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Digital Mums Overcoming financial barriers to learning

Overcoming financial barriers to learning

Understandably cost comes up time and time again as a major barrier to learning something new. So we’ve pulled together some ideas of what you can do if you’re finding financial hurdles to learning something new.


  1. Learn for free

While there are definitely drawbacks to studying free courses they are a great way to get on the learning ladder if you’re strapped for cash. Here are some great places to learn something new for free:

  • WEA | There is a mixture of online and offline courses offered by the WEA and many of them are free. You can search by postcode and course type here.
  • Open University | The Open University offers nearly 1000 free courses across 8 different subject areas. Check out their full catalogue here. They even have a course that can help you understand whether distance learning is the right path for you here.
  • Future Learn | Future Learn pulls together hundreds of short and free content-only courses offered by Universities and other learning providers from around the world, such as Raspberry Pi Foundation which offers a range of free short courses on different elements of coding. They have a wide range of categories so there should be something for you on offer, check them out here.
  • Coursera | Coursera is similar to Future Learn in that it pulls together free courses offered by Universities and other learning providers around the world. Check out their courses here.
  • Google’s Digital Garage | Find some great content-only short courses on areas of modern skills such as marketing/digital marketing, digital skills, business skills and career focused skills. Find their online courses here.

Free courses are generally self-paced and content only so have a number of lessons that you can read/watch/listen to whenever you want. There is rarely an opportunity to ask questions if you aren’t sure of anything. Sometimes there are optional challenges but rarely do they structure in opportunities to apply your learning. They work best for people that are particularly self-motivated as graduation rates average at 8-13% so there is a lot of student drop off.

Studying a free course can help you understand better how to invest your money when you are ready to commit to a paid course though and are a great way to test whether online learning works for you.

Another way to learn something for free is to do a skills swap. Could you help someone to learn something new in exchange for them teaching you something new? Ask around in your network to find the right person or try Timebanks in your local area to access a wider community.


2. Apply for financial assistance

Depending on your personal circumstances - what you want to learn and who you want to learn with - you may qualify for reduced fees or support towards your fees. Please note that if you are studying with an independent learning provider that isn’t registered with the Government then this is more difficult. It’s actually very hard for small, independent learning providers like Digital Mums to get registered with the Government in order to be eligible but it’s worth approaching the learning provider to ask them. No matter what you learn/who you learn with you usually have to have lived in the UK/EU for the last 3 years and be aged over 19 to qualify.

Often eligibility relates to your income status and what benefits you are claiming. For example, if you are claiming Job Seeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit, Working Tax Credits etc then you are more likely to qualify to receive financial assistance and if your household income is below £20,000, you may still be eligible to apply for some support.

It may also be possible to find specific learning bursaries, for example, NABS has bursaries available for people that want to get back into the media/advertising industry. Do you research to make sure that you aren’t missing out on any financial support.


3. Take out a loan

The Government offers Advanced Learner Loans for students of some courses. It’s easy to apply for and you won’t have to pay anything back until you’re earning over £25,725 a year. However, Advanced Learner Loans are restricted by course type and learning provider. They help adult learners manage the costs of tuition fees for Level 3 to Level 6 courses such as A Levels, registered vocational qualifications or some Higher Education diplomas (DipHE courses). They are also only available if you’re studying at an approved training provider or college in England, and again, independent learning providers like Digital Mums aren’t on the approved provider list. However, your local Further Education College is likely to be on the list.

If you have never studied a registered higher education qualification, and you want to, then you could be eligible for a Student Loan. Find out more about whether you are eligible here.

Some learning providers offer their own information about private learning loans, for exampe, Makers Academy have coding courses that cost £8,000 so they have partnered with Future Finance who offer loans to cover tuition and living expenses to study.

We would like to take this opportunity to stress that if you are funding your study using a loan and you aren’t in a financial position where you could easily repay this loan then you should be 100% confident this is a good investment. We advise doing due diligence and exploring all the options first. If you are committing more than £1000 on a course then we also recommend making sure you ask the learning provider the following questions:

  1. Average graduation rates for the course: it’s not a given that you’ll graduate as you never know what life will throw at you along the way. You’ll want to be sure the learning provider will do all it can to help you graduate because you’ll still be liable to repay your loan either way.
  2. Average employment rates: Most learning providers will share successful case studies of their top graduates that have great jobs and careers as a result of studying with them. But anyone can find a handful of successes. Make sure you ask about average employment rates to find out what percentage of graduates aren’t working at all, or aren’t working in the field, as a result of doing the training. This will help you to understand how likely you are to work afterwards.
  3. Average earnings of successful graduates: Many learning providers will talk about how much specific graduates earn and maximum earnings but it’s easy to find a handful of graduates that have gone on to do great things and earn top rates. Finding out what the average graduate earns takes into account all graduates so you can get a more accurate and unbiased picture of how much you’re likely to earn when you finish.

Digital Mums captures this data on all our courses that have a financial commitment over £999 so any reputable course provider should know have information.


4. Crowdfund for your fees

Pipo has launched the first crowdfunding site where you can raise money to fund your career next steps.

Pipo works just like any crowdfunding platform, with one big difference: investors are backing you, not a project, company or cause. You can raise money for equipment, training or further education - anything that promotes you as an individual and helps you achieve your career goals.

As with any crowdfunding campaign you need to have:

  • A clear vision for what you want to achieve in your career.
  • A plan on how you are going to use the money you raise on Pipo to make this happen.
  • A compelling narrative that brings this together in a convincing way and showcases your personality and passion.
  • A ‘marketing’ campaign to run across your online network to spread the word.

You can be invested in by your friends, family and network but also by strangers in the form of Pipo’s users. These investors get the joy of helping someone else achieve their life’s goal. That’s a great feeling in a world where many people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. In addition, when Pipsters succeed in achieving their goals, they can reward Investors with Givebacks, these are financial “thank-yous” for believing in them.

Check Pipo out here to find out more.


5. Convince your employer to pay the fees

If you are employed, why not speak to your employer about funding the cost of the course and convince them why it’s a good idea? Here are our top tips on how to do this:

  • Pick the right time. Find out when your employer sets the learning and development budgets and ideally speak to whoever holds the budget for your company/department either soon afterward or just before the budgets are set so that your course fees are definitely included.
  • Prepare all the information you will need. Outline the cost, curriculum, what skills you will learn, how the course is delivered and particularly whether you will need time off for study. You should also prep for any questions you might get about whether you can manage the study alongside your work commitments.
  • Demonstrate a clear business benefit to your employer. Frame your argument around how they will benefit from your new skills, knowledge, or motivation rather than framing the conversation around you/the benefits to you only. Ultimately, they are investing money in you so make the case of what they will get out of this investment. Good things to include are how your new skills and knowledge will be used in your role to deliver better outcomes for the business and you can also include research/evidence that investing in learning and development is good for business.
  • Let your passion shine through. Showcase the passion you have for the subject to let your employer know that you’ll succeed in your learning journey. Also, show passion for your role and the company as a whole to let your employer know that they should invest in you because you are invested in them.

6. Expense the course fees

If you are self-employed or a the Director of a limited company don’t forget that you may be able to claim tax relief against the cost of the training. In order to qualify the course must be relevant to the work you do and should enhance your existing skillset and help you to perform better. You can also claim for associated course costs such as training to travel there and back and overnight accommodation you might need. It’s important to note that you can’t claim for courses that build a new skillset even if it’s in the same general area. For example, if you are a social media consultant you can’t claim for training that builds your skills in other areas of digital marketing like SEO or PPC. It’s worth speaking to an accountant to double-check what you can claim. In terms of the reduction in fees anything you earn that is taxable will have the course fees deducted so a good rule of thumb given tax is around 20% is to deduce 20% from the fees to get a sense of what it will cost you.

If you are the Director of a limited company then there is more flexibility when it comes to what you can claim for. For example, if you run a limited company that offers social media consultancy you can claim to study other areas of digital marketing as it will help grow your business. You could even expense a training course about coaching as you can claim this improves your ability to manage the people in your organisation. Again, it’s worth speaking to your accountant about this just to double check your course is covered.


Depending on what you want to study, where you want to study it and your existing circumstances there are many options to help you manage to financially fit those learning opportunities into your life. If you do you won’t regret it.

Don’t forget that Digital Mums are running a 'Back to School for Mums' week on the 4th November where we will actively encourage you to either pledge to learn something (anything!) new or even to do some learning that week. We also run free webinars and free short taster courses and are releasing free audio lessons on our podcast as part of our #LearnIn campaign to encourage mothers to lean into learning. Sign up to our newsletter here to find out how to access these.

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