Friday, 26 June 2015

Learn something new this summer

As the 2015 Festival of Learning draws to a close, we want to take the opportunity to invite everyone to try a new subject and learn something new. Whether you want to have a go at geography or explore economics, visit our website to download a free sample of our course materials. You can do this on the website page for each different course. Here’s an example:

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The Festival of Learning also included the 24th annual Adult Learners’ Week (ALW). Each year, ALW provides an opportunity to praise lifelong learning and the achievements of thousands of adult learners across the UK.

Events took place all week to raise the profile of adult learning opportunities. Hundreds of people got involved in free taster sessions in lots of different subjects from how to decorate a cookie and sewing techniques to digital imaging and learning a language.

During the week there were also regional and national awards ceremonies. These inspirational evenings celebrate the achievements of individual learners and organisations in categories such as Learning for Work and Digital Learning. Thousands of nominations for these awards are submitted each year by organisations who are proud of their learners and achievements.

NEC is no exception and although it is always difficult for us to choose just one student – we are proud of them all – this year we nominated Catherine Speechly. Catherine didn’t win the award this time, but she did receive a certificate of achievement in recognition of her commitment to learning.

Catherine was frustrated when she was at school that she had to drop some subjects because there was a limit to the number of GCSEs pupils could do. Now in her 40s, she is catching up with the subjects she left behind. When Catherine wanted to study biology, she knew that distance learning was the right way to go as she would not have been able to work around a college timetable. She had already had a taste of open and distance learning when she did a course in web design a few years ago.

The decision to opt for NEC was a simple one: ‘When I enquired about the course, I got a proper reply from a human being rather than being sent in the direction of information on a website.’ The NEC also offered value for money in comparison with the other options she had researched and allowed her to study at her own pace. She began studying in May 2012 and passed her IGCSE with an A* two years later. She continues to study, and is now working on IGCSE French.

‘Distance learning with NEC has been just what I hoped it would be,’ said Catherine. ‘In fact, it has exceeded my expectations as everything has worked – the tutors and the course materials have all been great. The tutors are so encouraging with their comments and don’t inundate you with loads of heavy corrections. They manage to point you in the right direction with just a few words, even if you have lost the plot! I particularly liked the way NEC was able to arrange for me to sit my exams at a local centre. All I had to do was fill in a form, pay and turn up for the exams!’

Our CEO Ros Morpeth was delighted to attend the National Awards Ceremony in London. She said: ‘The Adult Learners’ Week awards are always a great experience and this year was no exception. One of the best things about working in the lifelong learning sector is getting to meet some truly inspirational individuals for whom education has provided the opportunity to change their lives and the lives of those around them.’

Did you take part in any events during the Festival of Learning? Keep up-to-date with the latest Adult Learners’ Week news and talk about your learning experiences on Facebook and on Twitter using the hashtag #LoveToLearn!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Distance learning and the arts: a portrait of lifelong education

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Above: Jéréme Crow’s ‘Self portrait with box brownie’

In the second of our series of blog posts to mark the centenary of the birth of NEC’s founder Michael Young, we turn to higher education. The Open College of the Arts (OCA) is one of several charities the social entrepreneur founded to extend educational opportunities.

Artist Jéréme Crow found out earlier this month that his Self portrait with box brownie has been selected for the exhibition of the Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize 2015. Last year, Jéréme graduated from the OCA with a BA Honours in painting. His self-portrait will be exhibited at Piano Nobile Kings Place, London and Pallant House Gallery in Chicester later this year, alongside the other 99 self-portraits chosen from the thousands submitted to the judges. The Ruth Borchard Collection is the UK’s only public collection of self-portraits by British and Irish artists.

Jéréme’s creative life hasn’t developed quite as he expected when he was a teenager. When he left school in the early 1990s, he went to Cumbria College of Art and Design to do a fine art foundation course. His heart set on studying fine art at university, he headed to London. Before he had even attended his first lecture, he met a theatre design student. They got married a week later. His plans to study for a degree were pushed to one side when he and his wife had children and bought a house in Kent. Jéréme continued to paint and started exhibiting his work in local galleries while working as a special school teaching assistant.

Then, in 2011, Jéréme enrolled with the OCA. Like 50,000 other people over the last 28 years, he studied part-time. The OCA makes the arts more available to everyone – not as consumers of a commodity but as creators in their own right. Now offering courses in 13 creative arts disciplines, six undergraduate degree pathways and Europe’s first MA Fine Art delivered entirely by distance learning, OCA’s 2,000-strong student community is proof that the creative arts can be studied successfully outside an art college.

For the National Extension College, Michael Young’s vision was for ‘education without institution’. In 1972, he described the new Open University as ‘the first university in the world without walls.’ The National Association for the Education of Sick Children came about from Michael’s belief that even serious illness need not bring a halt to a child’s education.

When he founded the OCA in 1987, Michael brought to life an idea he had first had two decades before. Many people working in adult and continuing education at the time doubted that the creative arts – sculpture, painting, drawing, illustration – could be taught at a distance. He wasn’t prepared to believe them. OCA’s current student population shows he was right too that creative arts education at higher level wasn’t only for young people who had just left school. For the UK undergraduate population as a whole, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 62% of students in the UK are under the age of 25 and 26% are over the age of 30. The picture is rather different for OCA students: 63% of them are aged between 30 and 60 and 11% are over 60.

Jéréme’s says the solitary nature of distance learning suits his working style more than a traditional bricks and mortar university would have done: ‘Studying through distance learning gave me the isolation I wanted to get stuck into my painting. My approach to painting has developed beyond recognition and is now much more about the process and research than before embarking on a degree with the OCA.’

It’s hard not to imagine, more than 25 years on, that Michael would have taken restrained pleasure in repeating Jéréme’s words to the detractors who were convinced you can’t teach painting at a distance. OCA is evidence that distance learning gives many artists the time and space they crave to find their own creative voice.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Adult Learners’ Week: A celebration of lifelong learning

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Saturday 13th June marks the start of the 24th annual Adult Learners’ Week. It’s an opportunity to praise lifelong learning and the achievements of thousands of adult learners across the UK. To celebrate, NEC is offering a 15% discount on all courses* from 5pm today (Friday 12th June) until 5pm Friday 19th June 2015.

There are events taking place all week to raise the profile of adult learning opportunities. Taking part in an Adult Learner's Week event could be a great way to find a new hobby, make new friends and learn a new skill.

You’ll find free taster sessions in lots of different subjects from how to decorate a cookie and sewing techniques to digital imaging and learning a language, you can find taster sessions in your area on the Adult Learners’ Week website.

Other events that take place during the week are the regional and national awards ceremonies. These inspirational evenings celebrate the achievements of individual learners and organisations in categories such as Learning for Work and Digital Learning. Thousands of nominations for these awards are submitted each year by organisations who are proud of their learners and achievements.

NEC is no exception and although it is always difficult for us to choose just one student – we are proud of them all – this year we nominated Catherine Speechly. Catherine hasn’t won an award this time, but she did receive a certificate of achievement in recognition of her commitment to learning.

Catherine was frustrated when she was at school that she had to drop some subjects because there was a limit to the number of GCSEs pupils could do. Now in her 40s, she is catching up with the subjects she left behind. When Catherine wanted to study biology, she knew that distance learning was the right way to go as she would not have been able to work around a college timetable. She had already had a taste of open and distance learning when she did a course in web design a few years ago.
The decision to opt for NEC was a simple one: ‘When I enquired about the course, I got a proper reply from a human being rather than being sent in the direction of information on a website.’ The NEC also offered value for money in comparison with the other options she had researched and allowed her to study at her own pace. She began studying in May 2012 and passed her IGCSE with an A* two years later. She continues to study, and is now working on IGCSE French.
‘Distance learning with NEC has been just what I hoped it would be,’ says Catherine. ‘In fact, it has exceeded my expectations as everything has worked – the tutors and the course materials have all been great. The tutors are so encouraging with their comments and don’t inundate you with loads of heavy corrections. They manage to point you in the right direction with just a few words, even if you have lost the plot! I particularly liked the way NEC was able to arrange for me to sit my exams at a local centre. All I had to do was fill in a form, pay and turn up for the exams!’

The national awards ceremony takes place on Monday 15th June in London, and our CEO Ros Morpeth is pleased to be invited.

Are you planning on taking part in any events next week? Keep up-to-date with the latest Adult Learners’ Week news and talk about your learning experiences on Facebook and on Twitter using the hashtag #LoveToLearn!

To find lifelong learning opportunities with NEC, visit our website to browse our wide range of flexible distance learning courses.

*Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer. Only available when paying in full, and applied at the point of enrolment, not retrospectively.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Behind the scenes at NEC: Student Services Administrator Maria

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Above: NEC Student Services Administrator Maria

In this edition of Behind the Scenes: meet Student Services Administrator Maria, who has perhaps one of the most varied roles of anyone on the NEC team. If you have called us over the course of the past seven years you have a good chance of having spoken to her yourself.

Maria has lived in Cambridge, where NEC’s offices are based, for many years. She joined the team in 2008 and cites her own experiences of lifelong learning as one of the reasons why she applied for a job here: ‘The role sounded particularly interesting to me because, having been an adult learner myself, I liked the idea of working in education and helping other people to learn too. I’ve done some evening classes in the past and have also taken some distance learning courses with the Open University, which I later learned has historical links with NEC. That was a pretty fascinating thing to discover.’

Maria feels that she got more out of learning as an adult than she did at school: ‘It feels more like I’m learning on my own terms, under my own initiative. I can choose to focus on subjects I particularly like, and study in a way that makes it feel like a hobby. I’ve even improved on some of my school grades as a result.’

Maria’s familiarity with adult and distance learning has helped give her insight into the needs of NEC’s learners. Having first-hand experience puts things into context and she feels that this helps her better support people who enrol with NEC. She describes her work day as being very dynamic. It’s a busy and varied role, but she enjoys the challenge.

‘On any one day I can potentially be dealing with anything from being the first point of contact for incoming calls to helping new tutors settle into the NEC family. I also help new students find their way around their online workspace and check in with them periodically to see how they’re getting along with their tutor and their course. I help with general queries, exam applications, and in November and March I help to send out results certificates to students. I get to know the tutors and students very well. NEC is a very friendly place to work and although it can sometimes get very busy I think it’s very fulfilling to be part of something that can help a lot of people.

‘Every day is different from the next. You need to be versatile and adaptable, but I like that. Not only are you not in danger of ever becoming bored, but it’s also an interesting reflection of NEC itself: our courses and college were set up to help people study in a way that is less rigid and more flexible, so it seems fitting that I should be using the same approaches in my day-to-day work here.’

Many of the NEC learners currently sitting their exams may have spoken to Maria fairly recently, as she helped make sure their exam applications were registered earlier in the year. ‘Part of my role is to assist with all the arrangements that need to be made before students can sit their exams. Our students will either be sitting at one of our partner exam centres or looking for a local centre of their own and registering as a private candidate. If they want to choose their own centre, I help them to find one that would be suitable.

‘The bulk of the preparation starts about sixth months beforehand because students need to register in advance. We have to keep students updated so they know what the timescales are and when they need to send everything in, and I help to make sure all their forms are filled in and sent off before the relevant deadlines. I also answer students’ queries about the exam application process and any more general questions they might have about exams.’

Every August, Maria and the rest of the team are on hand to support students through the annual GCSE, IGCSE and A level results days. It tends to be a very busy time because of the volume of incoming calls and communication, but this is a good thing to the team: they want to hear from their learners about how things went.

‘It’s always exciting because we look forward to finding out how they do,’ says Maria. ‘We know they have often had to work especially hard because many of them study at the same time as working or caring, or they suffer from ill health… there are many different circumstances that can make things more difficult. So we love to hear from them on results day and hear how things turned out. Despite all the difficulties we see many success stories, and that’s really inspiring.’

The team also love to hear about learners’ plans after results day: ‘Some move on to higher education or a new job. Others choose to study more subjects with NEC. People have many reasons for wanting to study and whether it’s for their career or just for personal interest it’s great to be able to help them achieve that.

‘It’s also nice to hear how they’ve found their time studying at NEC because if they have any feedback for us about their experience then we can use that to better help more students in the future.’

Maria says that even if a student hasn’t done as well as they hoped to, they should always get in touch and speak to the team. ‘If you’re feeling disappointed it can be hard to work out what to do next, so talk to us because we can help you understand what your options are. We’re still here to support you!’

To learners everywhere who are currently sitting exams, Maria says: ‘Good luck from me and NEC! Try not to get too stressed and remember to look after yourself.’

If you’re an NEC learner, don’t forget to get in touch in August to let us know how results day goes for you!

To find out more about NEC and the wide range of distance learning courses we offer, including A levels, GCSEs and IGCSEs, visit our website. You can also keep up to date with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. We can also be found on social networks including Twitter and Facebook.