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What’s the “big” deal with microcredentials

The Open University (OU) has been running a series of podcasts about learning and the skills landscape in Northern Ireland. Previous podcasts have looked at skills in the tech and manufacturing sectors and the importance of lifelong learning. But one growing tool to address these challenges has been microcredentials, which are professional development short courses are designed to help quickly build in-demand career skills. This latest podcast looks at what microcredentials are, dispels myths about them, and discusses their place in the learning and development mix.

Laurence Knell, Associate Lecturer at the OU’s Business School, hosted the podcast and he was joined by Tim Plyming, Managing Director of Short Courses and Microcredentials at the OU, Dr Lynsey Quinn, Lead Manager for Skills and Partnerships at the OU in Ireland, and Michael Bower, Assistant Director, Student Success and External Engagement, at the OU in Ireland.

What are microcredentials?

Microcredentials are short courses, typically 10-12 weeks. They focus on in-demand skills – leadership and management have been particularly popular – and have academic credits attached to them. Typically, they are created by academics in partnership with industry partners, therefore combining academic excellence with workplace relevance.

The flexibility of microcredentials is a big draw for organisations and individuals. The short nature of the courses and the fact that learners can engage at a time and place that suits them, means that people can easily fit their learning around work and family commitments. And although the courses are short, Michael Bower of the OU in Ireland emphasises that there is no compromise on quality with OU microcredentials.

What you get with a microcredential is assurance that the course is high quality. It’s been through the University’s academic assurance, so you know you’re getting the highest level of learning and skills development.

Michael Bower
Assistant Director of Student Success and External Engagement, The Open University

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Using microcredentials to build local skills

The OU in Northern Ireland has been awarded significant funding from the Department for the Economy to help tackle the skills agenda. In particular, it has been a recipient of the Skill Up fund, which was established to support skilling and reskilling and to help Northern Ireland recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of the programme, Dr Lynsey Quinn says the OU in Ireland has funded around 2,100 microcredential places since October 2021. “This really is a good example of upskilling in action. But, it’s more than numbers – it’s about widening access to higher education. It’s new CPD (continuing professional development) opportunities for individuals and organisations, helping people and businesses realise their growth ambitions.”

A wider skills shortage

One of the driving forces behind microcredentials is the need to address skills gaps, not just in Northern Ireland but across the whole of the UK and the globe. The Open University’s latest Business Barometer report, conducted in conjunction with the British Chambers of Commerce found that skills shortages have really started to bite. Almost three quarters (72%) of the 1,300 organisations surveyed said skills shortages are increasing workloads for existing staff, with 78% saying it is negatively affecting output, profitability and growth. Skills shortages are most acute for large organisations – 86% are facing critical skills shortages, compared to 68% of SMEs. Tim Plyming, Managing Director of Short Courses and Microcredentials at the OU says microcredentials are a quick, effective way for organisations to plug skills gaps in key areas. “Employees are able to apply that learning immediately within their work context,” he says.

For employers who are focusing on some of those critical skills challenges that we’ve been thinking about, employees are able to deliver their learning directly into their day-to-day activity.

Tim Plyming
Managing Director of Short Courses and Microcredentials, The Open University

Microcredentials are a great opportunity for upskilling and reskilling and also for personal and career development. For that reason, they are increasingly appealing to a very wide range of learners –people who want to improve their digital literacy or to learn about management and leadership to help them move into their next role to people who want to get back into the workplace or move their career in a new direction.

Find out more about the Open University in Northern Ireland

Find out more about microcredentials at the OU

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