An Introduction to the Whys, and the Challenges, Solutions, and Opportunities of Scaling Up [1]

Imagine being in a meeting with your supervisor, a team of instructional designers (IDs), a project manager, media director, and administrative leadership, watching a presentation on expanding access to higher education by designing, developing, and delivering a high-quality, rigorous, engaging course, with enrollment open to thousands of learners, worldwide. Two slides in, you might be thinking, “How exciting! I’ve got this; I’ll just take my existing course and voila!”

But wait. There’s more! You must do so at no cost to your learners; you must account for accessibility and learners of all stripes; you’ll have to abide by constraints and affordances of a learning management system (LMS) and learn new technologies; you’ll have to consider and implement new assessment models; you’ll have to work closely with an instructional designer, a project manager, and media team (among others); and you’ll have to deliver on a tight schedule, with the entire course completed several weeks before it launches, to accommodate QA.

In short, you’ll have to reimagine teaching and learning for scale. But don’t worry. Even the toughest problems have solutions; challenges of scale are opportunities. Read on.

Education at Scale: ASU’s Universal Learning Initiative

It’s no secret that enrollment numbers are increasing, whether due to either a global pandemic or more run-of-the-mill economic changes, workforce needs and demands, or personal and professional enrichment goals. Scaling increases access to high quality education for a wide swath of learners who may never have even considered it an option, regardless of their socioeconomic status (a hallmark of ASU’s charter).

Intrinsic to this is the concept of universal learning. Universal learning is designed to provide academic, training, and skill-building opportunities to (universal) learners from all socioeconomic backgrounds through different learning experiences, such as online or immersive. (An immersive learning environment uses different techniques and software tools, such as game-based, simulation-based, and virtual 3D worlds, to simulate realistic scenarios that give students the opportunity to practice skills and interact with peers [2].)

There are currently several universal learning programs at ASU, across 3 different LMSs: The Global Freshman Academy (math department); MicroMasters and Master of Supply Chain Management (Thunderbird School of Global Management and W.P. Carey, respectively); Master of Computer Science (CIDSE); and Universal Learner Courses (various departments). Depending on the program, learners can earn credit at a reduced rate, earn admission to ASU, or enroll in a reduced-cost degree pathway. In essence, these programs are all high-visibility, low-risk, reduced-cost propositions, where anyone can register.

With the increased need for access and rapid growth in enrollment, scaling up may work to your benefit, whether your course is part of a universal learning portfolio or not; you might find that some of the instructional tools of the scale trade come in handy in your existing repository, and ultimately prove more effective in helping learners achieve mastery of the subject matter. In short, by working toward scalability, you can do your part to advance education, reach the widest audience possible, and help increase the number of learners pursuing education on their own terms. The links below will help you get started.

Jill Roter is a Senior Instructional Designer at Arizona State University.

[1] Leo, L. and Roter, J. (2020). Unique challenges and successes in developing open scale courses [PowerPoint slides].
[2] Workday Brandvoice. (2018, July 11). Rethinking the future of higher education: interview with ASU president Michael Crow. Forbes.