I think it is safe to say that every species on this planet learns something new every day.
Humans are curious and tenacious creatures, but we also unnecessarily overwhelm ourselves.
There are several reasons why we partake in courses, the most common is to further ourselves in one way or another. Within the process, we may stumble, experience barriers or discover reasons why we don’t want to do a course at all. However, by that point, it is often too late.
Hopefully this post will identify the common problems and help list some solutions.
Want or need
I am a serial course taker, I have 3 degrees, nearly 20 diplomas and many more certificates or specialisms, I would like to think I’ve covered every scenario when it comes to taking courses but fear I have not.
Alongside this, I work full time, I have a family and several hobbies. I have the scheduling down to a fine art, but then again that took several years to master so if I haven’t got it right now, I don’t think I ever will.
Unless you are of compulsory school age, or it is a requirement of your job/career, you don’t need to enrol on a course, and that is important to remember. If you are considering taking a course, you need to establish whether it is a want or necessity, and sometimes that concept is very difficult to grasp.
Starting a course
If you are contemplating whether to do a course, about to start a course, or you are halfway through and cannot see light at the end of the tunnel, it is good to remember that there are common things that hold us back.
Typically, the two main ones are enthusiasm and time, and you can lose either at any stage of the course taking process.
Perhaps you are in the situation where you have found a course, or maybe you are part way through, and then you realise you don’t have the time. This happens to a lot of people (myself included), and a way we get around time, is that good old chestnut of organisation. To do something, you need to find the time to do it. It’s a phrase I don’t like, it has been used on me before and I find it patronising. Unfortunately, even if you are like me and don’t appreciate that expression, it takes a while to realise that it is true. We do need to make time for things that we want to do.
We often lose the ability to stay organised the busier we become, and once it has slipped through our fingers, it is hard to regain the organisation we once had. If you are old enough to think back ten years, were you more organised then, or are you now? If you were then try and think back to what you did. Did you have less clutter in your life? Did you prioritise more? Did you have less commitments? If you did then do not look at present day as being negative, more commitments just mean more juggling and if you drop one of those balls, take a deep breath and pick it back up again. You can’t do any more than that.
Perhaps you have a full-time career, a family, hobbies you love and don’t want to give anything up for a course, which understandably is a bitter pill if the course is compulsory. This is where compromise becomes your best friend.
Where you have a tight schedule, you need to question whether you are doing the course for career development, or for personal reasons, and can you realistically move your schedule around to fit the course in AND do yourself justice.
You may also be in a position where you are doing a course because you feel like you have to, and this can be a strange concept, but peer pressure and social media have a lot to answer for. Not only do they plant targeted advertisements depending on your browsing history, but also people like to brag about their studies on social media as a form of self-glorification. I am sure we have all been guilty of that at one time or another, but this brings us back to whether studying is a choice over necessity.
Once you have established this, then you will naturally make time, and enthusiasm will follow, as if you are studying because you want to, then enthusiasm is a given. But, if you are partaking in a course that is compulsory, then you will need to find ways to get through it.
When something is set in stone, it is easier to digest and deal with, up until that point it is just speculation.
Enthusiasm can be hard to come by if you are doing a course out of necessity and you don’t particularly like the subject. It is much easier when you have chosen to do the course. However, even in a choice scenario, enthusiasm can disappear.
For example, I have many interests and a lot of people get confused at what my main identifier is. My identifier is that I enjoy learning and training people. I have been a trainer on and off for nearly 20 years, and I like to help people, therefore I always want to ensure that my knowledge is as accurate as possible. Sometimes I’ll take a course for extra credentials, for fun because I like the subject, or I’ll want an extra diploma or a degree if I’m feeling really ambitious. Though that last one takes a significant amount of planning.
If you lose your enthusiasm, there are ways around this. For example, try and think of reasons why you suddenly have a block; try and remember the good points of the course, if it is an area you do not like, try your best. Remember you will not be doing that course forever.
Money – the third bubble
You may be in the scenario where you have the time, but not the finances. Or perhaps you have the finances but not the time. Time and enthusiasm are often accompanied by money, which is another common hesitation when people decide to take courses.
While you are contemplating taking a course, ask yourself if a credential is essential. There are many courses offered at affordable prices, that can be completed with no set deadline and will fill the category of learning something new. This can also apply to degrees, diplomas and other specialist qualifications. For these courses, the money and time aspects are more flexible.
There never seems to be a good time financially to do something like a course, but this is where want is realistically identified, and whether lack of money is just used as an excuse. There will of course be times that you cannot afford to study, no matter what you do, in which case we go back to our good old friend “time” and wait a while.
On the other hand, if you’d rather pay for those amazing new shoes (and I wouldn’t blame you if you did), then you probably didn’t want to do the course in the first place, and there is nothing wrong with identifying that. It saves time, money and demotivation.
Tips for progression
Once you have decided and financed a course, you will need to establish your scheduling pattern and how you are going to allot your time between perhaps work, personal commitments and studying. I find that the best time for me to study is when my small human has gone to bed. I work full time and granted last thing at night may not be my optimal functioning time due to wanting to go to bed, but it is the time of day I will not be disturbed. Before having children, when I was a long-distance swimmer, I used to train first thing in the morning as I never knew when I was going to finish work. My career is still demanding, but I’m now in a role that compliments work-life balance.
The only issue I find when studying at night is that it is the same time I exercise. Therefore, I must make compromises by shortening my exercise time and replacing it with studying, or perhaps taking it in turns depending on how I feel.
If you have a demanding job or perhaps are shift worker, then time during and outside of your working hours, may not fully be in your control.
If you have children, and depending on their age, it might be good to get them involved. They may be able to help you study, and they might learn something new (double whammie), so perhaps when they are doing homework, you can do yours too. Understandably, this can sometimes be easier said than done, especially if the little darlings don’t want to sit down and do their homework. This is the same as if you plan on doing your coursework after they go to bed, and they don’t want to sleep.
Once you have mastered the art of bending time, you will have the enthusiasm to enjoy the course because it will be one less pressure to focus on.
Your circumstances can change during a course, and if time is the enemy, and you really cannot reorganise things, then you need to make the decision of roughing it out, or perhaps putting the course on hold. We all reach that dreadful moment in our studies where we think we cannot complete the course, or we feel like we are failing. If you chose to continue the course in a midst of despair, remember, the course is not forever, and it will end at some point.
Part of the predicament is finding a suitable course that works for you, and that process alone can leave you exhausted, I completely understand, I have done the legwork recently, but doing the grunt work in the beginning helps in the long run.
If you are thinking of completing a degree, perhaps find a short course to use as a “dry run” to get yourself into the rhythm before you commit to something long term.
We also put a lot of unnecessary stress on ourselves, and we do this all the time without realising. How many times have you been trying to leave the house to go somewhere, you’ve finally made it to the front door, gone outside locked up, and then thought, ‘have I switched the straighteners, oven, lights and so on off’ when you know you really have, but you still have to go back inside and double check.
Or perhaps you left a shared document checked out to your computer at work. We know that most of these unnecessary stresses are not the end of the world, so why do you do this to ourselves?
If you are a person who experiences anxiety, then it may well rear its unsavoury head during studies. Anxiety affects us all. When I’m feeling nervous or anxious about something, for example if I am about to give a presentation and I’m worried about messing up, I find a way around it is to play the scenario in my head over and over again until it loses all meaning. If you have to provide an oral statement for your studies, remember that what you eat may affect you, and I don’t mean adversely. For example, if I am giving a presentation, I have to eat something light. If I eat too much then I adopt a monotonous tone and lose my audience in the first 10 minutes, if I don’t eat anything then my excess energy amplifiers somehow and I end up speaking really fast like a chipmunk.
Comfortable space and a good support system
Another “good old chestnut” phrase that people say, is that you need a good support system around you. This can also be difficult.
Years ago, people traditionally had two point four children, with two parents in a family, but now of course families come in all shapes and sizes. The support system definition is not just limited to families, it extends to work, friends, peers and your surroundings.
Perhaps you are a single parent, you’ve just moved to a new country and your family is in another country, or you are at university in a house alone. You need to find a comfortable space or spaces to study and to hear your thoughts unless you are lucky enough to block out your surroundings, which is something I lack as I get older.
Courses are moving with times and many can be accessed online, with no set deadlines to support the course-taker’s needs. There is also the facility to take additional practice or supplementary courses such as the ones that the SOCLI website will offer, to help people comfortably succeed in their studies.
Here is a question for you, who are the best trainers in the world (apart from teachers and professional trainers of course)?
The answer: Parents/guardians.
Parents and guardians train child all the time even when they don’t know it. Whereas children have the skill to absorb information effortlessly. Children are great at soaking up enough information without the stress of overcomplicating the process or overloading their brains. As we get older, we tend to lose that skill unless we practice it regularly.
The three bubbles of Time, Enthusiasm and Money all link and can be quite contradictory (please refer to the workflow attached), which may assist as a resource if you are trying to decide, progress or finish a course.
My top tips are:
- Decide if the course is a want or need.
- Take your time and create a good plan with schedule. The longer you spend doing this the more change of success you will have.
- Add more time onto your deadlines so you are not caught out.
- Be prepared to compromise.
- Try not to put unnecessary stress on yourself by trying to do everything.
- Find people who are happy to share their knowledge and expertise with you.
- Identify your “good-study” places.
- If something is complicated, go back to basics and try and break the problem down until it is easier to digest.
- Watch out for distractions. The digital and social media world is full of them.
- When the chips are down, remember the good parts of the course – what made you take it up, what do you plan to do with, what do you like about the subject.
- No course is not forever.
For the audio version of this post, please visit the SOCLIPod casts.