I missed my chance to attend university when everyone else did and I'm out of school for seven years.

Now I'd like to get a degree (BA History & English) through the Open University.

I've never been good at organization, though and I do not have even the slightest idea how academic studies work. I'm looking for tips, experiences and opinions on how to organize my studies and engage in a workflow that works.

Also, if anyone here happened to attend the OU, I would much appreciate a rundown on what to expect and how learning there works, especially regarding the fact that modules do have dates to begin and end, but studies are said to be flexible for time-management. (I am aware that the OU offers contact options as well, and I will reach out to them, too)

  • @Buffy History and English. I edited my post. Apr 19 '19 at 11:42
  • 4
    Really, contact the OU and also look on their website - they have lots of info and stuff to help people as many of their students are returning to study.
    – Solar Mike
    Apr 19 '19 at 11:51

The way to succeed doesn't depend a lot on which university you attend, nor does the field you want to study, though the specifics differ a lot. The key to it is to understand how the human brain works.

First, every learner is different and some things are easier and some are harder for different people. Hardly anyone, however, will actually learn anything by seeing or hearing or reading it just once. The brain works through repetition and requires actually physical changes. New synapses must be established between neurons and that takes reinforcement to have any chance of retaining new information and skills in long term memory. See The Art of Changing the Brain by James E Zull for the scientific explanation.

So, the key, in a field like language or history is to look at a lot of issues and write about them. It is the writing that provides the reinforcement, not the "looking". Write a lot of short papers, poems, speculations, whatever. In mathematics, you solve a lot of similar problems. In CS you write a lot of programs. But the learning has to be active - producing something - not just passively consuming it.

But, the brain can be misled. You can reinforce the wrong thing. You also need to avoid that. So, in addition to reinforcement to learn, you also need feedback. Someone has to look at whatever you produce and give you some idea about its correctness and, hopefully, its implications. This happens in most face-to-face courses, though sometimes ineffectively, if the prof focuses too much on grading rather than more effective feedback.

If my understanding of OU is still accurate, then note that it isn't just an online information broadcaster. In addition to extremely well produced material they depend (or did, at least) on students having contact with local tutors to ask questions and such. Thus, the system there is designed to give you good information, as well as to provide you a way to do the reinforcement (exercises) and get feedback (comments, questions, ...).

For a self learner who doesn't have a guide about both what and how to learn it is a bit harder. In a purely online "course" the information may be available, but there may be nothing that forces you into reinforcement mode and nothing at all to give you feedback. The self-learner has to organize those on their own. I think OU is pretty good about that, but it takes your own dedication to make it work.

Caveat. I'm not, and never was, associated with OU, but have worked with some faculty there on unrelated projects in the past. My information isn't especially current.


I have studied for a Masters degree with the OU as well as full-time residential undergraduate degree elsewhere and two masters degrees elsewhere too.

The OU is, in my experience, quite different from other universities in setting and enforcing a really strict timetable of marked assignments. Although you might think you are fitting your studies into a busy life, the OU pays no attention to that and you have to comply with its demanding timetable. I found that timetable really challenging because its demands quite often peaked when other things in my life were peaking too.

That said, I found the teaching materials to be of very high quality and I am still using, 20 years on, things I learned on my masters course.

In short, an OU degree course is not a hobby, it is a second (unpaid) job to be done when you might have hoped to be resting after your labours at your paid job.

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