Back to class: how to study from home as a mature student

It’s been nearly three months since lockdown started in the UK and many people are wondering what to do next. If you’re thinking of going back to university, then you are not alone: the number of first year undergraduate students aged 21 and over looks set to be rising. According to Ucas, mature applicants have risen in 2020 and people in the 30-34 age group have increased for the first time in five years.

Whether you’ve been furloughed and you want to retrain, or you simply want to pick up an interest you didn’t have time for in the past, a return to education could be a sensible move. Whether it’s for a short course or a full degree, here are some tips on how to make a success of it:

Consider short courses

If you’re worried about committing to a full degree, many universities now offer short courses. Places like the Open University also have free courses available that can give you a flavour of a subject. Most are around eight weeks long and some have a fee for the certificate at the end.

‘Lockdown has a lot to answer for’: the mature students going back to university

“It’s a really good use of people’s time, especially if they’re struggling with lockdown,” says Damon Miller, associate lecturer at the Open University, who advises looking at online reviews and comparison sites. “Even if you just wanted to have a taste of online learning and then go to a campus uni afterwards, short courses are a good way to see what works for you.”

Have a goal in mind

One of the key struggles for mature students can be establishing and maintaining the sense of themselves as a student when they typically have many different hats to wear. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing this,” says Eddie Thompson*, 57, who is doing a creative writing MA at the University of Derby. Although he lives alone and has the space and time to study, Thompson says he has to force himself to do the work. “I do it in bitesize chunks,” he says. “But it’s provided an escape and, actually, it’s quite lovely.”

James Brunton from Dublin City University, whose research focuses on off-campus learning, says people should actively remind themselves why they began their studies and what goals they are working towards. “Keep communicating with fellow students and lecturers, so that your identity as a learner remains an ongoing part of your life and does not fade into the background,” he says.

Thompson says this works for him. “There are times when I catch myself saying, ‘I’m a student, really?’ But I try to stay in touch with the original goal, because it’s still valid.”

Plan your time

Adult learners often have difficulties managing their studies alongside other commitments. This is likely to be exacerbated by the current crisis, but being organised will help. Create a daily routine and maintain some flexibility. Use planners, calendars, diaries and to-do lists, and negotiate time and space to study with those around you. 

Judith Harper, 60, did a degree in youth and childhood studies while being a foster carer of six. Fitting it all round the children is hard, she says, so work out the best time of day to study and stick to a routine. “For me, it was after the children were in bed when I knew I was unlikely to be disturbed.”

Liz Fox, 36, who is studying social psychology and runs her own cake business, says it’s important to plan ahead. “I book in times to study and I recognise which days tend to be for business.”

Create a work space

Having a designated study area puts you in the right head space for work. You don’t need an entire room, just a space somewhere where all the books are so you don’t go round the house looking for them.

‘Students like the flexibility’: why online universities are here to stay

Miller says if you’re in a house with other people it can be “exceedingly annoying”, but find a space, even if it’s the kitchen table, and clear it for a period of time, even if that means studying alongside kids. 

Jacob Polden, 27, is studying computing and IT while working for a software company. Since he is able to study outside of the house during lockdown, he makes sure his work area is not the same as his unwinding space. Without that, he says it is difficult to switch off and “it feels like you’re forever working”. 

Use support services

Studying from a distance is very different to being in a class and it can be very isolating. With the face-to-face meetings and informal chats gone for the time being, you may find yourself in a situation where you think you’re on your own, but you will have tutors, support networks and fellow students, and they are all going through the same thing.

Contact time may be low on many courses, but pastoral services are good at offering advice – particularly if you fall behind. Thompson thinks you may be pleasantly surprised at what’s on offer. “There may be a lack of contact time but support services are fantastic. If you know who and where to ask there is tonnes of support,” he says. 

* Name has been changed

Source: Read Full Article