Returning to Learning - Going Back to Study

The modern career path expects you to be be dynamic, adaptable, and constantly learning. In the past, the standard approach to working was to find a job, work diligently and show your commitment to the company, and slowly rise up the corporate ranks over a number of years until retiring from a senior position with a decent pension. But with the pace of technological change, the ever-changing nature of competition thanks to globalisation, and the sheer volume of new knowledge – the whole world of business needs to be in a state of constant evolution.

It's very difficult to stay on top of all of these changes while you're working, or while you're raising a young family. The solution is to return to learning. By doing so, you can improve your prospects of promotion, change career path entirely, meet new people and develop new skills, and avoid a sense of your life falling into a rut. There are plenty of thoroughly established paths for returning to learning.

Once you've decided that studying might be an option, the next decision is almost inevitably what to study. You may want to stay with your current field and simply catch up on what the new thinking is, or you may be considering a change for either your own development or for a better income. You can get free help with plotting these options and making your choices from the National Careers Service.

National Careers Service

The National Careers Service has a highly organised website (https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk) with advice, organisational tools to help you through each step of planning and executing a new learning path, as well as news on the latest trends in the job market. This can be really important, as the way that CVs are structured, the kinds of information which is regarded as important, and the social and other skills which are valued most, are always changing and evolving as well. The National Careers Service can also be contacted by phone on 0800 100 900.

It's worth getting their advice and having them give you an understanding of yourself from an outside perspective. Without deliberately trying to, you'll probably have been picking up skills and attitudes that are very useful in business. Time management; problem solving skills; the ability to ask questions and organise the answers into a coherent understanding; the skill of listening to people properly and understanding their motivations; even having a clear understanding of your own – these are all definable and desirable skills.

You may be able to choose a course of study that will hone these skills, or even just one that can give you a recognised accreditation for them. Completing the course requirements would be simple if you've already developed the skills. Even if you need to tackle the learning from a point of no knowledge, but you can't bring yourself to consider sitting through exams and formal assessments again – there are solutions available.

Alternative Types of Courses Available

Especially with adult education programmes, systems have been put in place to allow for assessment to happen in different ways. In many cases, your learning will happen as a series of practical assignments for each module of the course. In the process, you'll build up a portfolio of work that you can take out into the market place to demonstrate you abilities and grasp of the work required for that particular job. Courses may also culminate in a single practical demonstration of your skills, which can be assessed by external assessors without you having to be directly involved with them or motivate your decisions – simply show your skill and ability to do a typical task, and receive a written report that a prospective employer can reference to see how you'd perform if they employed you to do those kinds of tasks.

There are also a number of “distance learning” options available, which allow you to study at your own pace, at times that suit you, and under conditions which are practical for your individual situation. This can be entirely at your own home, or it could be a combination of home study and group work or under individual mentorship. These courses often happen online through webinars, downloads or by email (“E-learning”), but can also be by mail correspondence. Look for terms like “open learning”, “self study” and “distance education” if this kind of study seems best suited to your needs.

Remember that you may qualify for financial support while you take these studies on. This can include help with the costs of childcare to free your time to study and even transport. There are also grants, bursaries, and “soft loans” - loans that must be paid back, but under far easier conditions than a standard bank loan. All of these will depend on your circumstances, and the course that you'll be doing. Once again, the best source of advice about these is the National Careers Service.

Returning to Higher Education

Almost all universities and higher education institutions have a significant number of “mature students”. Since these students are often perceived to be more serious about their studies, and more likely to contribute meaningfully to the learning process by virtue of their experience – special arrangements are made to ensure that access is possible. You may receive credit for particular work experience, or for a range of other qualifications that may be viewed as indicators that you'll be able to take on the course in question.

If your experience or qualifications still don't match up to their standard entry requirements, you can consider an Access course. Properly called the Access to Higher Education Diploma, this is the equivalent of A levels, but designed specifically for people who haven't studied for a long time or have no qualifications at all. There is a vast array of course options leading to the diploma, and generally the course content itself provides you with the basic skills required to deal with the material. You'll be able to find one that allows you to complete the course part-time or in the evenings. Once you complete the diploma, you'll be free to pursue a more specific qualification at a higher education institution.