How to set the ball rolling on study?

Throughout the month of June, Festival of learning, in partnership with Hotcourses UK, runs ‘Have a Go Month’. We are calling on all learning providers to hold free events and activities in June to inspire people of all ages to ‘have a go’ at learning something new.

Christine Drabwell, Deputy Head of Media Relations at the Open University, highlights the clear benefits of learning something new and explores the wide range of learning opportunities that the OU provides.

Often it can start in front of the TV, when we watch a good documentary or listen to the radio and get fired up by a debate or inspired to learn more. What happens next is more of a mixed picture, but it’s easier than you think to get started on the learning track. And whilst many of us make time for physical exercise, it’s equally important to make time to exercise our brains. Karen Howells, a lecturer in sport and fitness at the OU, stresses that as well as challenging our bodies in say the gym or on the sports pitch, we should challenge our minds too through learning, active reading or brain games. She warns that our cognitive health is just as needy as our physical health in terms of memory, judgement, language, intuition and the ability to learn.

Luckily there is lots out there to fulfil those needs. If you’re not quite sure where your interests lie a good way to begin is with an OpenLearn course with The Open University. These are non-pressurised and very varied. You can try your hand at all sorts of courses from the business of football to beginners’ Spanish, social work skills or data processing for computing.

The beauty of these free courses is that they are designed at different levels of intensity and difficulty.  If you’re minded, you can open an account and start building a profile of all the courses you have taken as well as getting statements and/or badges to acknowledge your study. Similarly check out the courses available on FutureLearn , where you can access learning from other universities and institutions.

It could be that we’ve reached a moment in life where we feel we need to “do something” to help our job prospects. Maybe we’ve hit a bit of dead end in our career or feel our skills could do with a refresh. It’s easier than you might think to test the water and investigate your interests. A good starting point is the PEARL website (standing for Part-time Education for Adults Returning to Learn) which signposts educational opportunities for adults, so that they can refresh or increase their skills and knowledge, with a view to progressing within their chosen career path, or to take a new direction. For additional, specific free work-related courses you might like to browse these six free online courses which include areas such as practical healthcare, taking part in the voluntary sector or starting your own small business. As well as the personal benefits, these short courses can be invaluable in the workplace and encourage others to learn as well.

Our motivations for starting formal learning are personal. For me it was the competitive juices kicking in – a couple of close friends had completed OU degrees and had done well.  I realised, at a changing time in my own life, that I could do that too. I imagined I would just pick up from where I left off, but as any mature student will tell you, it’s not quite like that. The intervening years play their part and as well as having the benefit of life, work-related study and age, I also had the impact of that gap away from formal learning.

Michael Miles was conscious of the gap and began his studies with an Access Module at the OU. These preparatory modules are designed to allow returning or new students to become familiar with the structures and commitments needed for study – a dip in the water without going in at the deep end. Michael says this convinced him he had the skills and ability to study a degree and it served as a constant reminder to him as he moved onto a formal degree. “If I ever found myself feeling like I couldn’t do something on my degree course, I would just look back at my access course – it was proof I could handle it.” Now a graduate manager, Michael advises new learners to take things “a day at a time” and keep focused on why you started when the going gets tough.

Catherine, who graduated from the OU with a BA (Hons) in English Literature, also recommends the Access Modules for anyone who has been out of study for a while. The optician centre manager says her OU studies gave her self-worth and she feels very proud of what she has achieved.

The OU offers flexible part-time undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, certificates and diplomas, as well as free, bite-size courses. Most people take up to six years to complete a part-time OU degree however it is also possible to study full-time and achieve a degree in three years. At the OU we firmly believe learning increases your self-esteem and should continue throughout your life.

Like Michael and Catherine, I went on to complete the degree I’d always wanted but never found time to do. And that’s the thing that you learn above all when you start to study – if you’re interested you will find the time. And study is a very different “treat” or reward to a holiday, a new car or a night out with friends. Whilst it is undoubtedly hard work to study for a degree part-time and/or by distance learning, the high you get when you submit an essay is really worth it. And if you want to know just how it feels to get a degree, after putting in hundreds of hours work and making all sorts of sacrifices, take a look at what our graduates have to say on our OU Instagram.

Don’t forget, if you do find yourself in front of the TV after a long day (and let’s face it who doesn’t?!) look out for the BBC and Open University co-productions including Blue Planet II, Civilisations, or Britain’s Fat Fight. Be inspired!