular time throughout the week when you are not to be disturbed by them under any circumstances. More importantly stick to it.
How To Keep Yourself Motivated When All Around You Are Watching TV Or Going Out
Give yourself the occasional treat, but the greatest way of keeping your nose to the grindstone is to give people permission to have a go at you when you are not studying.... getting friends and family on side (especially those that know your devious tricks) is way better than any other to keep you focussed. Go and study in the library if you have the freedom to do so. Not only does it put you near all sorts of reference material it also means you don't get distracted by the washing up, lunch, that TV programme, or anything else. Remember your goal - make it a mantra or a poster if you need to but never forget why you are putting yourself through this torture.
How To Cope If Things Get A Little Too Much
Invariably there are times when it all gets to much.
I have had four assignments to complete in the last six weeks and I am now two weeks away from exams. My hair is alarmingly falling out by the handful. Some people get it worse than others. My hints would be get sociable with a couple of your classmates. Preferably those who live within travelling distance. It is always handy to call a fellow student about a problem, or have study sessions every month over someone's house. It is very hard at times to distinguish between when people are genuinely concerned that you are overworking, or just want someone to go shopping with them. I think it has to be down to your own honesty with yourself.
Every student is allocated a personal tutor when things get real bad - there is always the possibility of talking to them, or the Students Union.
Professional Accreditation By Correspondence
It's hard, but not impossible. You need huge blocks of time to do assignments, study, and, finally prepare for the exam. And once you have kids who have homework, it gets easier. Have homework bees - you at one end of the dining room table, Junior at the other, both working. Both of you break frequently for a snack and/or a cup of tea.
Don't Get Discouraged - You might find that if your child doesn't think you're putting in enough effort, the rolls get reversed, and you get the 'get on with it' lecture you've given.
About The Exam - Many work places will provide you with the time, and the supervised place to write your exam, if you're doing a work-related course. Some industrial places have training centres with supervisors who are delighted to look after the details of a place to write.
Use all the resources available to you. Life's too short to make it too difficult. And keep learning. You stop, you stagnate, and your brain turns to mush.
I started it as a single mom, with a tiny baby. When he slept, I studied. Fortunately, my first course, Principles of Buying, wasn't too hard.
Throughout my child's life, I kept taking courses through my Professional Association, and working within my chosen field. This made it far easier. I could always find someone who'd either taken the course, or had the practical experience to help me over the hurdles. I don't know how many times I've taken my text book to my supervisor, or department head, or someone else in the Purchasing Department for an explanation. The best time I had was when my supervisor was also an instructor for the final accreditation course, which I still have to do. He'd come racing into the department, shoot me a question and say 'quick', and demand an off-the-top-of-my-head answer. I learned so much with him.