Distance learning: it’s all about peer support

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Joanne Parry is studying level 4 of the core AAT accounting qualification via distance learning whilst working full time at Cambridge Junction – a creative space for artists, performance and creative learning.  Joanne invested in the core qualification wanting to get a qualification to match her skillset. In that time Joanne set up the successful and growing Facebook group called AAT Distance Learning, ‘set up by students for students.’ The group has over 1,200 members and is a dynamic hub for students to learn and support one another. We spoke to Joanne to learn a little more about her story.

In early 2011 there were rumours of redundancy looming at work due to losing our Arts Council England funding. I had been working in my role at DanceDigital as a Finance and Resources Manager and I started to feel that redundancy could be on the cards.

After 10 years in my job, it felt that the time was right to get a valued qualification to match my skill set. While being made redundant is never fun, with one door closing, another door certainly did open. I took on a short-term contract position at Cambridge Junction and four years later, I am still there as Head of Finance and Operations.

Studying with AAT was an easy decision to make as AAT came up a lot in the job adverts that I saw so I thought it would be a good investment. Finding a training provider proved trickier.

Where will I study?

I looked at classroom studying but the cost was too great to justify compared to studying at home.  Being on an average annual salary; distance learning really was the only option for me.

I chose to study with Kaplan Financial starting on Level 2 following doing the AAT Skillcheck. Three years later and just two exams remaining on Level 4; I am so close to completing the qualification.

Distance learning can feel isolating at times and I sometimes thought I was missing out by not being in a classroom environment.  I was the kind of girl at school that sat at the back of the class, swinging back and forth on the two legs of my chair laughing and when I started to study this feeling came flooding back. The need to laugh and learn.

I found this when I joined Kaplan Interact (student chat group) in which I relied on for support of other learners sharing ideas and helping one another. I set up a new chat group on this specifically for those studying level 3 and there was a real buzz on the network. By Christmas 2012, we saw the site close down for a makeover and that was the end of that. I found that creeping doubt and loneliness start to envelop me.

It was a difficult time for me, I could no longer reach out for support, and I was relying on these virtual people to have a calming influence saying ‘it will sink in’, ‘just give it time’, and ‘it will click’.

I needed to find my study buddies again and so I turned to social media and decided to bite the bullet and launch my own distance learning support group on Facebook. This site was born in January 2013.

On the up

I found some peers that I had engaged with previously on the Kaplan channel and it was lovely to get them on board in this new digital space. The really amazing thing which I hadn’t previously considered when moving to an open platform was that it would provide a place for all distance learners to chat, regardless of where they are studying or how they are choosing to study.

This was great as it enables wider discussions about study methods, quality of service, and costs as well as technical support.  The main rule in the group is ‘if you ask for help, return the favour when you are in a position to do so’.  That way the group regulates itself as each new round of newbies can get support from those that have moved up a level.

The disadvantage to studying as a distance learner is that you do not have to stick to a timetable so time can slip away from you if you get out of the habit of studying.

The skills and confidence that I have gained through studying AAT have been invaluable.  There are a number of things that I would like to achieve once the studying is over. I would love to carry the letters after my name and become a MAAT, I’d also like to start my own business and carry on studying possibly moving on to ATT.  Like AAT, ATT appeals to me as it is modular based and there are exemptions depending which options you chose at AAT Level 4.

Setting up a lively network through my Facebook channel meant that I engaged with some fantastic people from Premier Training and First Intuition as well as Henry Cooper, (Previous Chair of AAT). Each led a live Q&A session which the group members have thrived off and these now provide great resource for new members.

I have just two exams remaining (sitting one on the 22 July) and AAT gives me the confidence to believe in what I am saying and doing.

So if you’re a distance learner or in fact any learner with the AAT, please do check out the Facebook page here, we may be able to help you with a question or you may benefit from just listening in.  AAT have other resources to help students on their journey with us via the main AAT Facebook channel and the Twitter account @YourAAT.

Joanne Parry is Head of Finance and Operations at Cambridge Junction.

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