Well it has been a while since I last posted but I have been inspired by Natasha Everard to pull my finger out and start writing again. I thought I would start with an article that I wrote for the AAT blog AAT comment in July. Here you will be able to read the full unedited version (be warned it is quite long)!
Don’t worry if you do not have time to read this one then you can read the edited version here! http://www.aatcomment.org.uk/aat-view/continuing-professional-development-cpd-aat-view/distance-learning-its-all-about-peer-support
Love Life Love Distance Learning
In early 2011 there were rumours of redundancy looming at work due to losing our Arts Council England funding. I had been working for an arts charity for 10 years at this point and seven of those were in a finance role. I used this pending news as an opportunity to look around for other jobs staying within finance but it was difficult to get an interview as my CV showed no financial qualifications. I really enjoyed learning on the job and progressing in a small charity but if I wanted to make a career within finance now was the time to start studying for a professional accounting qualification.
AAT came up a lot in the job adverts that I saw so the decision was made very quickly on which vocational qualification to apply for. The hardest decision was choosing a training provider. I looked at studying in a classroom but the cost was too great to justify compared to studying as a distance learner, being on an average annual salary and at risk of losing my job it really was the only option for me. I researched three training providers and in the end I decided on Kaplan Financial as they had a big presence on the internet, seemed a very well established training provider and so the decision was made.
I started on Level 2 due to the recommendation of aatskillcheck.org more than three years ago and I now have just two exams remaining on Level 4. I am so close to completing the qualification it is sometimes difficult to knuckle down and just get on with it.
The main downside I found studying as a distance learner is that you can feel lonely and isolated and feel like you are missing out on that peer-to-peer support and banter that you get within the four walls of 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 giggling and when I started to study this feeling came flooding back; the need to have a laugh whilst learning something new but also having the support when you are struggling with a subject or a motivational kick up the behind when you just cannot be bothered anymore.
I found all of this when I joined an AAT group on Kaplan Interact (Kaplan’s student chat/ forum group). Before long I set up an AAT Level 3 group where we would chat a lot. We would help each other out and motivate each other to pass. Some members were further ahead so knew what I was going through and that was an invaluable resource. At the end of 2012 Kaplan closed the Interact group over Christmas for an upgrade and that was the end of that really! The site was down for about six weeks and when it eventually came back up all the conversations and groups had been deleted and replaced by individual module groups.
Kaplan had taken control of how we communicated with each other and it lost that feeling where you were chatting in a canteen having discussions about all sorts of things not just about the book you were studying at the time. Conversations were about the pressures we put on ourselves to ‘know it all’, or beat ourselves up because ‘we just don’t get it’ and for others to be there as a calming influence saying that ‘it will sink’, ‘just give it time’, and ‘it will just click’.
It was a difficult time for me when I could no longer reach out for support, that creeping doubt and loneliness was starting to envelop me. I had begun to rely on these virtual people that I had never met to pick me up, to help me get through and to keep me motivated. Especially as people at home didn’t really get what I am studying or why I am doing it! Does anyone else feel like that with the people you live with?!! Hmmmm.
I needed to find my study buddies again so I set up the facebook group facebook.com/groups/aatdistancelearning and went in search for and eventually found Neil Concannon, Carol Rogers, Juliette Bee, Samantha Lawrence and Mira Dixon and the group was formed. Two have now fully qualified and the four of us remaining have our last one or two exams to go. It’s been a long journey but we have been through it together and that is precious.
The really amazing thing which I had not considered at the time about moving away from the training provider platform and onto an unbiased platform is that we are now more widely and easily accessible to distance learning students from all training providers. This enabled wider discussions about study methods, quality of service, and costs etc. The main rule in the group is ‘If you ask for help make sure you return the favour and help someone else when you are in a position to do so’. That way the group manages itself as each new round of newbies can get support from those that have moved up a level.
Kaplan provide some great resources including the Kaplan Engage study platform with additional practise assessments and quizzes as well as the usual study book, revision book and pocket book. Aside from that my first point of call is always the facebook group. At your finger tips are students who have just completed what you’re about to do and they are more than happy to pass on their ‘wisdom’. You are tested all the time when a student posts help with a question and it is a race to see who can answer first to show off what you have learnt!! It is only since I have reached level 4 that I have found myself writing out flash cards (Business Tax) and sticking up A4 sheets of paper with performance indicator ratios and variance formulas written in coloured pens (Financials Performance). I stuck these up on the kitchen cupboard but quickly realised I do not spend enough time in there to make it useful so I now have them stuck up at work.
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 just get out of the habit of studying. If life gets in the way and you cannot study due to changing jobs, buying a house or getting married *cough, cough* then don’t beat yourself up about it as that is exactly what distance learning is all about. It is also a lonely place but the facebook group has filled that gap as we have members in the group from all over the world so there is always someone chatting away!!!
The skills and confidence that I have gained through studying AAT has been invaluable. There are a number of things that I would like to achieve once the studying is over and I can proudly say ‘I have done it, I am MAAT’ 1. start a family, 2. start my own business (by setting up as self employed or maybe going into partnership with some of the facebook group members), 3. moving on to ATT (Association of Taxation Technician). Like AAT, ATT appeals to me as you don’t have to commit the next three years of your life to it, you can do one module at a time of which there are only six and you may be exempt from one of two modules depending which options you chose at AAT Level 4.
If I was starting studying as a distance learner today I would research more thoroughly which training provider to go to. At the time I just had the web to help but having feedback from other people who have gone through what you are about to go through and learning from them is invaluable. I do not know whether it is that I am much more aware or whether smaller training providers are much more prominent today but it seems that you generally get a better and more personal service with a smaller training provider. I would also check how often you can book exams and how much notice you need to book them. Having this flexibility will help to speed up your study progress.
I would like to add a thank you to Nick Craggs from Premier Training, Gareth John from First Intuition and Henry Cooper (Previous Chair of AAT) for their contribution to the facebook group. Each of them have led a live Questions and Answers session on different subject matters which the group members have thrived from and these have been left behind as a resource for new members. Watch this space for more Q&A’s throughout the year.
I would also like to thank the other Admins of the group Neil Concannon for his witty way with words, Carol Rogers for her support and contribution to those setting up as self employed and our newest Admin due to the increase in members, Natasha Everard for her Friday question!
If you are thinking about studying AAT as a distance learning student, don’t think just do, you will not regret it I promise.