I completed 5 years studying towards my master of arts at the OU. Here are some of my systems and study hacks I used to complete my studies.
The OU gives every learner on the module a one month head start to orient around the VLE and become accustomed to the learning materials. Take this opportunity to read and understand the content. As this will be valuable nearer the time should you encounter lost time due to external factors.
Print off your study planner as this will be useful to know when your tutor marked assessment deadlines are and when to submit your end of module assessment. So do highlight the dates, write the dates in your diary or calendar either written or digitally.
Note taking tools, there are lots to choose from. You may wish to choose one that works on your smartphone and syncs with your PC. Or you may prefer to choose a Microsoft tool – OneNote or OneDrive. Either way there is different levels of functionality that will depend on your specific preference or needs. So do explore the different tools and be flexible, so that if one doesn’t work well you can choose an alternative tool instead.
In my earlier start on my masters I chose Diigo to bookmark the pdfs and hyperlinks. But over time in to my final module H819 I started to use Mendeley reference management tool. This was particularly useful when I needed to save research papers to citate in my assignments.
Forums may not be everyones preference but be prepared to answer any questions that might challenge your comfort zone. Do try to engage even if you struggle and do remember that no one will judge you so you won’t need to post long posts but do try to stay on track. It can be disengaging if no one responds to your comment – like talking into ether. So if you feel that no one is responding I’d suggest you raise this with your tutor. Or try to engage and respond to another learners comments as this will help you to build friendships in your tutor group. From my studies I’ve still kept in contact with fellow learners today as you have a shared learning experience plus you will be part of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998).
Invest in good quality stationary. You will need highlighters, comfortable pen to write with, notepad in a handy size A5 to A4 depending upon your preferred size and on practicalities, postit notes as labels and to highlight ideas, and multicoloured pens. Don’t go overboard you won’t need to purchase expensive branded stationary but do shop around and choose to fit your own budgetary needs.
Be organised, you might have lots of time or you may be time scarce. Either way you’ll need to plan ahead and find spare slots of time to study. You might be commuting to work so you could refer to your learning content during your daily commute. Or you might be studying around younger family members. Maybe whilst they are having an afternoon nap or during their play activities at the local leisure centre you can be studying. Utilise your lunch breaks to have half an hour reading and responding to forum discussions. Or make notes towards your assessment. Time can fly when you begin studying, so do try to stay focused and stick to a plan. But do make the plan flexible as you won’t want to be overly harsh on yourself if you go off track. Don’t forget to reward yourself after studying or giving yourself a treat at the end of the week. As we all need to keep engaged in our study.
Get tech savvy, means get to know your tech early as this could help save you time later on. It could be knowing to keep all digital files in Dropbox and your digital notes in an online note taking tool. Having an organised system will help but not having this worked out earlier could become difficult to figure out as you progress through your studies.
Invest in an ereader if you prefer less paper or find smartphones too bright affecting your eyes. Or adjust the light level settings by changing the blue level settings.
Your learning environment is imperitive if you need to be focused. So have a dedicated space that enables you to be in the zone and that you associate with your study time. This could be a quiet room or a desk, bureau or your dining table. Good lighting levels and space to read, write and to type up your notes will be beneficial to your enjoyment towards your study.