Jools O’Connor, MicroCreds

The future of learning requires small thinking

Micro-credentials have the potential to reshape how we think about formal learning. But what are micro-credentials and how do they work?
Jools O’Connor, MicroCreds

13 May 2024

The lifelong learning rate among Irish adults was 12% in 2022 – far from the target of 64.2% set by Taoiseach Simon Harris when he served as Minister for Further and Higher Education. The goal is part of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.

In this context, micro-credentials were developed. These skills-focused, university-accredited courses are typically between six to 12 weeks long, and are available mainly online. Some courses are available as a hybrid option with some elements taking place in-person.

“Micro-credentials are a flexible option for people in the workforce to upskill or re-skill. The focus with these short courses is on skills and business outcomes. The short time frame, and the fact that people can complete many of these courses online, in the evenings, make them appealing,” explains Jools O’Connor, MicroCreds, Project Lead at Irish Universities Association.




MicroCreds is a five-year project led by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) in partnership with seven of the founding IUA universities: University College Dublin, University College Cork, University of Limerick, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Galway and Maynooth University.

Courses focus on particular skills, and the types of available courses are based on skills data, says Jools. “The subject matter for the courses is industry led, which means they are based very much on what the market needs. As you would imagine, tech is a big focus, with hot topics such as AI, machine learning, data analysis, digital transformation, and blockchain all proving popular. Sustainability too, is a huge growth area across all sectors.”

Micro-credentials mean that people can quickly develop skills and bring them back into the workplace. “We see people either reinforcing their skill set in their current area, or identifying a new area or role and skilling up. The key with these micro-credentials is how accessible they are,” says O’Connor.

A fee subsidy launched in March 2024 means micro-credentials are now even more accessible. The subsidy will cover between 50%-80% of the cost of the course. “The subsidy will make a significant difference; courses like An Introduction to AI, for example, will now cost just €130 with the subsidy,” says O’Connor. “If people are interested in these courses, they should apply quickly, as the fee subsidy is available for a limited number of applicants on each course.”

Completing a micro-credential course equips participants with new skills, university credits and a certificate of completion or university transcript outlining learning outcomes from the course. For some courses, learners can also choose to stack micro-credentials, explains Jools. “They can complete a series of micro-credentials in a related area if they’re following a specific pre-defined pathway to an award. For example, in some of the universities, this stacking of micro-credentials can lead to a professional diploma.”

For now, stacking micro-credentials is only possible within an individual university, but Jools says they are working on facilitating cross-university micro-credentials stacking soon.

“What we’re seeing is people are getting a taster of being back studying and they tend to complete more than one course. This is exactly our goal, to encourage people to engage in lifelong learning, and continuously adding to their skill set.”

There are hundreds of micro-credentials courses on offer at covering a wide range of areas including tech, healthcare, engineers, agriculture, and sustainability. 

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