At a time when face-to-face workplace learning and upskilling opportunities disappeared virtually overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tommy Breslin was able to continue to upskill and progress his career through the OU.
Tommy, a Senior Development Officer for Scottish Union Learning within the Scottish Trades Union Congress, has undertaken a number of Online Teaching microcredentials over the past year. This has included Creating Courses for Adult Learners, Evaluating and Improving Courses, and Accessibility and Inclusive Learning.
Tommy, from Glasgow, explains: “When the first Online Teaching microcredential came along, I was really keen to take the opportunity to upskill and build my own confidence in the work I was undertaking with unions in transitioning their programmes from workplaces to online.”
Working and studying from home since the pandemic began, he has created a dedicated office space in a small area in his hallway. He says that balancing work full-time and being a parent to two young children “really made me have to think about the level of time commitment to my studies”.
He initially studied some short OpenLearn courses “to build my skills and to prepare for the first microcredential, but to also experiment with a study pattern”.
“I found that early on Saturday and Sunday mornings worked well for me, with occasional late evenings. As the assignment deadlines approached, I expanded my weekend study time,” Tommy adds. “It is difficult to juggle all of these priorities, but worth it. I also appreciate and do more with the free time I have between microcredentials.”
The tutors and mentors on the microcredentials are really good. They clearly have a strong appreciation of the additional pressures that the learners are faced with beyond the studies.”
Discussing his experience of learning with the OU, he says: “The OU materials are excellent, they really chimed with the positive experiences I found as part of the [earlier] Opening Educational Practices in Scotland project”. He says that the FutureLearn platform used to deliver the microcredential courses is “by far the best online learning platform that I have seen or used”.
“The tutors and mentors on the microcredentials are really good,” he also points out. “They clearly have a strong appreciation of the additional pressures that the learners are faced with beyond the studies. The mentor support for the students, through the discussion areas, is really helpful and encouraging.”
Tommy was involved in setting up a self-organised study group with other trade unionists that he knew on the course, which “really helped provide a supportive environment where we could meet to discuss the content of the course and motivate each other”.
“The interaction with the other students through the discussion boxes was also very good, as it helped me really think about the tasks and the associated learning materials.”
I now feel a lot more confident in speaking to colleagues, funders, learning providers, training providers and trade unions about online learning and teaching.”
Since undertaking the microcredentials, he has found: “I now feel a lot more confident in speaking to colleagues, funders, learning providers, training providers and trade unions about online learning and teaching.
“I have worked with unions to look at how we ensure the courses we organise take place on a good quality learning platform and that we move away from platforms that are not good. I have worked with unions to better access and utilise online learning opportunities and to ensure these opportunities are appropriate and inclusive.”
Tommy has since been promoted from a Development Officer to a Senior Development Officer. He explains: “My line manager said that while these courses have greatly enabled my personal and professional development, they have also prepared me for taking on senior management responsibilities, and that the skills I have developed will be invaluable in driving our organisation through a process of digital transformation.”
He highly recommends the OU “to anyone looking for accessible and inclusive learning experiences”.
“The quality of the learning materials is excellent, the tutors are excellent, the administration is painless and efficient, the pace of the courses is demanding but well thought through,” he says. “Studying at The OU is worth the time and effort commitments. It is hard but also enjoyable, enlightening and practical. You can do it!”
Tommy is about to start a new microcredential with the OU on Online Teaching: Embedding Social, Race and Gender-Related Equity. He is currently studying the Management of Uncertainty: Leadership, Decisions and Actions OU microcredential.