How to fit study around a busy life – HR Learning Bites

HR Learning Resource Q & A

How to Fit Study Around a Busy Life was the theme for June’s webinar in our free Learning Bites series. Our expert Davina Jenkins came up with some great practical advice on how to get CIPD qualified without putting your life on hold. Here is the Q&A and Davina’s study tips from the session.

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Q. What’s your first tip that you can give us around how to  find time to study for a CIPD qualification whilst managing a busy life?

My first top tip is to take a structured approach to your studies and work out a study plan with your personal adviser around time frames.  For example, if you know you have a particularly busy time at work or a family party or holiday coming up, then build your study plan around these important events so they are taken into account.

When we look at the demographic of our candidates, we can see that there are many who are returning to studying after a break.  Some haven’t studied since schooldays and/or are juggling work with child commitments or caring for elderly parents but the one thing they all have in common is they have very busy jobs.  In fact, the more I talk to candidates, the more I hear that organisations generally are over stretched and people are really struggling simply to keep on top of their roles. Adding a big chunk of extra work such as studying for a qualification can be an overwhelming thought for many but it really doesn’t have to be.

Everybody under estimates how much time it takes to study. A professional qualification is not something you can achieve in an hour every now again, you need to put in some regular time each week to keep abreast of your studies. However, there are lots of practical ways candidates can do this.

Planning ahead and knowing your schedule is vital. I advise all my candidates to look ahead for the whole duration of the programme and plot what is going on in their lives – when there are birthdays, holidays, big projects at work and so on. You really need to look at yourself holistically and have a calendar for your life. Be realistic – there is no point saying I am going to study every Saturday morning if you have to drop your daughter off at gymnastics or you might need down time after a busy week. It might be preferable to study one evening or use your commute to work instead.  A train journey is ideal for catching-up on a podcast or reading through an article.

For some, this will mean chipping away each week, an hour here and an hour there.  For others it could be dedicating a whole weekend to a CIPD unit or module; it is whatever works best for you.

Q. Once you have such a study plan, should you share it with others, maybe members of your family or work colleagues?

Yes, definitely, my second piece of advice is to build your support network. It’s really important to engage with family members so they know that, for example, Tuesday evening is study night and you don’t want to be disturbed and won’t have time to prepare a meal.  Make sure they are aware that in these competitive times it’s more important than ever to get a professional qualification.  Being CIPD qualified will take your HR or L&D career to the next level.  Equally if your boss knows your assignment deadline is looming they might be in a position to allow you some study time at work.  Let your work colleagues know that you might be in early or stay late to study. If you are on one of our workshop programmes then find yourself a study buddy, someone you can discuss the topic with and exchange ideas.  Establishing a good support network with the people around you will be motivating – those people will know when you should be studying and will remind you!

Q. How much studying time should you allow for each CIPD level?

It really does vary.  The CIPD suggests guided learning hours for each unit but it depends on the unit size. On average for levels 3 and 5 you should be allowing about 30 learning hours per unit. For Advanced level this increases to about 75 learning hours per module. On a level 5 study plan, we suggest you complete a unit every two months so it might be helpful to backtrack – for example, every two months I need to allocate 30 study hours where am I going to fit these in?  15 hours a month could break down to around four hours a week. One week you might be able to study for three hours in one chunk, another it could be one hour.

Everyone has their own individual learning journey.  For example, if a unit is completely unfamiliar you might need to allow more study time.  If the topic is the bread and butter of your job you may whizz through the assignment in no time at all. If you have opted for one of Watson Martin’s workshop programmes then some of your learning will be in the classroom. For online or fast track candidates, it could be via a webinar or our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Everyone is different and my third top tip is to work out approximately the number of hours you need to spend on each unit or module and break it up into manageable chunks – for example 4 hours preparing for a workshop or a couple of hours researching a topic on the VLE.

Q. Do we all study in the same way or are there different types of learners?

It’s worth reflecting on what you know about yourself. I know I need lots of visual information – pictures, diagrams and coloured pens to learn and write up notes.  If you are faced with a new topic, what is the best way for you to learn?  Do you read all the manuals or do you experiment?  Know your learning style – we use the acronym VARK which stands for Visual, Aural, Read/Write and Kinesthetic sensory modalities.  These are the four modalities that according to Fleming and Mills (1992) are deemed to reflect how students learn.  Although there is some overlap between them they are defined as:

Visual – information in maps, spider diagrams, charts, flow charts and other devices that people use to represent what could be presented in words.

Aural – people who learn best from lectures, group discussion, radio, web-chat or talking things through.

Read/Write – this learner preference is all about words, reading and writing in all its forms but especially manuals, reports, essays and assignments. Wikipedia and Google feature prominently for these learners.

Kinesthetic – people who learn by experience or practice – examples, practice or simulation.  This includes demonstrations, simulations, videos and films of real things, case studies and practice applications.

Obviously there are seldom cases when only one mode is used and most of our candidates will prefer a mixture but understanding how best you learn is helpful and this is my fourth top tip.

Q.  Many of us are out of the habit of reading to retain information.  How should candidates read with purpose?

One of the challenges many of our candidates find is to read with purpose.  We are all so used to constantly flicking through our phones, catching up on social media or reading about celebratory gossip, it can be difficult to concentrate and read with purpose.  You need to remember you are now reading to retain information and develop your knowledge in a chosen topic.  How you do this is your choice but ultimately it is about reading for purpose to ensure you retain the information you read,  and this is my fifth top tip.

Q. Is it important to be organised when you are studying?

It does help to be organised but don’t despair if you are not a naturally organised person.  A study plan will definitely help and I would also suggest having somewhere in your home or at work where you can keep all your materials, your files and folders, any text books and coloured pens as your study area. Where you study is important so make it easy for yourself. You will get going in minutes if you have a corner of your house set aside for your books and laptop. If you have to clear the kitchen table first and then find all your learning materials you will find it more difficult to start.  Alternatively, if this is not possible then take yourself off to a coffee shop, plug in your headphones and devote two hours to study.  Reward yourself with a nice drink at the same time.  Having a regular place to study where you can get cracking quickly on your books is my sixth top tip.

Q. With everything going on in a busy life and the added pressures of studying do candidates sometimes neglect their own mental and physical wellbeing? 

Yes, it is easy to neglect yourself when you are busy so it is important for candidates to look after themselves, to eat well and to think about when they are eating. For example, don’t eat a huge meal just before you are about to study which won’t help your concentration!  And remember to find time for exercise which is a great stress buster. One thing that really helps is being disciplined about your study plan and sticking to it. Otherwise, that big black study cloud I mentioned earlier will infiltrate all areas of your life and will pull you down.  Ultimately don’t neglect yourself and remember studying is only one part of your life is my seventh top tip.

Q. What other support can candidates get from a provider like Watson Martin when they are studying for a CIPD qualification?

At Watson Martin, all our CIPD candidates are allocated their own personal adviser who will support them throughout their studies with one-to-one sessions.  This support is an important part of the programme. It’s what sets us apart from other training providers and candidates should use it wisely. I find that candidates often use these sessions in different ways. For example, some will use a session at the start of a unit to plan their overall approach.  Others will use it towards the end of the unit to double check facts or to gain feedback on their writing style. The beauty of all our learning programmes is that they are flexible and tailored to your needs so consider these one-to-ones as opportunities and add them to your study plan.

In addition, Watson Martin offers webinars, workshops and the VLE depending on which study route you have chosen. The VLE is intuitive and very easy to navigate.  Learning outcomes are all structured; there are workbooks for each unit, and there are clear signposts to further reading.  We also regularly post additional resources such as podcasts or links to the latest articles and so my eighth top tip is to make use of all the support available both from your personal adviser and our wide range of online resources.

Q. What happens if someone gets behind and their studying goes off track? 

My advice is do not despair! Speak to your personal adviser and see how you can readjust your study plan.  Perhaps you are really busy over the next two weeks so you might have a short delay and then you will be back on track.  Don’t go off the radar.  Your adviser is here to help you.  As are your work colleagues and support network.  If you have a good line manager discuss your studies with them. They might be able to advise you on one of your modules or give you some time off to help you catch up with your studies.  Disappearing or not talking about any problems with your studies is never a good idea, so don’t despair and speak up is my ninth top tip.

Q. What is your tenth and final top tip Davina?

My most important tip of all is to just get on with it! Candidates really mull over their first piece of work because they worry about it being the right standard for the CIPD.  Well we won’t know whether you are on the right track or need to improve until we see your work. Therefore, get started and send your work to your personal adviser to review as soon as possible.  My tenth and final top tip then is to close your eyes, click send and just do it!

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