8 ways you can succeed at distance learning

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I’ve spent twelve years teaching in the adult and further education sector, delivering the AAT accounting qualifications. 

I originally taught face-to-face lessons, but now I deliver lessons and support online, so I understand how e-learning presents its own set of unique benefits and challenges. With that in mind, here are my top tips for any students currently working towards an AAT qualification via distance learning.

Break down the qualification

A lot of students can feel overwhelmed when they look at the amount of topics they need to cover within a qualification, or even just a unit. But if you just follow the structure of the qualification there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. With my students at AVADO, we break everything down into week into week 1, week 2, week 3, etc. Every week we give them clear instructions on what they need to do, how they need to approach each area, and what they need to study within each aspect. That way they can take the course a week at a time, without panicking about what’s coming up next.

Take breaks if you get distracted

I actually find that once a student gets really stuck into their studies they don’t tend to get distracted, but of course everyone’s different and some will find it more difficult to focus than others. Again, I think a great way to help with this is break things down into chunks. For example, you could spend an hour on your weekly reading, then have a little break to relax, check Facebook, or whatever you like. Then you can come back and answer some practice questions on what you just read. If you’re still struggling, you can try working for half an hour and taking a five-minute break. A lot of students study better this way, so experiment and try and find the rhythm that works best for you.

Find creative ways to fit the work into your day

Students with full time jobs or children (or both) often find it tricky to fit their studies into their schedules. The key is finding small pieces of time that you wouldn’t necessarily be using otherwise. Can you study for twenty minutes while cooking your evening meal? Maybe you can do some reading during your daily commute? How about doing some practice questions for half an hour before you go to bed? Or even in bed! That’s one of the big advantages to distance learning – you can do it whenever and wherever your schedule allows. If your course is accessible on mobile then that makes it even easier to slip a bit of study into your downtime.

Interact with your fellow students

I often find that when students studying the same qualification talk to each other online, it helps them not only to grasp the material but to stay motivated as well. You can see how each other are getting on, share words of encouragement and advice, and build a strong network of accounting professionals. I think the best way to break the ice is during live classes, if your training provider offers them. During my classes I often see students getting to know each other in real time in the chat box, and then that often transfers over either to our own forums or to AAT’s own discussion forums.

Don’t just memorise formulas, understand them

There are loads of tips and tricks out there for helping you to remember the various formula you’ll have to learn for the AAT qualifications. I give my students notes with acronyms, which I think work quite well. However, my number one tip is to not just try and learn the formulas by rote without really understanding what they do and why they’re the way they are. If you don’t get it initially, don’t worry. Just ask your tutor for some extra help. If you can grasp the reasons why things are worked out in certain ways you’re much less likely to make mistakes, because you’ll be able to look at your answer and walk through what you know the steps must be rather than just hoping the formula you used was the right one.

Keep revisiting previous units for Synoptic success

If you’re studying for a qualification that features the new Synoptic Assessments introduced last year, make sure you keep brushing up on previous units as you go along. So, when you’re revising for Unit 2, spend a little bit of time going over some of the key elements of Unit 1 as well. That way you start to build the jigsaw puzzle together in your mind, giving you better understanding of the course as a whole and making sure you still have everything fairly fresh in your mind once you come to the final Synoptic Assessment.

What to do before an exam

My personal tips are that you should try and revise as much as possible as you go along, doing as many practice questions as you can. But on the night before the exam, I actually advise students to take the night off. If you don’t know the stuff you need to know by that point, you’re probably not going to know it by cramming. Instead I think it’s better to relax, get a good night’s sleep, and go in fresh and focused to the assessment.

Adam’s top tip

It’s come up a few times during the course of this article, but I think the best advice I can give you is to ask your tutor for help if you’re ever struggling or feeling unmotivated. There’s no such thing as a silly question. It should be easy to reach your tutor (I’m contactable by my students via phone, email, or AVADO’s Virtual Learning Campus), and usually with a bit of assistance and reassurance we can put you back on track.

Part of the responsibility for this rests on us tutors. Ideally, your tutor should be proactively reaching out to you if they think something’s wrong. I monitor my students progress and try to make contact if, for example, they haven’t logged in to the Virtual Learning Campus in a while. I also try to make myself approachable during live classes. So don’t fret over getting in touch; we wouldn’t have become tutors if we didn’t want to help students.

Adam Ruston-Shaw is a distance learning tutor at AVADO.

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