Integrating ICDL Workforce into Further Education and Training

Deputy CEO of the Irish Computer Society (ICS), Tom O’Sullivan, discusses how the new ICDL Workforce solution can be integrated with current course offerings in further education and training.

Just as today’s employees, students and citizens need to be flexible, so do the programmes on offer in further education and training. Whether we are preparing students for the workforce for the first time, helping them get back into the workforce or preparing them for further study, we share a responsibility to ensure they have the right mix of competencies.

When ECDL was founded in 1997 by a small group of European computer societies (including the Irish Computer Society) its mission was “to enable proficient use of ICT that empowers individuals, organisations and society, through the development, promotion, and delivery of quality certification programmes”.

When anyone hears the acronym ECDL they’d be forgiven for making assumptions about what it meant. Of course, literally it meant European Computer Driving Licence but that was just a name. What it really stands for is a constantly evolving competency development programme founded on quality standards and certification.

If you are familiar with the ECDL of five or ten years ago, you might fail to recognise the ICDL of today! Today’s ICDL is more flexible; offers a broader range of competencies; supports best practice in technology-enhanced learning; and allows locally-developed content to be integrated that meets the specific needs of our market.

Over the 19 years of its existence, ICDL has changed as the needs of the economy and society have changed. The priorities when ICDL was established were the familiar desktop applications. Today, the range of digital competencies that ICDL helps to build cover security, privacy, project planning, online collaboration, web and image editing, and of course the stalwarts of word processing and spreadsheets among others.

No one could have predicted in 1997 that ICDL would grow to include almost 20 modules, be offered in 40 languages in over 150 countries, and reach over 14 million students. ICDL has been adopted by government ministries in numerous countries as well by the European Union itself; it has been adopted by international aid agencies including UNESCO, and by thousands of companies and education providers across the globe. It is inarguably the world’s leading digital skills certification. Last week, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation became an ICDL Accredited Test Centre.

Here at home, ICDL has been a key contributor to the upskilling of the population. Close to 1 million people in Ireland have benefitted from the programme, and every day thousands of individuals are developing new digital competencies through ICDL. However, in some ways ICDL in Ireland has been a victim of its own success. So many people have done ICDL over the past nineteen years that many think it is a relic of the past. They fail to realise how current and relevant it is today, having undergone almost constant update and renewal.

The possibilities with ICDL Workforce today are so varied compared to the standard ICDL offering of five or ten years ago. Now our students choose from a wider range of competencies; and they get certified in the competencies they need and not a fixed set determined by us. Increasingly, our students come back to us to update, or add, one or two competencies.

ICDL is no longer something you complete, instead it is a programme you enroll in for life, and engage with as and when you need it.

ICDL in Further Education

In the past, the standard ICDL offering was an instructor-led course of seven specific modules. Today, the ICDL curriculum is flexible and allows a choice of 16 (and growing) modules that can be certified independently or in groups that correspond to the needs of common job roles or profiles.

The new ICDL Workforce solution comprises eLearning, webinars, online practice tests, automatically-marked certification tests and digital certificates. It is a prime example of technology-enhanced learning that gives students the best chance of success while maintaining the high standards of a world-leading certification.

Employers, educators and funding bodies, including Solas and the Department of Education and Skills, all recognise the important role that industry certifications play in Further Education Training (FET) provision. Despite the wealth of valuable QQI-accredited courses available, industry bodies play an important role in ensuring that content, assessment and certification of the latest skills and technologies are available in the market in a timely fashion.

Funding is provided to Education Training Boards (ETBs) for industry certifications so that they can be agile enough to meet the rapidly changing needs of the economy and wider society. The role of QQI awards and industry certifications in further education are not mutually exclusive, and often students can benefit from pursuing both.

There are three distinct ways of using ICDL in further education and training

1. ICDL can be used to enhance current courses with additional skills that improve the employability of graduates of those courses.

2. ICDL can be embedded in the delivery of QQI courses where there are shared learning objectives. This allows students to gain industry certification at the same time as they pursue a QQI award.

3. ICDL can be used as an exemption from certain component awards.

Enhancing current courses with new skills

Many of ICDL’s newer modules cover digital competencies that are commonly required by employers, but which are not currently taught in mainstream provision.

The recent National Data Protection survey showed that the biggest cause of data and security breaches in business are the accidental and inadvertent actions of users and no current technology can totally safeguard against user error. For this reason employers are increasingly requiring their employees to understand the fundamentals of data protection and cybersecurity.

The ICDL Safe Worker Award combats weaknesses in individuals’ knowledge about their privacy and security responsibilities. It enables individuals to protect themselves (and their business) from common threats while also building the understanding of their important role in safeguarding the employer’s data and reputation.

The ICDL Safe Worker Award comprises the following two modules:

Security Essentials

Privacy Essentials

Delivered via two 5-hour eLearning modules, with the support of further online resources including webinars and discussion boards, the modules can easily be added to popular business courses.

Students get access to unlimited practice tests and once they pass the certification test will be awarded the Safe Worker Award which is triple accredited by the Association of Data Protection Officers, the Irish Computer Society and the ICDL Foundation, the governing body for ICDL Worldwide.

Other examples of digital competencies that complement current provision are Online Collaboration and Project Planning. Increasingly workers are required to work in mobile or distributed teams and to take responsibility for planning complex tasks. These two ICDL modules can be delivered together or independently to update traditional office administration courses for the modern demands of business.

Using ICDL to teach current QQI courses

As mentioned earlier the ICDL Workforce solution delivers best practice technology-enhanced learning. Many QQI courses include components that are covered by one or more ECDL modules. For example, the QQI Word Processing Level 5 Award (5N1358) is 98% covered by just two ICDL modules, Computer Essentials and Word Processing. With the addition of two brief webinars students can meet all their learning objectives and gain an ICDL certification before completing their final project to gain their QQI award.

Using ICDL content and assessment while pursuing these QQI awards benefits students in a number of ways:

  • High-quality content accessible anywhere, anytime
  • Industry certification highly valued in over 150 countries
  • Registration for life that encourages lifelong learning

Using ICDL as an Exemption

ICDL Workforce, exemptions for ICDL are limited to specific groupings of modules. Currently if components 4N1112 + 4N1125 are listed in the choice of components towards a QQI award, ICDL may be used as an exemption against those components. This exemption is valid with QQI for 5 years after the ICDL certification date.

Approximately a quarter of all post-primary students are lucky enough to gain an ICDL Award while in school. If they proceed to Further Education there will be many instances where they will appreciate being able to use ICDL as an exemption towards their chosen award, and as they have been enrolled for life, they can add further ICDL awards very economically.

Over 40% of QQI awards could benefit from ICDL

Having reviewed the specifications for the top 100 QQI awards (by number awarded in 2015), we believe that over 40 QQI awards could be significantly enhanced by the integration of just one or two ICDL modules. Awards in the fields of business and health stand out to benefit the most from the latest knowledge in data protection and health informatics.

The health and business sectors have changed dramatically in the past few years. These 40 plus QQI awards, ranging from Level 3 to Level 6, and representing 63,700 recipients in 2015, could meet more of the needs of employers by simply introducing a couple of ICDL modules.

Bridging the gap

There will be many times when learners, particularly adults, will need an introductory course in order to help them reach the first rung of the digital ladder. Our Equalskills course, with very similar content to the QQI Level 3 Computer Literacy Award, fits that requirement perfectly. It is an accessible, engaging, introduction to computers that gently brings the participants from not knowing what the function of a mouse is, to being able to do some basic word processing, send and receive emails, search the internet and recognise the icons on the desktop.

When Equalskills was being developed, great care was taken to write the text in “plain English”. As a result, participants with literacy difficulties are able to complete the programme without fear of finding the text in the Equalskills workbook too challenging for them.

Students’ positive experience of the Equalskills programme has meant that a very high percentage progress to more advanced studies.

Other ICDL Ireland innovations in FET

As well as ICDL, the Irish Computer Society has a number of other initiatives of value to the FET sector including:

  • Accreditation to award ICS Continuous Professional Development (CPD) points
  • Free ICS membership for FET students on computing courses
  • Accelerated progression to Professional Member for graduates of courses endorsed by ICS
  • Free entry to the graduate development programme for students of endorsed courses


Whether you are responsible for Youthreach, VTOS, community education or apprenticeships, ICDL and ICS certifications enhance learning and offer valued industry-recognised certification.

Irish Computer Society members are the potential future employers of your students. Time and again they tell us that they prioritise applicants who possess our certifications, membership and CPD history. It is clear they value our services and trust our certifications. If you want to give your students the best possible start in their career you should consider enhancing current offerings with ICDL qualifications.

To discuss how ICDL initiatives could enhance your FET Services plans, please contact

Article originally published in ETBI Magazine, Summer 2016 issue, p. 23.

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