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Best Practices for Successfully Scaling Education Programs

The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) recently recorded a 30-minute presentation entitled “Successful Scaling: Strategies to Expand the Capacity and Impact of Your Program.” This presentation was intended to be delivered in person in Portland, Oregon at the HITEC conference, but the coronavirus pandemic pushed that event online. (You can access recordings of the HITEC synchronous keynotes here, as well a number of other presentations like the CTC’s “Successful Scaling” here).

The CTC has successfully “scaled,” which refers to the efficient and effective expansion of an innovation, two programs – the Convergence College Network (CCN) community of IT faculty and administrators and the Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) of IT employers. Both the CCN and BILT over many years expanded from small local partnerships to larger collaborations covering a wider, more national scope. To prepare for the HITEC presentation (which you can watch here), the CTC researched best practices for scaling, one from the perspective of educational programs and one from the perspective of business. You may note overlaps between the two approaches.

Edutopia – through the work of Harvard University’s Dr. Chris Dede – identified five dimensions of scaling.

  • “Depth” means to identify what is essential about the innovation. What element must any scaled adaptation of your innovation absolutely have to have? What is its most important part? With the CCN community of IT faculty across the country, the essential component is supporting IT programs through mutual sharing of know-how. All of the scaling work flows from this one goal.
  • “Sustainability” focuses on ways to adjust the innovation to make it better fit each user’s unique situation. Different adopters will have different needs. In the CCN, some colleges have a single professor trying to do the best that he or she can all alone with small enrollment; other colleges have six faculty members with administrator buy-in and a large, thriving program. The level of CCN engagement therefore varies.
  • “Spread” allow some modifications as the innovation scales up. You’ll need to let go of the need to make sure the expanded, scaled version of your innovation is the same everywhere. The point is to make the innovation as effective as possible. For the CCN, as an example, the CTC’s grant covers all of the costs so that participation is free for the member colleges. This no-cost model may limit some of the CCN’s ability, but it’s still effective.
  • “Shift” refers to a change in ownership. When somebody else owns your innovation and adapts it to fit what they need, they make it theirs. The agenda content for many of the CCN’s quarterly meetings are driven by the needs of the CCN community. In this way, they “own” those portions of the meetings and thus assume a greater responsibility for the CCN’s ultimate success.
  • “Evolution” points to the need to watch how the scaling effort unfolds and be open to changing your approach. Maybe you can learn something new from how another user is implementing your scaled innovation. As the CTC helps foster special regional “hubs” around the country that mimics the larger CCN approach, it’s possible those hubs find better ways of doing things, which the CTC can then adopt.

A Barclays UK study of industry found six steps in successfully scaling a project.
1. “Commit to grow.” You need the will and the ambition to scale. When it comes to the BILT, everyone has to buy in to the process – faculty, administrators, and BILT members. The CTC often talks about the “WIIFM” – what’s in it for me? Everyone’s going to have their own motivation for participating.
2. “Build a management skill set.” It takes more than just one person to scale. It can’t just be the CEO (or a single faculty member) deciding to do it. You need a full team with a complimentary set of skills to pull it off. For the BILT, that means both industry and educators working together, sharing their expertise and perspectives.
3. “Foster collaborations.” This refers to partnerships: all of those important external engagements and alliances you’re going to need to help with the scaling. With the BILT, it’s the frequent meetings that strengthens the relationships, whether its faculty to employer or employer to employer.
4. “Establish standard processes.” For effective scaling you’re going to need standardized, repeatable processes. The Barclays study mentioned that flexibility can sometimes be the enemy of growth. That is, you can’t always be flexible and make it up as go; you really do need standardized, repeatable processes. The CTC has developed a number of webinars and resource documents to explain the BILT model process in detail to make it easier for others to adopt and adapt.
5. “Identify core competencies.” What’s the unique thing that makes this program, this innovation competitive? Is it the brand, the technology, the know-how, the system? Whatever is it that’s unique, make sure you know what that is. For the BILT, this is pretty clear: a clear set of steps to energize the relationship between educators and industry so that curriculum stays aligned with workforce needs.
6. “Articulate the strength.” You have to be able to communicate your core competency to the external customer. For the BILT, it’s important to make sure everyone (both the employers and the educators) understands the value of the BILT model.

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