I reflect on the way I approached my first distance learning qualification and how I can use those strategies and tips to tackle me next one. This first instalment covers Goals, Aims & Rewards.

Goals, Aims & Rewards – My Strategy for Distance Learning Success #1

So I’ve talked a little about my work outside of blogging and books and I have mentioned that part of my life is changing at the moment.

I left full-time education 2 years ago to start an apprenticeship and part of that involves me being released from my day-to-day work one day a week to pursue a series of distance learning qualifications. The first one, which I’ve just completed was a Level 3 Diploma which, I’m quite proud to say, I did rather well in.

However, not one to become complacent, with my part-time Bachelor’s degree (the next qualification on my to-do list) fast approaching I wanted to do a bit of reflection on the keys to my success and how I can use the same strategy (or a new and improved one) for the next stage of my apprenticeship. I am very happy with how I’ve done, but my degree is a whole new level and will presumably be harder.

I know this isn’t my usual topic of conversation, and may not interest you but I have read and done pretty substantial research on this topic, revision, education and others surrounding it for over 3 years now (since my GCSEs) because I wanted to understand it and do better and if whatever I have learned can be shared and help at least one person, I’ll consider that a success.

I don’t think I’m breaking any boundaries, and if you’ve read around the subject yourself you’ve heard a lot of these before but I think there is at least some of my unique perspective in there.

I had first planned for this to be one single post, but once I got started it got really long so I managed to split it down to three core ‘themes’, this being the first.

Goals, Aims & Rewards


If you are anything like me, and you can’t motivate yourself to do anything without the end result in mind, then you already know this would be an important first thing to consider but what goal you actually set is important too. I’m sick to death of being to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals, so I’m hardly going to say the same thing, especially since they rarely turn out SMART anyway.

I’m talking about setting suitable, proportionate goals which aren’t always aiming for the stars – in fact, a lot of the time it can mean aiming to underachieve.

I know we’re often told to do and be the best we can at all times but that is a tough ask from anyone because when you look at it really hard our best, our actual best, it’s pretty awesome and as a result, is just not sustainable at all times, goals should be proportionate to the importance of the outcome. Return on investment and all that.

So you prioritise: what deserves your best; what deserves your pretty great and what deserves just your average. Breaking yourself, losing sleep and appetite on a stepping stone qualification, designed only to get you to the next destination is a bad decision, even if you come out with that grade you want. This is how I rationalise any goal I set for myself.

That being said, for this course I set myself the goal of achieving an overall Distinction.

Fair enough, Sherlock is not wrong. Strictly speaking, I only needed to pass this course with 40% to get onto my degree, but since my employer was intending to pay for that degree and I had started working for them when I began this course I felt I wanted to prove they had made a good choice and aimed higher.

I also knew the following things:

  • this course was integral to the career I wanted;
  • I was capable of achieving the grade I wanted if I applied myself; and
  • compared to other people on this same course I had a veritable Everest of time, unoccupied by children, out-of-work commitments, a variable workload and, sad as it is to say, a particularly demanding social life. Realistically speaking, what was going on that was more important?

As far as I could see, there wasn’t really any reason I shouldn’t give this my best or, at the very least, my pretty great. If six, or even eighteen, months in I was working all the hours under the sun and still getting Merits, I’d have revised my goal because my well-being comes first and you can only do what you can do.

This doesn’t strictly apply to much outside of education and/or the workplace but I suppose it could be transferred to other things but the thing with hobbies and interests is that you usually don’t need a goal to motivate you to do it. You do your best because you love it and it’s just that simple. As nice as it would be to waltz into the office and pick up emails like you live for it and nothing else on any given day, it just doesn’t happen – take it from someone who actually loves their job. So goals work when working off sheer interest and enjoyment doesn’t.


My aims came during the course. I aim to get X amount on that quiz. I aim to submit all my assignments on time. I aim to contribute 3 times at workshop sessions. Stuff that I know I want to do or know I should probably do, but I don’t have to do, and so often don’t.

It sounds silly but looking at what you already do and tacking an extra one or increasing it by the tiniest of notches can be more rewarding than reforming your entire arsenal of self-improvement methods. Just up it one increment and see what happens.


I like incentive. Sue me, but a mental pat on the back doesn’t really cut it. I’m quite restrained with my spending, I don’t buy things I don’t need. Something has to be broke or vital before I splash cash on items for myself (except books, but I am still upholding a pretty long-standing book-buying ban due to a pile of ARCs & unread books). I also love food so, before the course I looked at the grades I could get and at each stage and attached rewards to them.

Merits across the board for this wave of assignments? Well done, you – go get a Starbucks.

Distinctions? You can go buy those shoes you wanted. Or a book. (NO, NOT A BOOK.)

I also made sure I had a snack with me at all times while studying and took breaks.

You completed that knowledge check correctly? Have a cookie!

You finished this whole unit’s self-directed learning activities? Take a break, make a cuppa.

It’s strange, but it works for me – and for actual items, I maybe couldn’t afford the second I earned them, I just made a note of rewards I owed myself to buy when I could. The free or inexpensive ones meant the most for me though, because they were the little things I most often deny myself as I think about the wasted time and money totting up.

Final Thoughts

The tweet at the top shows my second-year results, in the first year I received 2 Distinctions and 1 Merit, which still gave me a Distinction overall. I’m not looking for praise for this, I just want to sort of show that I’m not completely talking rubbish but at the same time, though what I’ve talked about here might have worked for me, it can’t possibly work for everyone.

I’m also in the very fortunate position that my full-time employer was completely 100% supportive of my qualification and willing to help me if I needed them to. Not all employers can be and if it’s something you’re pursuing on your own initiative, it is harder than when it’s integrated into your full-time job. But, if you only take one thing away from this, let it be that:

If you’re willing to work at it, distance learning can be one of the best and most rewarding ways to gain a qualification, but only if you’re going to work hard and find a way to do it that suits you.

So, that was the end of part 1 – what did you think? Was it in any way useful? I’m hoping it could be but I think one thing people and organisations forget – schools especially – is that everyone is different and it’s important to figure out what works best for you personally.

I reflect on the way I approached my first distance learning qualification and how I can use those strategies and tips to tackle me next one. This first instalment covers Goals, Aims & Rewards.


One thought on “Goals, Aims & Rewards – My Strategy for Distance Learning Success #1

  1. I did distance learning for the first two years of my degree before I went to an actual university. I had.to work so hard, but it was rewarding. The University life is different. I was the oldest person in my classes and that was hard. But I persevered. I never gave up. It took 4 years almost 5 to get my BA and I don’t regret ur.

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