A reflection on studying a vocational online programme

Three years ago I embarked on my MA in Online and Distance Education with the Open University.  Having both taught and studied at the OU I felt comfortable with what this would be like and was interested to see how the student experience had changed at the OU since I last studied there in 2006.  Studying at postgraduate level was new to me, but I hoped the vocational nature of the study and the course would make it manageable with my work.

The good news is I completed my studies in September 2018 and officially graduated in December.

But what is the experience of being a student on an OU vocational online programme like?

Most online students get used to using a VLE to access their learning material and using forums and webinars and these modules are no different.  Some of the modules I studied were quite old (8-9 years since they were first developed) and others were new, only in their first or second year of delivery.  Certainly, the way the OU develops their modules has changed during that time and all the modules I studied were developed by academics from the OU Institute of Educational Technology so there were great examples of pedagogy and online activities.

I started the MA accepting that I was not going to have the time to put a lot of hours into studying and so I had to approach it from a ‘good enough’ perspective. This was harder than it sounds and meant sometimes submitting an assignment that I felt was OK rather than great. This also meant deciding where best to spend my limited time. This generally meant focussing on the assignment and not spending too much time on additional reading unless something really caught my attention. The design of the modules was structured around the assessment, so it was easy to see how activities I had each week linked to the assessment and helped me prepare my assessment.

I prioritised webinars as a chance to meet fellow students and talk to the tutors and found this invaluable with the most benefit when I could attend live (though occasionally I had to watch the recordings).  All the modules stressed the importance of talking to others and so the forums and blogging was a key part of the modules. I really struggled with this and only really contributed to the forums when I had to for assignments, though I did try and read as many as I could.  When I had to write forum postings it was not just a matter of having to post something but more about using the forums as a tool to develop and share ideas which then became part of an assignment or reflection on my own practice.  I can see the benefit as a student in doing this, but I also found that being a vocational learner I would prefer to discuss these ideas within my own context rather than with students from different backgrounds.

We were encouraged to blog in all the modules. I did not publicly blog at all during my studies though I did sometimes write private blogs to help me organise my thoughts. So writing this is my attempt to correct that 😊.

Being a vocational learner meant that I found studying helped my work but also work helped my study. This was a big difference from when I studied at the OU previously.  The downside is that you feel like all your study is work and that you are just working long hours when studying the same area as your work.

Now feeling a little lost without the pressure of assignments, deadlines and weekly tasks to do but also enjoying the extra time to spend with family and exploring other interests. Lots of people have already asked what is next and I keep stating no more study – but I wonder whether that will last 😊