Tag Archives: distance learning

The one with the milestones

If you’ve read this blog from the start then firstly, I doff my cap to you and your carriage clock is in the post but secondly, you’ll recall that it started with me talking about what was in front of me: the end of my Masters course. At that point if I recall correctly (and I do because I’ve just been back to read it) I had an essay, 2 exams and a dissertation/project to finish. The good news is the essay is done (it was about diversity and gender and spawned a post all its own which you can find here). In just under a week all that will remain will be my project as my exams are next week and I say this for all to see: I will never revise for anything EVER again….

I am one of those awful people who leave things to the last moment (if you read any psychological profile on me it will contain the phrase ‘is energised by last minute pressure) which makes any form of academic preparation a gut wrenching nightmare. Things will trot along nicely and at some point I will have the “I haven’t done enough” moment, I will feel sick and from somewhere my memory will gain stickiness that belays its normal average function. With just over 4 days to the first exam, this moment has not yet happened and nothing is sticking. Crap.

But I digress; the reason for writing this was not to complain about my random revision foibles. The milestone will be the end of the exams and hopefully I will be far too drunk (or preparing for something in work that I’ve forgotten) to write about this but the other milestone was a meeting with my project supervisor. To be technically correct she is my second project supervisor as my first supervisor took a sabbatical (oh to be an academic) but the meeting went well and I came away feeling encouraged and on the right track….ish

In the course of the meeting she asked if I would take part in an open day for potential students and as part of that conversation she asked a question that loads of people have asked me (in various tenses), “Have you enjoyed it?”. The answer I gave is pretty consistent with the answer I give/have given everyone which is “I hate it at the time but enjoy it with reflection”. She then went on to ask me what was the most challenging part and got the following list:

  1. Having to read 6 journal articles a week whilst working and travelling for work (I must have been drunk if I thought reading whilst travelling was going to be my thing – jetlag and theory DO NOT mix)
  2. Learning to think and process things differently. This may sounds a grandiose statement but getting my head around the academia of it all has really hurt
  3. The discipline of writing essays and structuring thought constructed around published thought.
  4. The terminology (more of that in a moment)
  5. Putting my pride to one side and admitting to REALLY not understanding things but balance this with the comfort of others being in the same boat
  6. Finally, and most importantly, keeping all of this in context of the rest of my life: work, social, relationships, friends, chores etc

Probably the defining moments in terms of both terminology and pride was our first weekend workshop held at a conference centre (latterly known as the Gulag) in Buckinghamshire. Having been issued with 5 articles to pre-read we went to our first lecture and from there our first discussion group.

A brief aside. Have you ever heard anyone use or used yourself the term “paradigm shift”, e.g. ‘we need a paradigm shift in strategy’. Next time you hear someone use it, claim 20 points at lingo-bingo and then ask them this: “what do you mean by paradigm?”

Our first lecture opened by defining some paradigms, both in terms of their ontology and epistemology. STOP. If you’ve never heard those words before, are you thinking “what the hell do they mean?” Are you wondering if you should know them? Are you wondering if everyone else knows them? I was, and it was only 9.12am on a cold grey Saturday morning. I have wiki linked the two words so feel free to have a look if you fancy it but that was defining moment #1 in terms of terminology and pride.

In the ensuing group discussion we have to go through the 5 articles we had (of course) pre-read and categorise them by paradigm. We didn’t do well. However, the 1 article we all nailed and I felt really comfortable with was the one from the Harvard Business Review so it wasn’t all bad. Ahhh but it was because on the arrival of our group tutor it turned out that academically speaking the HBR article was simple, trite, lacking in substance, not peer reviewed etc etc etc and basically if that was the one you made sense of you were doomed….

This was defining moment #2 but lead to my breakthrough and comfort in realising why we were doing this as a group – no one else got them either! BRILLIANT! As it turned out the rest of the room felt equally alienated, panicked and shared a sinking feeling. And you know what? The course tutors knew it too! It was later admitted that they started us with some of the most complex ideas and material both to future proof us for the rest of the course but also that from there it only ever got easier (or at least was the same).

Now I would normally spend a few sentences talking about the support of groups, pride coming before a fall or something that neatly ended this but I’m not going to. Why? Because my gut has just started wrenching and I need to revise!

And no I’m not taking part in the open day. My decision not hers fortunately 🙂



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The one where I share my not last words

Firstly, thank you so much for response to first two posts. Some great leads on finding corporate entrepreneurs for the project (but happy to have more suggestions –I need about 20!). Already some really interesting people who, as an aside, sound like they have awesome jobs!!

Secondly, having been in Tokyo last Friday and now watching the trouble the Japanese are facing in managing the nuclear situation and keeping basic services functional, my thoughts go out to the people all over Japan who are fearful for their immediate safety and security.

Thirdly (and mainly) I would like to take you back to a sunny afternoon in the summer of 2004. I had just finished my CIPD exams and my 5th or 6th pint and declared in a quasi-drunken voice to anyone who would listen “if I ever suggest studying whilst working full time again – please, someone shoot me”. Talk about famous not last words…

I remember standing outside Birkbeck in Bloomsbury now in the late summer of 2009 with those words ringing in my ears and if there was a man stood next to me in a black bowler hat I would have delivered the “this is another fine mess you’ve got us into, Stanley” line but alas I was stood alone (but from memory I did tweet my quote and a picture)

Due to my work schedule I could only consider the distance learning option which I have found particularly hard as I prefer to learn through debate and discussion which unfortunately has been restricted to the 5 weekend workshops we have attended. The workshops will be worthy of a post in themselves I’m sure but I generally work 10 hour days, then get home do normal stuff like catch up with friends, eat, chores etc and then the thought of sitting down with a journal article has been about as attractive as root canal surgery (and that’s pretty bad I assure you).

Learning on our course has been mainly about reviewing a volume (around 5-6 per fortnight) journal articles and then discussing them with other students in a moderated online forum run by the Uni. We are supposed to make a certain number of posts per week and contribute to the discussion. This has been a slog which at times (and on several occasions) I have failed at…

So what’s my point? Well there are two of them:

1. Before taking on a course such as this consider how much you want it and if the mode of learning suits your style and life style

2. If I ever suggest studying whilst working full time again – please, someone shoot me. No, really I mean it!!!!!


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