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These students are breaking the mould: can you achieve the same?

by Yvette Maurice

What’s your biggest goal? Want a brand new career or are you turning your whole life around? Sometimes challenges pop up on the path to study. Here’s how three students overcame some common barriers to achieve their study and career goals.

You can overcome any adversity to achieve your dreams. There are few guarantees in life, but coming across challenges at some point in your professional career is almost a given. Most of us have had to study at one time or another – achieving goals often comes after months or years of hard work; learning the skills and competencies we need to learn to get ahead, allowing us to find a career or personal passion that we love.

There are many different types of adversity that each of us face; these can be big things which change our lives and smaller things we face day to day.

Whether online or on-campus, there have been many recent cases of students overcoming the odds to study. Online courses are increasing in popularity. There are many reasons for this but primarily, one of the biggest factors in the growth of this method of learning is simply improved technology and greater access to the internet.

Online courses have been labelled as “adult-friendly” by everyone from the Australian Government to seniors’ learning groups and community forums.

According to an independent study done by IBIS World, more adult learners are now returning to study to gain additional knowledge in order to find jobs. “The trend of up-skilling became particularly apparent during the global financial crisis,” the study states.

“Up-skilling has established a permanent place in society. With more Australians working longer hours, the flexibility offered by online education has enabled more full-time workers to engage in further learning.”

Even though the method of delivery might be different, the five most common challenges to study remain the same as when study is done in a more traditional (face-to-face) format.

The 5 most common challenges to study are:

  • No confidence
  • Not enough plan and structure
  • Lacking some core skills
  • Busy home or work life
  • Procrastination

The 5 solutions to the common study challenges are at the end of this article.

Real life evidence: 3 students who have broken the mould

Study challenge faced: overcoming Parkinson’s disease by retraining online

Chris Crossley, Photography Student


Online photography and design student Chris Crossley had a creative career for decades, until Parkinson’s disease affected his ability to work to the pace his employer required. “They reduced my hours at work,” he remembers. “Even though I could still do the work, I wasn’t as fast anymore – you have to do the job and you have to do it fast.”

Chris was a graphic combiner and he decided that he could gain new skills online that would allow him to develop his love and passion for photography. Now he is showcasing his work in international galleries.

Chris from Talbot in Victoria says that he has always had a love of cameras, since about the age of nine. “I haven’t really taken it seriously, really, apart from the last three or four years,” he says.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. Early in the course of the disease, the most obvious symptoms are movement-related; these include shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty with walking and gait.

“My symptoms have been noticeable since 1996 or 1997. Once the financial crisis hit the work I was doing wasn’t done quickly enough.”

With the aim of up-skilling, Chris is now studying an Open Colleges course online, the CUV40311 Certificate IV in Design (Specialising in Photography).

“I wanted a way to study that would show that I am capable.” Gaining accredited skills even when a person has significant experience is not uncommon. Many Open Colleges students have had successful careers and are studying online while working to gain additional skills that they can use.

“My range of work that shows I am capable,” Chris says, “and this certificate is there to show people that I can do it.” Despite the challenges Chris has faced, he has managed to achieve his personal goals.


An example of online student Chris Crossley’s photography work


Chris had recent reassurance about the quality of his photographic images; he just had some art pieces accepted by a well-known gallery.

I’ve got three works that have been accepted to the Be Human Gallery in Houston, Texas,” says Chris. “Basically I created some images – I am a member of a fine arts group on Facebook – and I showed the images to some of the people in the group.”

His Facebook friends then encouraged him to enter the competition, “So I took a punt, paid that admission and then they accepted three images.”

Once the Be Human thing has finished I have also placed the same images to an online and published magazine called Dark Beauty.”

Despite considerable personal challenges, Chris has achieved his personal goals, in part due to his determination, talent and the new skills he’s learned online.

Study challenge faced: 4 kids and a very busy home life

Julie Fletcher, Education Support


Online student Julie with two of her kids


Imagine trying to study while you’ve got four kids at home? Julie from Secret Harbour, Western Australia recently completed her studies, doing the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support after a former career in mining.

Julie knows how challenging it can be to get ahead with personal goals when you have a very busy home life.

“I had been a stay at home mum to four kids for the last eight or nine years,” she explains. “I wanted to get back into the workforce but not in what I had already done.” Julie mentions that the hours and pressures of the mining sector had now lost their appeal – but she still wanted to contribute in a valuable, worthwhile way.

Finding a fulfilling career after years away from the workforce raising a family is a problem that many women in Australia face. “I wanted to do something new,” Julie explains. “I wanted to do something that would work around the kids and school holidays. That’s what drew me into this course.” Julie wanted to work as an assistant to a teacher, so chose to study education support.

“This (type of work) is completely new,” she says. “I have never been in education prior to doing this course. Because I was in the mining sector – this is very different!” Julie certainly has her hands full. “My kids range from 18 down to five.”

“Honestly, the best thing I ever did was to do that course!” The former student says. She explains a bit about how it works.

“I log in and then I choose to print off all the information and study in a quiet part of the house, away from the kids! When I went to bed is pretty much when I chose to do my study. I would do all my assessments online and then wait to hear back about my results,” she says. Overcoming the challenge of time was, however, possible with an online learning format, self-paced.

Julie’s love for children was one of the reasons she decided to take on the course. “I love kids and I love being around them but the hours and the time off I would be able to have in this type of work was essential to me.”

She was able to find a work placement (a part of her course where she gains real, working skills) quite easily, she says. “I rang around a few of the local schools’ offices and asked if they would take me on. I managed to get a work placement at my kids’ school. I think I worked once a week for a term. They basically said, ‘When do you want to start?’”


Online student Julie has overcome the challenge of a busy home life to achieve her study and career goals

Julie says the things she learned in her course gave her confidence, once she started in her workplace. “It was very daunting on my first day, but since I had been studying and I had that background of knowledge, I found it OK. I felt a lot more confident, knowing that. If I hadn’t done the course, then it would have been pretty tough.”

“Now I do relief work and my name is down at three schools. I predominantly get work at one school and I get two or three days a week. At other times of the year I can get five if I want to. However, I do find that a bit too much, trying to run a household with four kids. The work is definitely there.”

Julie explains a bit about the type of work she is doing now. “In education support I work in a school environment and I assist the teacher,” she says. “I will help with assisting the kids and educating the kids. The ages of the kids I work with are varied and I also work with children with special needs. I’ve done kindy, pre-primary and then through to Year 7.”

What skills does Julie suggest people need if they are planning this type of career? “You need to be organised, patient and able to interact with children,” she says. “Because I do relief work I have to be able to adapt to different schools and different teachers.”

“I love working with children and I love the variety. No two days are the same! With the roles I have been able to find, I can choose the days I want to work. It’s flexible.”

Being adult-friendly and flexible, the course suited the challenges that Julie faced with her busy home life. “I thought the course was great – it suited me to do it online,” she says. “I liked that I didn’t have to go somewhere to study, I could do it at home. It gave me the flexibility of studying in my own home, whenever I wanted to study.”

So, what’s next for Julie? “Now I am looking at doing my Certificate IV in Education Support,” she says. “In the next couple of years, I will do that.” Julie intends to stay in the fulfilling career that she has managed to identify that she is a great fit with. Despite her study challenges and very busy home life – Julie is now achieving her goals.

Study challenge faced: overcame a bad study experience to achieve with an online course

Sophie H, Veterinary Nursing


Sophie is an online Veterinary Nursing student at Open Colleges


When asked about her online course, Sophie gives a confident answer. “Yes, it is going well!” she says, “I started last December.”

Sophie from Adelaide, South Australia, unfortunately had a challenge with her study. She signed on to do a course with a particular education provider but had a bad experience. “I absolutely hated it,” says Sophie. “I was doing a course with them, a Certificate II in Animal Studies.”

Many adults that return to learning report initial anxiety, particularly if they haven’t studied in a while. In Sophie’s case, her bad experience (at an unnamed but very popular education provider) almost put her off learning altogether.

“The lecturers were really rude to me,” she explains, “and I found that when I needed help, they weren’t really able to help me. In some cases, they took over a week to get back to me. I have finished now and I am just waiting for my transcript.”

Now, Sophie has moved to studying online with Open Colleges and she says she is finally getting the learning experience that she was hoping for. Sophie has a few personal medical issues that mean that she requires her studies to be as flexible as possible. She says at the last course she attempted, which was on campus, often the lecturers were not able to accommodate her needs, say, if she had to move an assessment due to a medical appointment.

“If we can’t move it, we can’t move it,” was the response Sophie said she received. Luckily, with all Open Colleges courses, there are no assessment due dates and no set class times. Each course is flexible and self-paced.

Sophie says she has had a better experience with Open Colleges. “When I asked for help with something they got back to me. It’s been pretty good.”

Sophie is now studying the ACM40412 Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing. “I am getting RPL for a lot of my course,” Sophie explains. This is where students with prior recent experience or study can gain credit towards their studies. RPL or Recognition of Prior Learning can be determined by a formal process and is very useful to make sure experienced students get credit for their previous work.

“I have my work experience sorted out,” says Sophie. “I got into volunteer work at Adelaide Zoo. I applied and they interviewed over 200 people and only about 25 got in.”

As well as her work experience at the zoo, Sophie is also doing a work placement at a veterinary clinic as part of her course. Many Open Colleges courses that have a practical component require their students to do a work placement. This is where students gain real, on-the-job skills and have the chance to meet industry contacts.

“I found my placement by sending an email and they got back to me saying that luckily, they had one place left!” Sophie says. This savvy online student has a lot to be proud of, despite early challenges with her learning, she’s now thriving with the right support.

Easy solutions to the 5 most common challenges to study

Whatever your personal challenges are – you can rise above them to achieve your goals – whatever those goals may be.

1. No confidence:

2. Not enough plan and structure:

  • If you’re stuck, contact learning support via your trainer and assessor.
  • Check out this article on planning your study
  • Meet a study buddy online to help motivate you – via OpenSpace

3. Lacking some core skills:

  • Need skills? No problem! Open Colleges has a range of Skill Builder courses in everything from Microsoft Word to web design.

4. Busy home or work life:

  • That’s fine! All Open Colleges courses are self-paced and each course guide gives you an indication of just how many hours per week you should aim to study to get ahead and stay on track.

5. Procrastination:

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