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Friday, 08 April 2016

Why distance learning is a great way to gain a CMI management qualification

 a distance learning course with NEC is flexible enough to fit around your work and other commitments, and will lead to an accredited qualification from the Chartered Management Institute

In a time when there is stiff competition for jobs, a qualification in management can help you to stand out from the crowd. But for many people, it’s just not practical to up and leave a perfectly good–and paid–job to spend money on studying.

That’s where distance learning comes in.

If you can keep on earning while you’re learning, you get the best of both worlds. You continue to make money to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, while improving your knowledge and skill set to help you to get that promotion or change careers.

At NEC we offer management qualifications accredited by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). CMI are the UK’s only chartered management membership organisation. We chose to work with CMI to offer these qualifications because of the progressive range of qualifications that they offer, in addition to the excellent reputation and membership benefits.

The CMI website gives some reasons they think a management qualification is worthwhile based on some recent research. For example:

  • 78% of employers agreed that qualifications provide quality assurance for customers and that the benefits outweighed the time, money and effort invested in obtaining them.
  • More than 80% of managers say that taking a management qualification has resulted in increased professional recognition, with most stating that employers prefer qualified managers when recruiting.


One of the benefits of studying a CMI management course by distance learning with NEC is the tutor support. Your personal tutor will be an experienced subject expert and will not only mark your CMI assignments, but will mark and give you comprehensive feedback on practice assignments too. These are designed to give you the best possible chance of success. They are also there if you need guidance while you work your way through the course.

We asked NEC tutor Kevin this question: Is distance learning the way to go for management qualifications?

This is what he said: ‘For many students the answer is ‘yes’. It is not hard to see the appeal of an online professional qualification, cheaper fees, and the opportunity to juggle studies with work and for some the company will sponsor a managerial qualification. The online CMI course also attracts offender learners who want to develop their skills and knowledge in preparation for future careers. Off-campus is their only option.

‘Studying remotely can help you stay in education, satisfy your need for personal development and broaden your opportunities.

‘For many students CMI courses play a key part in becoming a professional manager, developing new skills and knowledge to help their teams and organisations improve their performance. Employers are actively looking for recognised qualifications on CVs, but only 1 in 5 managers have a recognised management qualification.

‘If you are looking for a challenging course that will help progress your career, look no further than CMI qualifications with NEC.’

If you would like to find out more about enrolling on a CMI management course with NEC, visit our course pages or get in touch with our course advice team who will be happy to answer any questions you may have. You can also leave us a comment below, or talk to us via social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
 

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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Turning the tables: from waitress to midwife

BIology course page images, including a molecular model, a butterfly feeding from flowers, and a curious child looking down through a microscope

Lottie Blunden, a single parent of four, is in her first year at university studying for a Bachelor of Science degree in midwifery. Getting to university meant starting virtually from scratch with science after a 25-year gap, at the same time as holding down waitressing, admin and cleaning jobs to support her family. She started studying AS level biology with NEC in January 2014, taking the exam and passing with a grade B 18 months later.

Midwifery has been Lottie’s dream career for years. When she qualifies, she wants to work in the National Health Service. It’s a sound career choice. According to the Royal College of Midwives, the country needs an additional 2,600 trained midwives to make up a shortage that has persisted for over a decade.

‘Having children really puts you on the back foot career-wise, especially if you want to spend some time at home with them and haven’t had much of a career before you have them,’ explains Lottie. ‘But I always knew I wanted a career where you didn’t stop learning, that was focussed on people and improving health and family life, that wasn’t driven by profit margins and that combined cerebral and practical skills. Midwifery is all that and more.’

Lottie knew when she began studying with NEC that she had a strong study ethic. She had studied for an undergraduate degree, sitting her finals and being awarded a 2:1 just five weeks before the birth of her first child. Three years later, at the age of 24, she trained as a Citizens’ Advice Bureau worker, did an MA in Women’s Studies and had her second child. Moving from a university city in the north of England back to her home town in the Midlands after she graduated had limited her career options, especially with two small children to care for. That’s why she has earned her living in a wide variety of ways – as an administrator for charities and educational organisations, at a Welfare Rights Advice Centre, as an adult education tutor and as a library assistant.

When Lottie first came across NEC, she was impressed that it has students all over the country and a website that shows the college is serious about education. This positive view was confirmed when she phoned up, finding knowledgeable and friendly staff at the end of the line. Her local college offers A level biology and she had considered studying there but working full-time and bringing up four children meant she wasn’t in a position to attend classes at a regular time each week. Not only did NEC offer her essential flexibility, it also offered the best value for money when compared with other distance learning organisations she looked at.

High points of studying with NEC were the freedom to study when it suited her, the support of NEC staff and being part of the Facebook group set up by A level biology students. She also has views on things that would improve the experience of NEC students studying A and AS level biology. At the same time as working through the AS level course, she also managed to complete several functional maths (pre-GCSE and GCSE level maths used in everyday life) qualifications at her local college.

Lottie concludes: ‘At last, I will have a qualification which gives me the chance to develop my career doing something meaningful and rewarding. If you’re determined and prepared to work hard, you can change direction, whatever your age. I would strongly encourage anyone with ambition and who needs additional qualifications to let NEC help them do it. After all, I began my biology AS with no real science knowledge, and managed to get a B.’

To learn more about NEC and our wide range of flexible distance learning courses, browse our website by navigating to the Courses sections listed under the menu at the top of the page, or talk to our friendly team of course advisors by calling free from any UK landline: 0800 389 2839
 

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Thursday, 17 March 2016

Why study business or economics A level?

Woman sitting at a desk in front of a laptop computer, calculator and notebook, planning her finances and business strategy

With a multitude of subjects to choose at A level, how do you decide which is right for you? Do you chose subjects that you’re best at or subjects that you find fascinating? Do you think about what your parents and teachers say or what future career you aspire to? Or do you choose something that allows you to keep your options open?

In our blog this week we explore five of the reasons you might want to choose Business or Economics A levels as the next step on your learning journey. We’ll also take a look at how studying them with NEC works.

So, why business or economics?

  1. They can help you to become a billionaire! We’re not saying study these and you’ll be rich, but a recent study reported in The Independent had these, along with engineering, in the top 3 subjects likely to create a billionaire. Of course studying either of these subjects is no guarantee of success, but you have to start somewhere if you want to make it in business and with an unlimited earning potential, you should consider these as options if you are motivated by the thought of potentially high earnings.
     
  2. Develop an awareness of the world around you. Considering how volatile the economy has been in recent years, you might be interested in developing a good understanding of how the effects of certain actions can be felt globally. Studying economics can help to satisfy your curiosity for the world around you.
     
  3. A range of career choices. The study of business and economics can help you on a variety of career paths. You might consider working in marketing, human resources or management. Studying business or economics can also lead to careers in almost any sector of industry, from banking to fashion, every company needs business minded individuals.
     
  4. University. If you are planning to study either of these or a related subject at Higher Education level, then an A level is essential to give you the background knowledge that you’ll need and the best possible chance of success. Both of these subjects also promote independent learning and essay writing skills which are invaluable for university study.
     
  5. Starting your own business empire. If you dream of becoming the next Lord Alan Sugar with your very own business empire, then the study of business or economics can help you to develop the fundamental skills that you’ll need to succeed. A solid understanding of business and economics can set you on the right path.


So those are our reasons. Are you or have you studied either business or economics? What are your reasons? Leave a comment below or tweet us to share your thoughts.

NEC offers both Business and Economics as part of our range of Gold Star A levels. High-quality learning resources are delivered through our excellent online system learn@nec in a range of media, including PDFs, interactive quizzes, e-books and video. An experienced subject expert tutor will be with you every step of the way to mark your work and give you feedback and encouragement, as well as our team of course co-ordinators here at NEC HQ.

To learn more about NEC and our wide range of flexible distance learning courses, browse our website by navigating to the Courses sections listed under the menu at the top of the page, or talk to our friendly team of course advisors by calling free from any UK landline: 0800 389 2839.
 

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Thursday, 03 March 2016

World Book Day – how it's inspired us

World Book Day 2016 logo

Today is the 19th annual World Book Day. Children across the country are arriving at school today dressed as their favourite characters from books, from Alice in Wonderland to The Cat in the Hat.

From the authors that write them, to the illustrators that bring our favourite characters to life, World Book Day is a celebration of all things book. Unesco have designated it as a worldwide celebration with over 100 countries taking part.

The main aim of World Book Day is to encourage children to explore the wonders of books and the joys of reading. Schools across the country will have received tokens courtesy of National Book Tokens Ltd which they can take into a local bookseller and choose one of ten free books!

Naturally talk has turned to favourite books in the office today, here are some of our favourite reads and what World Book Day has inspired us to add to our reading lists:

‘I might start The Castle by Franz Kafka... or maybe re-read To Kill a Mockingbird and follow it up with Go Set a Watchman. I really should read the updated Getting Things Done by David Allen. I use the principles of the original one all the time. Moby Dick, Ulysses and Don Quixote have been on my reading list for years but somehow the next volume of Game of Thrones is always more appealing!’
— Paul, NEC’s resident IT expert

‘I'm reading Andy Griffith’s The 52-Storey Treehouse. It's quite fun as it has a lot of cartoons in it, villains and mucking about. Following the plot might be difficult because I alternate bedtimes with mum, but it’s not essential really.’
— Dan, Course Adviser at NEC and father to Lois, aged 7

‘I am planning to read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. It is one of my daughter's favourite books. I first heard about it properly when she read it in the summer before starting her A Levels. She didn't like it at all. Then once she started studying it, she saw the value in the pages! Now she is studying her degree in English and plans to write her thesis on Virginia Woolf next year. We are going to the play together in April, so I have started with the audio book, and will then read the book itself, starting this weekend hopefully. I have to see what has grabbed my daughter's attention. So far I am thoroughly enjoying the audio version. I can see why it would be a difficult text to read. I am fascinated to see how it will transfer to the stage.’
— Stephanie, NEC’s expert in CACHE accredited qualifications

‘I want to recommend this book: The Photographer. I can read it over and over again... it is a non-fiction graphic novel/comic. The Photographer tells the true story of Didier Lefèvre, a French photojournalist, who accompanied a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) mission during the height of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1986. The book interweaves Lefèvre's black-and-white photographs and Guibert's illustrations – combined with captions and word balloons – to create the narrative.’
— Margarita, NEC’s co-ordinator for General Education

‘I am currently reading a book on King John. I won't pretend that it is not a challenge getting to grips with the misunderstood monarch's obsession with administration and his love of moving around England to pass justice on all manner of criminal cases. One day his treasure will turn up, under the mud of the Wash where his infamous baggage train was swamped by the incoming tide... Also on the go at the moment is yet another book on the Wars of the Roses, the original template for Game of Thrones. If there's a book about that period in Medieval history, you can be pretty sure that it is in my bookcase. My husband felt compelled to ask if another of my bedside books – The Later Middle Ages – was about us as a couple or really about the social structure of the 14th and 15th centuries. Also on my bedside table is Winter is Coming, a book about all the various medieval references that have gone into Game of Thrones; a book about the hidden treasures of parish churches; a massive book on stained glass through history; numerous books about the great cathedrals of England and some pretty hefty tomes on Henry II, King Stephen, and Edward III. What else do I want to learn about? Mary Queen of Scots is coming up the list, and the lives of the last Romanovs. And for a little light relief... a novel about my heroine Eleanor of Aquitaine.’
— Alison, expert in the Wars of the Roses period and NEC’s Education Manager

What’s on your list to read this year? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #WorldBookDay!

If all this talk of books has has inspired you to learn more about literature, why not take a look at NEC’s IGCSE English Literature course and A level English Literature course?
 

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Friday, 19 February 2016

Why we all need to be bilingual


Photo credit: Language learning via PhotoPin (License)

What traits come out top when people think about the British? A preoccupation with the weather? Sporting and athletic prowess? An attachment to the Royal Family? Speaking foreign languages is unlikely to feature high on anyone’s list - and with good reason.

In the European Union, a 46% minority speak just one language, including the British. More than nine in ten of the UK population are monolingual, speaking only English. According to the European Commission, we Brits lag some way behind the 19% of Europeans who are bilingual, the 25% who are trilingual and the 10% who speak four or more languages.

Professor Antonella Sorace is director of the Bilingualism Matters centre at the University of Edinburgh, established to promote the benefits of having more than one language. Earlier this month, she delivered a seminar at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, presenting her research team’s findings on how bilingualism and language learning improves the lives of children, adults of working age and retired people far beyond the convenience and pleasure of communicating with others.

Not only are children who speak two languages better at making themselves understood, they also understand others’ points of better and are more able to deal with complex situations. Lifelong language learning reaps lifelong rewards. Several studies have found that learning a language as an adult delays the ageing of the brain. In retired people, it enhances other mental abilities.

It’s hardly surprising that Professor Sorace is an advocate of compulsory language learning in schools and universities for all pupils and students - and she includes those who are studying STEM subjects at higher level. NEC student Aisha saw the benefits of language learning for herself and signed up for an IGCSE in French when she was going through the rigours of training to become a doctor. She had had little opportunity at school to study languages and knew when she began her medical training that she wanted to work with charities like Medicins Sans Frontiers when she had qualified.

Language-learning site Duolingo is a great way to give your brain a linguistic workout and test the waters before committing yourself to an IGCSE or A level. Launched in 2013, it already has more than 100 million users worldwide - and it’s free. Three of the four skills of language learning - listening, speaking and reading - are taught using online gaming techniques, with points earned and lives lost for correct and incorrect answers. There are 21 languages to choose from, including all the major European languages, and Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Russian.

If you already speak French, Spanish, German, Italian or Arabic and want to find out what level you are at now, East Surrey College has gathered together links to a range of online assessments. Now’s the time to take the plunge, whether you want to revive a rusty language you learnt at school years ago or start from scratch with something completely new. Even if you don’t become fluent, it will do your brain a world of good.
 

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Friday, 12 February 2016

Talking about educational opportunity

Ros Morpeth shaking the hand of Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace
Photo credit: Press Association

Yesterday, Prince Charles said he was pleased the valuable work of NEC has been recognised after all this time. We spoke briefly about the English historian Peter Laslett, not only a close associate of NEC’s founder Michael Young but also Prince Charles’ tutor when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College Cambridge.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours last June, I was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for services to further education. I was at the investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace receiving my OBE medal.

Prince Charles gave me only one medal yesterday. If I had thousands more, here’s who I’d give them to. There would be a medal for each of the hundreds of people who have worked with NEC over the last 50 years – staff in Cambridge as well as the national network of tutors, course developers, writers, editors and designers who are part of the national NEC community. Every one of them has kept faith with the belief that you can study at home, in prison or in a submarine under the sea just as effectively as you can in a classroom. That’s not always been easy: distance learning and e-learning have their detractors.

There would be a medal for all our learners, the tens of thousands of people who have found the self-discipline to complete courses, pass exams and change their lives. Michael Young called NEC ‘the invisible college of Cambridge’. Adult learners are often invisible too. What their friends, relations and neighbours see is the person holding down a job, the carer, the parent, the partner. Learning is just one of many things NEC students find time for, often when the people they live with are asleep, at work, at school or out enjoying themselves.

When NEC’s first students enrolled in 1963, TV broadcast for only seven and a half hours a day. Colour TV was four years in the future. Now, our students talk to one another on subject forums, in the middle of the night if they like. There’s a world of a difference between distance learning in the mid-20th century and online learning in the second decade of the 21st century.

I see time and time again that the people who need the flexibility NEC offers have changed very little since those early years. Mothers who want to work outside the home, people with ambitions for a new career, prisoners determined to make good use of their time inside: these are the people who were NEC learners when we began. They are our learners all these years later.

Lottie Blunden is a single parent of four and one of a growing number of students enrolling with NEC to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. Lottie started studying AS level biology with NEC in January 2014. She’s in her first year at university now, studying for a degree in midwifery. When she qualifies, she wants to work in the National Health Service. Getting to university meant starting virtually from scratch with science after a 25-year gap, at the same time as holding down waitressing, admin and cleaning jobs to support her family.

You didn’t have to do a degree to become a midwife in the 1960s. Apart from that, Lottie’s story could be the story of a woman of her grandmother’s generation, with ambitions to develop a career while her children were growing up.

Just four days ago, the Prime Minister announced an overhaul of the prison system. Since Michael Gove became Justice Secretary last summer, he has been an advocate for prison education. NEC’s work with the Prisoners’ Education Trust and St Giles Trust to help prisoners, ex-offenders and those who support them is just one of the many reasons I’m so pleased to see prison education being championed at the highest levels of government.

Although Prince Charles wouldn’t have been aware of it during his two years studying in Cambridge, just a decade earlier, Michael Young and his tutor Peter Laslett had begun to push for an expansion of higher education. They were much preoccupied with questions of social esteem and social justice at undergraduate level, arguments that are still exercising us today. Only this week, the government has suggested university admissions departments target white working class boys alongside ethnic minorities.

Very early yesterday morning, I left Cambridge in the dark for my visit to Buckingham Palace. Today, I walked into NEC’s office in Cambridge, dressed exactly as I was for my visit to London, fascinator in hand. I was greeted by colleagues - and a cake made by Christine, who works on our accounts team. I’ve already said that there aren’t enough medals for all the people I would like to give one to. There isn’t enough cake for everyone to have a slice, either. Between us, though, we have enough ambition to carry on supporting everyone who deserves a second, third or fourth chance at learning.

Ros Morpeth, CEO of NEC
 

Ros and Christine cut the cake which Christine made to celebrate Ros receiving her OBE
Above: Ros and Christine cut the cake which Christine made to celebrate Ros receiving her OBE

 

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Thursday, 11 February 2016

Another chance to take legacy AQA A level exams

2017 calendar with June circled

AQA, one of the UK’s largest awarding organisations of qualifications, has made a welcome announcement following the recent Ofqual consultation over whether there should be a resit opportunity for A level subjects that changed in September 2015.

As well as agreeing that there will in fact be a resit opportunity in 2017 for the outgoing specifications, AQA have also stated that there will be an opportunity to sit the exams for the first time for students that have enrolled on these courses before September 2015.

The official letter from AQA on 4th February sets out the Ofqual guidelines that re-sits only should be held in 2017. AQA go on to state that: ‘However we recognise that students may have enrolled for these courses before September 2015 intending to complete the course of study over several years…’

2017 will be the final opportunity to resit exams for outgoing NEC A levels in:

  • Business Studies
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • English Language
  • English Language and Literature
  • English Literature


Student Services Development Manager at NEC Louise Tolhurst is responsible for ensuring that NEC students get the right information about exams, as well as working with our partnership exam centres across the country.

‘I am really pleased to hear that there will be an opportunity for NEC students to resit these exams in 2017,’ she said. ‘It is also great to see that AQA are acknowledging that not all students have the same needs, and that some may have enrolled before the specifications changed with the intention of spreading study over a number of years.

‘Having this flexibility, which is one of the things that appeals to students about distance learning, will give many of our students peace of mind. It will also be a motivator for those who are at risk of not continuing because of the time pressures placed on them.’

If you are an NEC student and want to know how this affects you, please do get in touch with us. You may also find AQA’s timeline of changes useful. You can find this here.
 

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Friday, 05 February 2016

Can you study science A levels by distance learning?

Editor's note: since this post was first published there have been a number of positive developments and NEC's exam booking service now offers non-examination assessments (NEA) such as A level science practical endorsements in addition to written exams. Please contact us if you would like to know more. You may also find this more recent post useful.

A series of glass test tubes containing different colored liquids

Sciences at A level are NEC’s most popular subjects and one question we are asked on a regular basis is ‘is it possible to study a science by distance learning?’

The answer: Absolutely yes!

NEC have just launched 3 new Gold Star A levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

One of the reasons we’re often asked if science A levels can be studied at a distance is the practical work. Can you really do this from home?

We’ll answer this in two parts: the core practicals throughout the course and the assessment of practical work.

What are the core practicals?

At A level you’ll be expected to gain knowledge of certain practical procedures and processes. Throughout the course you’ll come across core practicals which are designed to help you achieve this.

In the course the practicals that you need to have knowledge of will be explained in a lot of detail and have accompanying questions to help you to understand the process and operations you’re using. We’ll always give sample results as part of the knowledge you are expected to gain is how to present and analyse these.

On some occasions though, you will have your own results to analyse because where possible, we’ll also show you how you can do the practical in your own home. We’ve put an example below, you might want to give it a try!

A level Chemistry: Making a standard solution

What you’ll learn:

This practical will help you to develop the skill of making a solution of accurately known concentration. Not as straightforward as it sounds, each operation needs to be done in a specific way.

  • How to make a standard solution
  • Taking a correct reading from the meniscus on a liquid surface
  • Calibration of glassware


What you’ll need:

  • Scales accurate to 0.01g- Your kitchen scales might work for this
  • Volumetric flask - You can pick these up on Amazon for around £5
  • Beaker and glass stirrer - you can use a clean cup and teaspoon for this (but only if your substance and solvent are things you would usually find in the kitchen)
  • A substance such as citric acid  or sodium hydrogen carbonate (better known as sodium bicarbonate) or tartaric acid (better known as cream of tartar)
  • A solvent - distilled water is ideal
  • Container for weighing such as a weighing boat or small container (note: it needs to be washable so you cannot use paper)


What you do:

  • Weigh your empty container
  • Add your substance and then weigh again, making a note of the weight
  • Add the substance to your beaker (unless of course, you’ve used your beaker as as your empty container)
  • Add some of your solvent-about a third of the quantity you will need overall
  • Transfer your solution to the volumetric flask
  • Rinse the beaker and anything else you have use for the solid and transfer the washings to the volumetric flask
  • Add solvent to the flask until the lower edge of the meniscus reaches the mark on the neck


You’re done! You should now have enough data to calculate the concentration of the solution you have made.

What about practical exams?

The A level exam is written, with no practical element. Having said this, throughout the exam you will be expected to use your understanding of practical theory to answer questions. You will have gained this knowledge through the core practicals we talked about above.

For some university programmes, like medicine, you will need to demonstrate practical skills as well as knowledge. In addition to the A level, you will be able to gain a practical endorsement to show this. This practical endorsement does not form part of the full A level, but is an additional grade that you can achieve.

Find out more

To learn more about NEC and our full range of flexible distance learning courses, including A levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, visit our website or speak to our team. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Keep up with all the latest news and events by subscribing to our newsletter!
 

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Friday, 08 January 2016

What's your New Year's learning resolution?

Margarita’s notebook, where she will record her progress on her New Year’s learning resolution
Above: Margarita’s notebook, where she will record her progress on her New Year’s learning resolution

Happy New Year!

We’re glad to be back after the seasonal break and getting back into gear at NEC HQ. It’s a time for fresh starts, new ideas and sinking your teeth into your to-do list. Many of you may have already thought about the resolutions you want to make for the New Year, as we have been doing at the office. Perhaps you want to visit a place you’ve never been before, take up a new hobby, learn a new skill, get a new job, or simply indulge your curiosity and look up something you’ve been meaning to find out about?

Of course, our natural tendency is to lean towards something to do with education or learning in our own New Year’s resolutions. However, it’s fair to say the New Year is indeed an ideal time to get started if you want to fit more learning into your life. To help get you inspired, here are some ideas from members of the NEC team based at our offices in Cambridge:

Carly is even more driven to succeed with her learning this year, after having achieved a major goal in 2015. She says, “I feel really motivated to stick to my New Year’s learning resolution this year after finishing the Award in Education and Training last year. I'm going to get on with the CMI management course, which I have been putting off for some time now!”

Margarita, who originally hails from Germany (and whose notebook is pictured above), has already made a start on her New Year’s learning resolution, which came about quite spontaneously. “I received this notebook as a Christmas present and it occurred to me to use it to write down English words that are new to me, along with an explanation of their meaning in German. It will be really fun to see how many new words I have learned by next year!”

Stephanie is thinking about brushing up on her language skills too. “One of my new year's resolutions is to fill in the grammar gaps that have been created in my memory since studying languages seriously a few years ago,” she explains. “It's fun to be able to communicate, but I'm beginning to realise that I need a little more than bricks. Somehow I've got to get some mortar back in there. So it's back to the books for me, which I'm really looking forward to. So if any language students are moaning about grammar, I would say it's definitely worth learning it thoroughly the first time round, as the "mortar" will then take a lot longer to crumble away.”

Alison is our third NEC staff member who is also thinking about language-related learning goals, but the language she is interested in is sign language. “I'm thinking about learning British Sign Language, but haven't arranged anything yet,” she says. “I like the idea of learning a language and sign language has always fascinated me. I learnt to sign the alphabet when I was in my teens... I think I need to move on!”

As well as learning a language, Alison is also interested in finding out more about different periods of English history. “My area of ‘specialism’ is the Plantagenet period, especially the Wars of Roses time span,” she explains. “I feel I need to know more about the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. Luckily, I have ten billion books in the spare room, gathered from various Oxfam and other second-hand book shops, that might help me learn. I just need to find the time to read them...”

Finding time to read is a problem Sophie shares with Alison. “I have a list of books about various topics that have caught my eye or been recommended by friends that I keep saying I’ll get around to reading. The new year would be a good excuse to finally get started.

“I also have a backlog of factual documentaries to catch up on,” she adds. “For instance, Sir David Attenborough has a new natural history programme out about the Great Barrier Reef, and I know it will be available on BBC iPlayer. I just need to get around to watching it. I don’t watch a lot of television any more, but the BBC has a way of making science and natural history programmes that keep you curious. I think that’s a good thing; it encourages people to stay curious and keep learning throughout life.”

What are your New Year’s learning resolutions? Let us know in the comments, or join the discussion on social media by tweeting at us or posting on our Facebook page. You might also find our previous blog about choosing a subject to study useful if you want to narrow down the focus of your learning resolution, and you can even download free course samples from our website as tasters!

Whatever your plans for 2016, we hope you will have the opportunity to enjoy learning something new this year. Let us know how you get on!
 

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