Full-time work & part-time study: Discipline + balance = key to success

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In South Africa’s increasingly tough jobs market, workers realise the need to upskill or broaden their skillset if they want to advance their careers. Most people in full-time positions are not able to spend several years and tens of thousands of rands pursuing further study. For these people, distance learning is a great option, provided they know what is required to make a success of their studies before they embark on this road, an education expert says.

“Many people don’t even consider distance learning, because of outdated perceptions about what it entails, and ideas about how difficult it might be to study while maintaining a fulltime career as well as potentially caring for family,” says Siyavuya Makubalo, Marketing Manager at Oxbridge Academy, a private college that serves more than 20 000 South African distance learning students every year.

However the world has well and truly moved on from the days where distance equated despondence, with the emergence of institutions focused on academic excellence combined with superior logistical and support processes, which have dramatically increased the success outlook for students seeking to move ahead in their careers, she says.

“It is true that some distance learning institutions, even very well-known ones unfortunately, do not have student success as their guiding principle. So, the most important first step would be for prospective students to find a college that has a proven track record of success, a reputation for quality and work-focused materials which are provided without delay, which has its logistics sorted, and which provide easily accessible student support. If a college can’t demonstrate that, steer clear.

“Once you have found a college which has shown that they can deliver on the above, the ball is now in your court to make things work. And making things work really comes down to two things: discipline and balance. Focusing solely on the work will soon leave you feeling burnt out and despondent, so it’s key to approach the next few months of your life while you study with a plan to balance your study efforts while maintaining your quality of life,” says Makubalo.

She advises distance students to:


Most employers look favourably on employees committed to lifelong learning, and will support them – sometimes even financially – so be sure to enquire about potential student support schemes. Communicate honestly and openly about what will be required in the next few months but commit to fulfilling your duties as an employee during this time. Most employers will be supportive if you keep them up-to-date about important deadlines like examination dates, if you keep up your side of the bargain to not let your work slide.


After you have spoken to your employer and registered for your course, the next step should be to create a study plan which will consider your work and family responsibilities. Then stick to this plan, daily! Do not leave today’s learning for tomorrow because today’s chunk of work seems manageable and easily dealt with at a later stage. An hour or two of study each day avoids work bottlenecks and cramming down the line and will keep stress in check so you can still bring your full self to your other duties.  Studying in short but consistent periods with breaks in between will help you stay focused.

QUIT PERSONAL social media (it’s only temporary)

Social media is the biggest time-suck and procrastination tool in this day and age, and presents a real danger to successful study. Only use social media where it is required for your studies, and stay well away from mindless scrolling for the duration of your studies. It might sound close to impossible, but once you’ve broken the habit, and become used to filling your days with an hour or two of study instead of an hour or two (or five) of seeing what other people are doing or saying, you’ll soon feel increasingly empowered and enthusiastic about your journey to self-improvement. Once you’ve completed your course, you can return to your socials and it will feel like you never left. Only then, you’ll be able to share your major milestone as well.


It’s important to bring your full self to whatever you are doing, wherever you are. If you are at work, don’t constantly think about what you should be studying, or the looming test or exam. Focus fully on the task at hand. If you are at home with your family or out with friends, don’t worry about work or study either. All of this is possible if you stick with the plan you devised before starting your studies, and didn’t let your other responsibilities snowball. Remember to enjoy life and the different parts of it for what they are. This includes your studies, which should be embraced as part of your journey to self-actualisation, not dreaded.

“With the right attitude, the right plan, and the right academic strategy and support, you can be on a whole new personal and career trajectory a few short months of hard work from now,” Makubalo says.