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As I have recently started on my third course with the Open University, I've decided it's time I shared my experiences. This review is not going to focus on what the OU offers, because they have a perfectly good website (www.open.ac.uk) which details all this in much better detail than I could - and this would be a very long review if I talked about every aspect of the OU at length.
In a nutshell, the Open University provides those who are in full-time work, house-bound, didn't make grades required, or for whatever reason unable or unwilling to attend a traditional bricks-and-mortar university. If university is not an option due to worries about fees and student loans looming over your head, you may well find, as I did, that you qualify for a grant, which I'll discuss more in a minute. There are several named degrees and diplomas or you can mix and match to work towards an Open Degree which is basically a Bachelor of Arts or Science with or without honours depending on how many points you attain and whether they are more strongly weighted towards arts/science.
I first decided to study through the OU on a whim, having a job where I spend long periods of time waiting for phone calls. I attended uni for a while although never finished my course (I choose poorly) and wanted to try out a short course to see if I enjoyed studying again. It was really easy to sign up and pay online and I actually selected two courses to begin with - Writing for the Internet and Studying Mammals - both of which are no longer on offer. They were short courses at 10 points each, and looking through the information on the website I felt confident that I had enough time free to work on them. As they were under 30 points, I did have to pay, but they were reasonably priced at around £120 each.
Just before the classes started (about the same time) I received my course materials and was contacted by my tutor for my writing class. She was very helpful and made it clear that she was there to help whenever needed. She also set little tasks to carry out on the course forum part of the website, so it was easy to keep on track.
My other tutor probably only emailed me once throughout the entire course. I got the feeling that this course was not divided into tutor groups like the other had been, so the forum was a mass of people throwing out ideas and questions and I found it very hard to keep on track with the tasks at hand without a tutor checking I wasn't falling behind. This course also had the option of two end times, and after getting a little behind I chose the latter. Well, a holiday later and I was pretty far behind and catching up seemed daunting - the workload was a little heavier than the website had let on and doing two at once was biting off a bit more than I could chew. I ended up not completing the course because I didn't have time.
So tip number one if you decide to go with the OU - don't get behind!! I should point out that they send study calendars so you know where you should be, and both courses had a "catch-up week".
Anyway, I recently decided to start again as they are offering a new course in Welsh which I have always been interested in learning. I was a little concerned it would be really difficult to learn a language which looks so confusing "by myself". Once I received my materials I felt much better, the books (specially written for OU study) are really great and correspond with tracks on the audio CD, just as my Studying Mammals course book had referred to segments of DVDs. I am only two weeks in and have learned an enormous amount already, all broken down into manageable activites and chunks. There is also a practise book which is very thorough - I definitely feel like I have taken everything in.
My tutor for this course has been wonderful, he emailed and sent a letter before it began to tell me when he can be contacted, and that I can arrange phone calls if I want extra practise. I had my first in-person tutorial on Saturday which was a lot of fun and quite well attended so I got to meet a lot of my fellow students. I definitely felt less alone and like there are lots of people to practice with and to ask for help should I get stuck.
I will probably review the course once I'm done, so I won't go into too much detail, but the workload seems actually less than for the 10-point classes, I am getting it done really quickly, perhaps because it's so engaging and presented in a manageable way.
I was interested to find out that I could get financial support even though I am working full time. Even though I live with my parent who has a high income, the OU don't take this into account, and I qualify for full course fees plus expenses as I don't already hold a degree! I am still in the process of getting them due to them being ridiculously picky about paperwork (they didn't deem my senior university lecturer neighbour as suitable to verify my passport photocopy!) but at least they returned it quickly so I'm hoping I'll see the money soon!!
My advice if you are planning on taking an OU course is definitely ensure you have plenty of time to study, and don't let yourself fall behind. A good tutor can make or break the course, but remember that they are getting paid to help you so don't feel bad about getting in touch with them if you don't feel like you are getting enough help. I am looking forward to further tutorials and my online tutorials. There is such a wide range of courses there is bound to be something to take your fancy so whether you're satisfying an interest or taking a course to further your career, I definitely recommend looking into OU study.