How to use distance learning to advance your career while juggling a family


I left school with only GCSEs. Although I managed to get into a career in accounts, and a role as an accounts assistant, I knew not having formal qualifications could hold me back from progressing as I wanted to. I had my son at age 18, and needed to support him by working full time, but when he was nearly 18, I realised that now he was growing up and would be going off to university in the next year, it was my time to make something of myself and advance my career.

I felt that I wouldn’t have time to go into college every day for my studies so I decided to start distance learning for an accounting qualification. Despite having to juggle working full time, being a mum, and studying at the age of 37, I was able to gain three accounting qualifications from AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), and last year I progressed to a new job as finance co-ordinator for an architectural manufacturing company in Northamptonshire.

My family always comes first, so it was challenging at times to look after them, work full time and study in the evenings and weekends. But distance learning was a great way to fit my studies around my life and meant I could move forward in my career without having to cut down on my work hours to go into college. After completing my qualifications, my confidence really increased and I gained the sense of achievement I was after. I even won an award from an accounting magazine for being their distance learning student of the year!

I hope that my achievements can help inspire other people who think it’s too late to study or that they can’t fit it around family life. Here are some tips I’d give to anyone thinking of adding to their qualifications through distance learning.

Plan your study time in advance

Set yourself a timetable so you know exactly when you need to be studying. Being able to see clearly what you’re supposed to do and at what time will help you feel less stressed. Think about using a planner or a calendar to create your timetable or you could put it up as a wall chart. You can allocate different days to different subjects, modules or assignments. Having set study times will also let your family know not to bother you at certain times and to give you the space you need. I managed studying by dedicating myself after work every night to do at least four hours. For me studying became like an addiction. I just couldn’t get enough of it.

Lean on friends and family

There will be times when you may feel unmotivated and like studying is the last thing you want to do. At these times your friends and family can help provide a boost. I have a very supportive husband and family who gave me the additional motivation when it was needed; the invisible brick wall popped up a couple of times while I was studying, and they helped me break through. Your family and friends can also support you by helping out with tasks you may not have time to complete and can celebrate with you when you’ve completed an assignment or your whole qualification.

Take advantage of support available

Good distance learning training providers will give you a lot of support, even if you do not see them face to face regularly. They may provide online content and resources such as online textbooks, tests and even things like webinars. I used AAT’s online forums, website and Facebook page to help me while studying. There were also webinars for some of the modules, which course tutors used to give us lectures. There may also be a tutor who you can contact with any questions and issues. Make sure to take advantage of all these different resources to help you stay on track.

It can be lonely, trying to study on your own while distance learning. Try to build relationships with others on your course so that you have someone to share the experience with. Some training providers have online forums to help foster conversations. Training provider Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are also somewhere you can find conversations around courses and assignments. Finding study partners can also help if you have questions about any aspect of your qualification, provide extra motivation and even potentially create new friendships.

*Donna Smith is a working mum and finance co-ordinator for an architectural manufacturing company in Northamptonshire.


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