Musings

Open University Exeter Plymouth

Why An Open University Degree Is Worth The Hard Work

It’s been about six months since I completed my Open University degree and with the year coming to a close, I’ve been reflecting on how I have benefited from my studies.

My Open University education started with a Certificate in Web Application Development. This was a diploma-like qualification which covered different aspects of web development including client side scripting with JavaScript, server side languages like PHP and web server management. At the time I was doing some freelance web design work and this was an angle I wanted to explore further. I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to continue my studies by progressing to a degree in computing.

As my career progressed, I found that the computing modules were becoming less relevant to my work goals so I switched to an Open degree. This is one of the Open University’s most popular courses with students in full time employment because it gives students the flexibility to study modules from different subjects. This degree took six years to complete so its fair to say I’ve invested quite a bit of time (and yes, money) with the Open Uni.

Reflecting on my personal development

Looking back at where I was before I started distance learning, I am sure that my studies have improved my employability and career. From a personal development point of view, I have become more confident in my abilities. After all if you can juggle a full time job, family and a degree then you should be able to cope with most things work throws at you. I would like to think the modules, particularly the technical ones, have improved my analytical thinking and problem solving skills and this is something that transcends different roles and jobs.

Perhaps most importantly, it has honed my time management skills. As a part-time student and full-time worker, you have to be able to plan your schedule, prioritise and re-adjust when the inevitable difficulties arise, whether that is illness or simply finding part of a course harder and more time consuming than you expected.

To complete a distance learning course requires commitment, self motivation and a strong work ethic. These are qualities that employers should value and I believe my Open degree demonstrates these characteristics. Most people couldn’t combine work, family and studies or perhaps simply wouldn’t want to.

Life long learning

My studies tapped into a desire to learn and I think this is something that will stick with me throughout my life. Reports and studies often tell us today’s workers will experience more career variety and changes than previous generations. Even if this were not true, the changing nature of technology and the role it plays in most industries shows that not being afraid to learn new skills and being able to adapt is important in the workplace.

To successfully complete a university level education, you need to be able to formulate and express opinions and arguments and communicate these both verbally in tutorials and concisely in essays and assignments. Skills like these are transferable to the workplace too.

Practical skills

I learnt a diverse range of skills from the modules I studied. Modules in database design and object oriented programming mean I can understand technical difficulties in projects and communicate with both “techies” and “normal” colleagues.

Modules in Windows server technologies and web server management have proved invaluable in supporting the organisation I currently work for. Even if the versions of operating systems change, the underlying fundamentals often remain the same.

A module I completed in “design thinking” proved to be one of the most enjoyable and creative. It developed further my understanding of design and what is involved in solving problems creatively by developing a portfolio of work and collaborating with other students online.

“Change, Strategy and Projects At Work” developed project management skills and had a strong vocational aspect that used a workplace project for the coursework.

I was able to take something from each module and see how it could relate to my work at the time.

A credible university

People know and respect the Open University and what is required from its students. My graduation ceremony meant more than when I graduated from the University of Plymouth because of the amount of effort it required to get there and the realisation that I was following in big foot steps.

The Open University was founded in 1969 by Prime Minister Harold Wilson with the laudable goal of providing a high quality university education to all through innovative open learning systems and progressive technology. In my experience the Open University compares extremely well with other universities. I had a very positive time at the University of Plymouth, graduating with a 2:1 in Digital Arts and Technology, but the quality of learning materials providing by the Open University is second to none. At a “standard” university, you are directed by tutorials and lectures and you obviously have a community of students and tutors that keep you motivated. With the Open University, the experience is a lot more remote because that is the nature of distance learning. Yes, there are face-to-face tutorials, online forums and conferencing to help. But you are still very much reliant on your own drive. The standard of the exams and coursework is no different with the Open University than any other uni.

Continuing my studies

It was a relief to finish my studies and get back some free time. I went swimming and mountain biking more. I watched more TV in the evenings. Now my thoughts keep returning to whether I should do another course or qualification. I don’t want to commit to another Open University course but my Google Adwords and Google Analytics certifications have expired so I might consider renewing these next year. Another option I’ve been considering is a digital marketing qualification. I haven’t decided what would be most worthwhile but I think I will start something new in 2016.