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Michael Conroy: OU microcredentials case study

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As part of our combined responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Scottish Union Learning has worked with trade unions and the The Open University in Scotland to support union learners to access the new suite of Open University Microcredentials.

Since June 2020, we have supported 33 places covering Online Teaching, Management and Cyber Security. Unions have worked hard to establish union-led study groups to ensure union learners have a safe space to discuss the content of their course and to support each other through to successful completion.

The Open University is publishing Case Studies gathered through interviewing union learners. Michael's story is the third in the series to be published.


The original version of this article was published on The Open University in Scotland: Unions.

Michael Conroy

After the COVID-19 pandemic began, Michael Conroy, a Learning Organiser for Unite the Union, decided to undertake an Online Teaching: Evaluation and Improving Courses microcredential, to help support union members to adapt as learning moved online.

“I wanted to understand more about how to make courses online more engaging, interactive and ensure peer support networks were created to fill the void from face-to-face learning for trade union learners,” he explains.

“It is also vital for the union to continually seek to improve our delivery methods and materials to make our learning offer as relevant as possible to our members, and understanding the theoretical models to analyse this was extremely beneficial.”

Michael Conroy - Unite the Union

His first experience of learning with the OU was undertaking short courses through the FutureLearn platform.

“I always feel the courses are well-presented and very engaging. I find the learning platforms on the whole very user-friendly and the tutors, who come from a wide range of backgrounds, very knowledgeable in their subjects,” he says.

Before starting his microcredential with the OU, Michael hadn’t studied for over a decade and to begin with he found it challenging working throughout the day, helping put his young child to bed at night, and then returning to studying in the evening.

“I found it particular challenging working from 9-5 on a laptop, then going back on my laptop for a lengthy period to study.

“Once I was able to prioritise my times and find a schedule that suited to undertake the course it was fine,” he shares.

Once he had established a learning routine, he found: “The materials are so high quality and the support networks are fantastic, so you shouldn’t have any fear or anxiety about undertaking online learning through the OU.

“The OU ensures you learn collectively and offers a degree of flexibility which can help with work and life commitments.”

Tutor support: responsive to learners' needs

He has also felt well supported by his mentors during his studies. “My experience of the OU tutor support during my studies has always been very responsive to the needs of learners.

“Mentors within the microcredentials are quick to establish a culture of collectiveness and answer queries from learners who may be unsure about certain sections promptly and comprehensively,” he says.

Mainly working with union members in the construction sector, Michael enjoyed the opportunity to “interact with a wide range of people” from different sectors.

He explains: “I was part of a study group which met every Monday for 12 weeks for an hour, and this was of particular assistance in discussing anything that I didn’t fully understand.

“It was extremely helpful at the theory-heavy parts of the course and kept you focused.”

Positive impact for union members

After undertaking the microcredential, he says that the union members have benefited from him feeling “more innovative, more analytic in my thinking, and better equipped to problem solve unpredictable events”.

“For example, after completing the Online Teaching: Evaluating and Improving Online Courses microcredential, I have developed a logic model for the project I coordinate… to ensure it is as fair and equitable as possible.

“OU learning has definitely had a positive impact on the learning and methodology I use for members.”

Michael is currently undertaking a microcredential in Management of Uncertainty: Leadership, Decisions and Action, and has aspirations to progress further within his organisation.

He believes the microcredentials “will greatly improve my chances to do so if the opportunity arises”.

“I am extremely passionate about lifelong learning and improving the wellbeing of our members, and gaining new skills and knowledge that supports this will assist my own employability in the future,” he concludes.

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