Nov. 19, 2020

Modular education in nursing offers innovative advantages in a competitive labour market

Stackable certificates and micro-credentials make for meaningful learning, flexibility and specialization

A full-time nursing instructor and parent to two young kids, Melissa Eastveld, BN’02, is also currently immersed in four Faculty of Nursing courses bundled under the title Healthcare Innovation and Design. Asked why she’d choose more education at this point in her busy life that already includes a robust career, she answers with conviction and enthusiasm: “Specialization, upskilling, flexibility and personal growth.” And with that, Eastveld has effectively described the innovative advantage of modular educational programming.

While Eastveld is headed toward the completion of a stackable certificate Master of Nursing (she is part of the program’s first cohort, starting in 2019), that’s not the only desired path for students choosing this new type of educational offering. Eastveld could, for instance, have walked away this past spring with a completed one-year Leadership for Health Transformation stackable certificate that, on its own, would have elevated and refined her professional resume. The appealing flexibility of the course offerings combined with the current state of health care that calls for rapid pivoting, however, convinced her to continue on and "stack" it toward a masters’ degree.

Melissa Eastveld

Part way through the new Stackable Certificate Master of Nursing program, Melissa Eastveld is already discovering fresh takes on inter-disciplinary health-care solutions.

Such laddered or stackable micro-credentialing is at the vanguard of a growing educational trend designed to give students access to the newest knowledge and align their leading-edge skills with the changing world of work. An increasing variety of such educational programming at UCalgary — courses or groups of courses that can nest within or stack onto one’s current degree or diploma — gives students opportunity to customize their learning objectives.

As UCalgary deputy provost Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk puts it, micro-credential options “allow learners to accelerate their programs as they like, in flexible, meaningful pieces, and build up to larger credentials in their own time and at their own pace.” As well, she says, this flexible approach to learning makes UCalgary more accessible to non-traditional learners, Indigenous, first-generation, mature students or rural and remote learners who often want and need to take their education outside the four-year degree.

Several faculties now offer certificates, badges and credentials that recognize special skills and knowledge. The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning offers certificate programs in university teaching and learning for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars (structured for completion within one to two years) that provide participants with evidence-based teaching strategies and practical, flexible skills relevant across disciplines.

Likewise, a four-course graduate certificate in educational neuroscience prepares educators to work with cognitively diverse learners; a certificate in sustainability studies, which can be embedded in most undergraduate degrees, puts students in front of a variety of external organizations, sustainability and equity consulting firms, researchers, institutions, not-for-profits and practitioners to apply their classroom learnings to real challenges; and the Haskayne School of Business offers a brief but intensive real property investment certificate to refine skills around increasingly complex real-estate finance and investment.

Eastveld, meanwhile, is challenged and thrilled to be involved in a deep-dive learning experience in artificial intelligence applications, data science, built environment theory, and emerging health-care tech. As she, and all of us, have watched the health-care landscape evolve in dramatically unexpected ways this year, this dedicated nurse has been able to manageably pursue a future wherein responding nimbly and effectively to the emerging needs of our community is not just possible but critical and rewarding.

Innovation Week at UCalgary  
As part of UCalgary’s partnership with Calgary Economic Development, UCalgary is celebrating  Innovation Week YYC, as well as Canadian Innovation Week and Global Entrepreneurship Week. Join UCalgary experts and researchers Nov. 16 to 20 for a week of conversation, inspiration and ideas. Learn how you can get involved.