Everyone that knows me well, also knows that I am a long time advocate for The Open University way of life. I’ve been a student with this institution since 2005, and would not have had the opportunity to study back then, if it were not for the flexibility of the distance learning style of teaching that the OU provide. However, having been a ‘distance learner’ for so long, I also get that the experience can become a bit isolating. The advantage of traditional brick universities and colleges is that you get to meet people in person, and share the experience with them.
For the last eight years though, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a study buddy who has joined in every step of my OU journey. Coco the Labrador is my faithful companion, most loyal supporter, and the best study partner that a gal could ask for. Admittedly, conversation can be a bit one sided, and she’s reluctant to take or share any useful notes, but when it comes to a nice leisurely walk in the sunshine to fend off those study blues, then she is absolutely always available.
With this in mind, the best advice that I have to offer anyone embarking on their own OU journey, is to try and be more dog:
1. Nap it out
It’s really hard to study when you’re tired. Try as you might, you probably won’t learn very much, and you probably won’t enjoy the experience either. Sometimes you just have to know when to give up, and get some rest. Benedict Carey in his How We Learn suggests that sleep is the key to success, not cramming. When we sleep we consolidate memories, and pushing through tiredness means that we just don’t learn as much. So if you’ve had a few bad nights, my advice is to make like a dog, and take a good nap.
2. Take a break
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, that latest assignment can seem just beyond your grasp. Fortunately for me, I have a study buddy who will always lend a paw, and sensing my frustration, Coco usually decides that this is the right time to pointedly suggest a good long walk. No matter how reluctant I might be, Coco the dog always wins the argument, and off we head up to her favourite grassy hills in search of a nice sticky looking stick. Everyone has their own methods for overcoming a mental block, but sometimes all it takes is an hour away from your keyboard.
3. Incentivise your snacks
A few years ago, a fellow OU student gave me the best exam advice that I have ever had. He suggested that we should take 3 Freddos (or equivalent snacks) into exams and after each part of the paper was finished (assuming a 3 part paper for humanities subjects), then we should spend five minutes unwrapping and eating our tasty treat. This gives you both a break to clear your mind, and a reward for your efforts. In my opinion his ‘Freddo method’ is inspired, so thank you student colleague, for that excellent and well used tip, Coco approves wholeheartedly.
4. Be positive
On a recent call with the OU careers service a really great advisor told me that positive people tend to be more successful in life. It’s really all a matter of perspective, but if your way of thinking is set for tragedy, then there could be ways of changing this. Martin Seligman published a book in 2006 called Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, which argues that by challenging the habit of negative thinking, we can increase our optimism, and therefore our quality of life. So be more dog and set your outlook to sunny, because if you expect good things then that is probably what you will experience.
5. Curiosity killed the cat, not the dog
A study published by von Stumm, Hell, and Chamorro-Premuzic in 2011 suggests that curiosity improves academic performance. In fact, they argue that curiosity could be used as a predictor for potential performance, alongside the more traditionally accepted ‘general intelligence and conscientious’. If curiosity may be loosely described as an appetite for learning, then that questioning mind which first encouraged any tentative enquiries towards the OU (or otherwise), will undoubtedly serve you well, and my advice would be to follow your nose. You cannot read enough.
To read the study by von Stumm, Hell, and Chamorro-Premuzic in full visit: http://www.hungrymindlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/von-Stumm-et-al-2011.pdf