Thursday, September 21, 2017

Conor Murray reports on the Open Training College (OTC)’s recent success in the rapidly-expanding field of Blended Learning.

  • The Open Training College won a big award for their eLearning course.
  • The event took place in Belfast.
  • The Open Training College has been going since 1992 providing an option for students to learn from home instead of at a college.

Chosen from over a hundred entries from universities and colleges across the globe, the Open Training College (OTC) was recently awarded a prestigious First Place by the International e-learning Award committee in the category ‘Blended Learning – Academic Division’.

The International E-Learning Awards are given each year for the best work in e-learning, mobile learning, and blended learning, in two divisions: Academic and Business/Industry. All submissions are evaluated by the IELA Awards Committee, who look for a variety of attributes. These include, among others, educational soundness and effectiveness, usability, and overall significance. The judging committee is made up of e-learning experts from around the world.

At the awards ceremony held in Belfast in September, the College received the award for their online module devised for Social Care students, entitled ‘Professional Practice and Ethics’.

Blended learning is the combination of face-to-face (classroom learning) with online learning and provides a strong model for learning. The College has students from all over Ireland and the online model allows the students to stay in contact with the College and to engage with other students, who are all practitioners, in a supportive, well-resourced learning environment in between their days in the classroom.

A lot of hard work has gone into the fine tuning of the blended learning model over the years. Listening to the students and actioning their feedback has all helped improve the model, so I think it’s as much their award as ours,’ states Raymond Watson, Head of Online Learning at the Open Training College. ‘I would also like to acknowledge the crucial work done by my colleague Niav McEvoy, our Online Tutor, and Alan Murphy, our e-Learning Consultant, which definitely gave us the edge in this competition over many others, such as the University of Vienna and the University of Porto.’

Raymond recently presented a paper on an online resource on Safeguarding, for National Federation of Voluntary Bodies agencies (an An Pobal funded project from the dormant accounts fund, in partnership between the Open Training College, St. Michael’s House and the NFVB). He says that “online learning has been slow to start within services for people with disabilities, mainly due to the IT structures within organisations, the costs in recent austere times and the fact that starting to learn online has a fear factor and involves a training culture change for many of the staff. But in specific stages of learning, online learning has many strengths including the ability for it to be ‘Just in Time’ training, having the training immediately available when things happen at a local or national level. Despite challenges faced by some disability organisations, e-learning options are continuing to grow and make a positive impact on staff training in Ireland. It is now known and understood that the advantages far outweigh any negatives and this is evidenced by the greater demand from organisations seeking to pilot e-learning training initiatives with the OTC in 2017.”

The College prides itself on supporting their students through online learning from the moment of their application. Online learning supports give busy practitioners access to flexible learning and the ability to study anytime, anywhere.

The model of delivery has been developed and implemented over a number of years for our students. We have certainly seen our students benefit from its use, so it’s an honour to now receive the formal recognition from such a respected organisation as the IELA,” commented Dr Karen Finnerty, College Director at the Open Training College.

The Open Training College, established in 1992, is a recognised Third Level College delivering QQI-accredited courses to managers and staff working in the disability and wider non-profit community and voluntary sectors. Core courses concentrate on areas such as Social Care and Management. Please contact Conor for any course information on or 01-2990580.

OTC wins eLearning award - IELA award OTC groupDr Karen Finnerty, College Director, and Raymond Watson, Head of Online Learning, Open Training College with graduating students

Author Bio

Conor Murray is Corporate Services Manager at the Open Training College (OTC).

Congratulations to all the recent graduates of the Open Training College who attended the Conferring of Awards ceremony on Saturday, November 19th at the Concert Hall, RDS Dublin. The successful graduates achieved Third Level awards in the areas of Applied Social Care and Applied Management, in the disability and wider non-profit sectors.

Aisling Matassa Gerry Clarke award 2016Special mention goes to Aisling Matassa (The Gerry Clarke Award), Tania Quinn (Social Care Ireland Award for Academic Excellence), and Claire Sutherland (The Wheel Management Award for Academic Excellence) for achieving their respective ‘Student of the Year’ awards on the day. The awards were presented by Dr Karen Finnerty, College Director, and Evelyn Clarke.

Tania Quinn Social Care award 2016Claire Sutherland, a Speech and Language expert at St Michaels House, stated “I am thrilled to have received my award from the Open Training College. It is a great honour. I am also delighted to have received my management qualification today.  I loved the practical value of studying the management course and it will stand to me in my future work. I wish to thank my family, friends and co-workers for all the support along the way.”

Claire Sutherland Management Award 2016149 Graduates received accredited awards (QQI) for courses in:

– BA in Applied Social Studies (Disability)

– Certificate in Applied Management (Nonprofit/Human Services)

– Honours BA in Applied Social Studies (Disability)

– Learning Theories and Teaching Strategies for People with Disabilities

– Higher Certificate in Applied Management (Nonprofit/Human Services)

– BA in Applied Management (Nonprofit/Human Services

– Certificate in Supported Employment

Additional QQI awards were received by students completing the following courses:

– Person Centred Planning – Focus on the Individual

– Managing a Positive Behavioural Culture


Each course is delivered through the award winning ‘Supported Open Learning model’ which is designed specifically to allow frontline workers and managers benefit from access to accredited, flexible educational opportunities that transform their ability to implement best practice within human services in Ireland today. The Open Training College is also a recent winner of the IELA International E-Learning Award 2016 for blended learning.

More information about OTC courses can be found on the College website:, or by calling (01)2990580 or emailing

Maura Horkan reports from students on two courses at the Open Training


Fourteen students on the National Certificate in Applied Social Studies (Rehabilitation) course with the Open Training College geared themselves up for three days of intensive workshops on ‘learning styles and systematic instruction’. What ??? Read on ….

The workshops were facilitated in a relaxed and informal way by Richard Harris, Principal Lecturer at Bolton Institute, and Dr Robert Jones of the University of Wales (Bangor). Robert is a clinical psychologist, but the students didn’t know that he’s a Black Belt in both Judo and Aikido. They soon found out!

Katrina Donovan, with the Brothers of Charity Services in Ennis, describes how the OTC students learned about task analysis (breaking down a task into small steps so that someone can learn the task more easily): ‘Robert Jones demonstrated an Aikido move (similar to Judo), with help from Daniel, a student who also practises Aikido. We all wondered what this had to do with assisting people to learn tasks. We had to watch carefully and break the Aikido move down into as many steps as possible—some students counted as many as nine! I enjoyed watching them, until it was my turn to get up and do it! Normally I hate being put on the spot, but everyone had to. It was very interesting to watch a task, then to do it, step back and break it down. Then we had to teach it to two other people, based on our set of steps—that was great craic and such an eye-opener—I found it was easier to teach other people after watching and participating in the skill myself- I can certainly apply that to work situations, helping clients with learning difficulties to learn new tasks!’

Katrina says she is doing the course because it is accredited by the NCEA and well-recognised in the disability area. ‘It’s fascinating to see something in the manuals that I am already using at work and to learn exciting new concepts that I can introduce for the first time.’


Twenty-four students on the OTC course for the National Diploma in Training and Education in Supported Employment were treated to an intensive and exciting two-day workshop on how to market their supported employment services to employers. Students shared their questions and ideas on how to prepare and plan to meet the ‘dreaded employers’, described as daunting, scary, professional, busy people—although other students added that some are very supportive and nice!

There were lots of questions from the floor. ‘Do we have to shout our message from the rooftops?’ ‘Will we have to follow a garden centre manager all over the centre in among the plants to get his attention?’ ‘If I’m early, will I look too eager?’ ‘If I dress up in a suit will I put them off, if they’re wearing jeans and wellies?’

So, how do you encourage and facilitate personnel who are learning for the first time to step out into the busy and professional business community to promote their service and to develop their own professional skills? The Open Training College enlisted the services of Catherine and Alan from the training consultancy Optima. Students learned first to look critically at their supported employment service and to examine its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT techniques). This helped students to realise that they have a very marketable service and to identify where it was most needed in the business community. The students got great confidence in realising that ‘Yes, I have a really good and much-needed service to market’. Then they learned how to match their service to suit what the employer needed. This seemed a magical solution—it enables students to answer any objections that the employer might come up with. One student commented, ‘I never realised that if an employer is objecting it’s a good thing, because it means he/she is interested in discussing the idea—before this I would have taken an objection as a signal of no interest!

One student summed up the workshop by saying, ‘I found it very helpful; it has given me the confidence to be able to meet and arrange more fruitful meetings with potential employers.’ Our supported employment students are an amazing bunch of people—they’re not only trainers, employment supporters and job coaches; they’re also sales reps, marketers and public representatives.

Further Information

The Open Training College are currently accepting applications for the following courses: National Certificate in Applied Social Studies, National Diploma in Applied Social Studies (Rehabilitation), Diploma in Training and Education in Supported Employment and Certificate in First-line Management. Enquiries to Maura Horkan at the Open Training College, National Management Centre, Sandyford Road, Dublin 16 (tel: 01-295 9788; email:

This year’s Open Training College conferring ceremony took place on Saturday 21 March in Dublin City University. Thirty-two students received their parchments, of whom twenty received a National Certificate in Vocational Rehabilitation and twelve received a Certificate in First Line Management. Both courses are accredited by the National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA). This brings the total number of students who have availed of Open Training College courses to 213, representing 35 agencies nationwide. Participants who have been conferred to date have achieved outstanding results, with 86% being awarded a Merit or Distinction.

The Open Training College was founded in 1992 under the directorship of Dr Bob McCormack. The College is the only open-learning, distance education institute developing courses for staff in the disability field in Ireland. As such it is committed to offering staff working in the disability field training opportunities which are accredited, accessible and embody best practice.

The courses on offer

The first course developed to meet this aim was the National Certificate in Vocational Rehabilitation (NCVR). This is a two-year course designed for experienced instructors, trainers, supervisors and care staff in services for people with disabilities. The course offers a broad understanding of the rehabilitation process combined with the development of specific training and employment skills.

Funded by Horizon money, the College developed two additional courses between 1995 and 1997. The first of these, the Diploma in Training and Education in Supported Employment, is accredited by University College Galway and was developed in partnership with the Irish Association for Supported Employment. It is designed for employment specialists, job coaches, trainers and instructors in disability and encompasses all the elements needed to implement Supported Employment successfully. A unique feature of the course is that it offers a direct professional development ladder to a Degree in Training and Education (also from UCG).

The second course addresses the need for disability-focused management training. It is a one-year course intended for managers or deputy managers working at first line level in disability service provision. It offers the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills needed to carry out the manager’s role effectively. While grounded in generic management and theory, the course is written from the disability perspective and addresses the unique features and aspects of managing disability services today.

A fourth course was also developed during 1997; the National Diploma in Vocational Rehabilitation is an add-on Diploma year to the National Certificate in Rehabilitation. This course is also accredited by the NCEA and offers students the opportunity to explore the unique issues affecting service delivery. An in-depth look at leading a change project is followed by an extensive examination of the empowerment process—a significant issue for everyone involved in service provision.

The model

All our courses are delivered through the supported open-learning model, which minimises disruption to the service, allows participants to study at their own time and pace, and ensures that courses are accessible to all parts of Ireland. This is backed by significant support from the College in the form of regular telephone tutorials, feedback on assignments and practical workshops during the year. Other forms of support include supervision and study groups. The modular system allows participants to accumulate credits towards their final award at a steady, manageable pace. The College’s commitment to investing in support structures for students ensures the outstanding results mentioned above, and the flexibility offered through the modular structure ensures very low drop-out rates.

components of the certificate

The partnership approach

The College works closely with disability agencies in ensuring the success of the course. One expression of this cooperation is the Partnership Agreement summarised in the diagram below.

the partnership approach

Through the Partnership Agreement the agency pays a significant part of the course fee, allows the participant to attend workshops/summer schools and examination days as study leave, provides a work-based supervisor or mentor, and agrees that the participant may undertake work-based assignments as part of their regular duties.

The participant makes a commitment to pay the balance of the fees, to complete course assignments, to attend the practical skills workshops and to undertake personal study in their own time. The College provides the open-learning materials, assigns a tutor to the participant, provides workshops and site visits/supervisor’s briefings, and coordinates the assessment and certification of the courses. Experience to date has shown that the Partnership Agreement is a highly effective way of ensuring success for participants.

The assessment process

Because of the applied nature of the courses offered, there is a strong emphasis on work-based assignments as evidence of the application of the course learning to students’ own work; on some courses there are also elements of competency-based assessment, demonstrating the acquisition of key skills.

All NCEA-approved courses are in the ACCS system, which facilitates mature staff who because of personal circumstances (serious illness, maternity leave, moving house) or work circumstances (moving jobs, promotion) wish to drop out at some point during the course, to resume at a later course intake.

What the customers say

As part of a commitment to delivering quality training and meeting customer need the courses are evaluated by students on an ongoing basis. Recent comments from people involved in the evaluation process include the following.

Comments from participants:
“Major impact on service-user quality of setting”

“I am clearer about what needs to be done, the climate and how to move things along”

“Good compromise location for all parts of country. Enjoyed travelling the night before”

“This is the first skills workshop where I got to stay overnight. Very enjoyable getting to know other participants on a social level”

“Clients got a job”

“New lines of communication with client and their family established”

“Far more customer satisfaction”

“Very informative and practical”

Comments from agencies:
“Course participants were introduced to a range of management skills and techniques which clearly impacted on their work attitudes and behaviours”

“Two participants were promoted and a third is likely to be promoted within one year”

“A number of new initiatives began as a result of staff participating on this course”

“The course had a very practical orientation with projects on person-centred planning and performance appraisal being successfully completed and integrated into centre activities”

“Relevant and easily transferred to workplace”

“Practical assignments, excellent course for quality assurance”

“Good solid course (assignments) especially for services starting out in supported employment”

External examiners:
“Excellent course, a great deal of thought has gone into the preparation and the results are evident. The course materials are excellent, feedback to students is very helpful and course assignments are well chosen to allow students to demonstrate relevant skills. Practical work and theoretical work appear to be well integrated. Keep it up”.

In March of this year Dr Bob McCormack resigned his position as the College Director to take up the post of Director of Research and Service Development with St Michael’s House. All would like to wish him well in his new post- He retains a link to the College, having recently agreed to chair the Academic Council.

Further Information

We are currently recruiting for the autumn intake of all four courses. If you have any queries or would like more information, please call or write to Margaret Quinlan, College Secretary, The Open Training College, National Management Centre, Sandyford Road, Dublin 16, Tel: (01) 2959788, Fax: 2959788, e-mail: