Learning How to Learn Online: DCU Launches a New Course for Online Learners

While there has been a steady growth in demand for online courses in the last decade, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of online education across the globe. With millions of people starting or continuing their higher education online this year, there has never been a greater need for a course that teaches the essentials of being an online learner. DCU’s latest online course developed by a team in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) in partnership with FutureLearn addresses just that – the fundamentals of being an effective online learner.

A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner is a two-week course designed and facilitated by experienced online educators and digital education researchers at DCU working in collaboration with the DCU Students’ Union and the Irish Universities Association (IUA). Funded as part of DCU’s Covid-19 Research and Innovation Hub, this free online course is available to people worldwide.

While there are a handful of similar courses already available online, DCU’s course is unique as it was co-designed to be ‘for students, by students’. This means that while the facilitators are seasoned online educators in the NIDL, the course has been reviewed by IUA student interns from 7 Irish universities and is being co-facilitated by a team of DCU Student Ambassadors. These students will be sharing their own tips, advice and valuable first-hand experiences throughout the course to enable participants to optimise their own online learning journey.

Based on contemporary theory and research along with DCU’s considerable experience in designing online education, the course aims to help students thrive in the new digital-era. It promotes healthy online learning habits and the concept of digital well-being to flourish as online learners for the new digital future. The course helps learners to understand how to truly harness digital tools and resources to maximise their learning and to develop online support networks. Learning to work effectively online in collaboration with peers is a important theme throughout the course. Another key area discussed towards the end of the course is the need to establish and manage a professional online identity.

Led by Professor Mark Brown, NIDL, Director, Professor Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl, Head of the Ideas Lab, and Dr Eamon Costello, Head of the Open Education Unit, the course draws on UNESCO’s Learning Compass 2030 and is anchored in the European LifeComp Framework. It is structured around four key themes and builds on DCU’s strategic collaboration with FutureLearn following the launch of a pioneering new micro-credentialing initiative earlier in the year.

Mark Brown says,

“Online learning is now an important life skill. Even before Covid-19 the level of demand for online education was growing exponentially, worldwide. We hope this course will make a valuable contribution to students starting their online learning journey at university for the first time.”

The course should also be of value to existing students and help people irrespective of age take advantage of new digitally-enabled models of life-long learning.

DCU is a proud pioneer of digital education in Ireland having hosted last year’s ICDE World Conference on Online Learning and has established a strong footprint on the FutureLearn platform, with a series of free courses on Irish Language and Culture, along with a suite of new micro-credentials currently in development. A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner is a continuation of DCU’s role in leading the digital transformation of teaching and learning in today’s brave new world of higher education.

National Survey on Potential of Micro-credentials for Enhancing Employability and Access to Lifelong Learning

Last week, a NIDL research team launched the first National Survey seeking the views of employees, employers and other key Irish stakeholders on the current use and future potential of micro-credentials.

National Micro-Credential Survey - social and digital image.png

The National Survey was launched in partnership with five Skillnet networks: Aviation Skillnet, ICBE Advanced Productivity Skillnet, ICBE Business Excellence Skillnet, Galway Executive Skillnet and Taste4Success Skillnet. We are seeking to better understand how a strategic investment in micro-credentials in Ireland might be able to help address key skills gaps and be part of a national response to the rapidly changing nature of work, and growing recognition of the importance of supporting a culture of continuous professional development and lifelong learning, more generally.

Additionally, in the context of Covid-19 the development of quality assured, credit-bearing, online short courses leading to stackable micro-credentials may help to provide new career opportunities and play a valuable role in getting more people back to work.

MCs Evology

Although the term “micro-credential” currently lacks a common definition globally, which is a problem the study is also exploring, they typically refer to units of assessed learning that are significantly smaller than traditional forms of accredited learning (such as diplomas or degrees).  Under this definition, micro-credentials can be stacked into a degree, contribute to a degree, or stand alone, giving learners more flexibility and pathways into formal qualifications. Importantly, they differ from and have more currency than badges that may be issued for simply participating in a learning experience. In this respect, micro-credentials require formal assessment and the same quality assurance processes as existing credentials from trusted providers.

The findings from this survey will help inform work already underway at a European-level on developing a common definition, qualification framework and standardised platforms for recognising micro-credentials in the workplace, and beyond. Notably, micro-credentials are already a key action on the European Commission’s recently launched Skills Agenda for Europe. Last year, DCU contributed to the Common Micro-credential Framework developed by the European MOOC Consortium, and currently Professor Mark Brown is contributing to the European Commission’s Micro-credential Consultation Group.


DCU is also an active partner in the ECIU University initiative where a suite of micro-leaning experiences developed around a signature pedagogy of Challenged-based Education (CBE) may lead to formally recognised micro-credentials.  Earlier in the year, the NIDL helped to develop an ECIU position statement on the future of micro-credentials in the European context.

As part of the current study the NIDL research team has already produced an Insights Report looking at current global trends and developments. We plan to share the findings of this report and the national Irish survey at an international event on micro-credentials that DCU will be hosting later in the year. In the meantime, if you live in Ireland, then we encourage you to contribute to this study by completing the survey. You can also find out more information about the NIDL’s work in this growing area, and DCU’s first credit-bearing, stackable, micro-credential launched in February 2020 in the area of FinTech through the FutureLearn platform, by visiting our Micro-credential Observatory.