I’m not going to lie to anyone thinking of doing an MA, especially if they are considering distance mode - it’s not easy. Don’t get me wrong - it is worth it. The chance to reflect on your practice, engage with ELT academics, access research and expand your horizons make sure of that. However, at some point when you’re behind schedule, spending late nights hunched over your computer trying to get an assignment finished or trapped in a seemingly never ending spiral of reading academic publications, you will inevitably put your head in your hands and ask yourself “Why am I doing this?”
“Everything has a hole in it - that’s how the light gets in” Image by Mrs eNil
This moment of self-questioning hits the distance learner especially hard. There is no immediate support network of fellow students and odds are, you are juggling the study with a full-time teaching post (and we all know how demanding that can be!), and possibly family commitments as well. Despite your best laid plans to study at a particular time, you’ll get asked to do something extra at work (a terrible side effect of studying - “you’re doing an MA so you can do a workshop on what you’ve learned for us”) or there will be tests to mark, projects to grade and reports to write.
Away from work, there’ll be a friend’s birthday or a family event you can’t miss. Then you’ll find you can’t relax as you spend your time thinking “I should be studying”. And then, you’ll hear your colleagues discussing plans for the weekend/upcoming holiday. As they mention catching a film at the cinema, going out for a meal or having a weekend away, you’ll be thinking “I need to read up on socio-cultural theory and write a short summary of its applications to e-learning”.
It can take its toll and at times, keeping yourself motivated is hard. As I said at the start, it is all worth it though and there are several things you can do to keep yourself on track:
- Plan ahead as much as possible
Get organised with your assignment dates, important dates at work, holidays and special occasions. Invaluable for avoiding potential pile-ups of work! Of course, it’s not always possible to predict what’s coming but it’s useful to be as prepared as possible.
- Keep your boss(es) up to date on what you’re doing
It always important to keep a dialogue going. Let the people you work with/for know what you’re doing and when you are likely to be busy with study. After all, you doing an MA benefits them as well so they should be supportive.
- Keep in touch with your course mates
There are plenty of ways to reduce the ‘loneliness of the long distance learner’. There is the university’s own virtual learning environment of course but then there are all the other social media options: Twitter, blogging, Skype… Being in touch with fellow Manchester MA students like Richard, Isil, Nergiz and Martin W as well as students on other courses like Beyza and Martin S has helped me as it’s good to know someone else out there is juggling the same things as you. For my last course, regular Skype sessions were a great way to feel more involved in a learning community as well.
- Unwind once in a while…
Nothing wrong with taking an evening/day off from the computer screen and the books (unless it’s right before a deadline!) and doing something for yourself like taking in a movie, watching a footy match, joining some friends for a drink. In fact, you might find yourself refreshed a little with more energy to get back into studying.
- Make time to make up for lost time
I’ve had to spend less time than normal with my family over the last few weeks. It got to the point where my son would come home from kindergarten and ask “have you got work to do today daddy?” Once I was done with the assignment, I made sure I had time to focus on just him and spoil him a bit. I also plan to make the most of my wife’s birthday with plenty of family-oriented stuff planned for the weekend. After all, it’s support from family and friends that keeps people going in whatever they do.