Last week, I attended the annual conference of D2L in Las Vegas. D2L is a Canadian company that has grown rapidly in the competitive Learning Management System space, by offering a platform that is designed to be easy, flexible and smart. The idea that stood out for me from the sessions, posters, and vendor showcases, was Learning Innovation at Scale. This idea resonates well with my leadership philosophy pillars of innovation, inclusion (collaboration), and developmental growth.

In any university campus, there are several instances of faculty led learning innovations. The leadership challenge is to foster a system where the micro innovations are validated for their impact and scaled for directly and rapidly enhancing learning and experience of all students. At Oregon State University, this scale challenge has been translated into a shared commitment in the strategic plan[1]. One of the tools for taking personalized learning to scale is ‘Learning Innovation Scaled Grants”. The grants support multi-departmental multi-division innovation initiatives in the degree-seeking or extracurricular programs, that enhance learning outcomes and improve students’ chances of success. All proposals are evaluated using a comprehensive rubric available at

At the University of Michigan[2], the learning innovation at scale challenge is grounded in a “vision of equitable and advanced education for all.” As part of its efforts for “personalization at scale”, the university launched Digital Innovation Greenhouse in 2014, noting. “When students feel their education is personalized – when it’s right for them, aware of and sensitive to their background, interests, and goals – they respond with engagement; engagement which emerges naturally as a result of relevance, attention, and a sense of belonging.” Yet “Too many students find themselves alone in classes without a peer who understands their life experience, and too often no one notices when a student is in trouble and has stopped attending all their classes.” Digital innovation at scale “allows us to coach each student toward success in ways which are aware of their current state, sensitive to their goals and identity, and delivered in the voices of faculty, staff, and prior students. Eventually, it will allow us to adapt the work we ask students to do, recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses and focusing effort on areas in need of growth.” The Digital Innovation Greenhouse works to, “grow a series of existing digital engagement innovations from the [faculty offices] they have outgrown, carry them across the innovation ‘valley of death’, and deliver them …as infrastructural tools which can be used campus-wide.”

A report, Journeys to Scale[3], by Results4Development and UNICEF, recognizes that scaling up a learning innovation for maximum use and maximum benefit is never easy. The road to success is bumpy, and good ideas inevitably stumble into barriers. But easy, smart, scalable innovation is precisely what is needed to tackle the challenges of the global learning crisis. Scalable innovations are innovative because they re-imagine or challenge processes, services, programs and partnerships, and often fuse that with technology. Often led by teachers, they all offer a local solution to a local and often global problem. A great example is The Can’t Wait to Learn program in the Sudan. The program used a customized math game on solar-powered tablets and the support of facilitators to teach learners the Sudan’s math curriculum. The learners who used the device lived far away from schools in rural or migrant communities. Most of them had never been to school. Two consecutive pilots generated a rise in learner’s math scores by 20 and 31 points. Psychosocial research showed a positive effect on the learner self-esteem. The program intends to scale up to 170,000 learners in marginalized Sudanese communities and in other countries by 2020.

Hartmann & Linn[4] (2008) at Brookings Institution and Cooley and Linn (2014)[5] identify four forces, or drivers, to push the scaling up process forward along an innovation pathway.

• Ideas and models: There has to be an idea or model that works at a small scale. These may emerge from research or practice. The attraction of the idea or model may drive diffusion. Spontaneous diffusion happens, but more often other drivers are needed to assure scaling up.

• Vision and leadership: A vision is needed to recognize that scaling up of an idea is necessary, desirable, and feasible. Visionary leaders or champions often drive the scaling up process forward.

• External catalysts: Political and economic crises or pressure from outside actors (donors, NGOs, market or community demand) may drive the scaling up process forward.

• Incentives and accountability: Incentives include rewards, competition, and pressure through the political process, peer reviews, and evaluations. Knowledge about what does and does not work in scaling up needs to be harnessed through monitoring and evaluation, knowledge sharing, and training. The candidates for scaling should meet the standards of at least good practice, on the continuum of evidence, in Figure 1.

Source: Cooley and Linn (2014)

Hartmann & Linn (2008) and Cooley and Linn (2014) identify the need for removing potential obstacles and creating enabling conditions, termed as ‘spaces’ for innovations to scale (Figure 2). A scaling up pathway require eight spaces to open up:

• Financial space: Mobilize financial resources or adapt the costs of the intervention to fit into the available financial space.

• Natural resource/environmental space: Mitigate harmful effects of scaling up on natural resources and the environment, and promote the benefits of scaling up for natural resources and the environment.

• Policy space: Adapt the policy framework to allow for scaling up.

• Institutional/staff capacity space: Develop the capacity for institutional and organizational resources to carry the scaling-up process forward.

• Political space: Reach out to key stakeholders, both those in support and those against the intervention.

* Cultural space: Identify possible cultural obstacles or support mechanisms and adapt the intervention to permit scaling up in a culturally diverse environment.

• Partnership space: Mobilize partners to join in the effort of scaling up.

Cooley and Linn (2014) note how scaling up pathways stretch over many years and involve a sequence of multi-year projects or interventions. Figure 3 reflects this situation. A key aspect of a successful pathway in this case is that each successive intervention (or project) builds systematically on the preceding project to create a cumulative impact that eventually reaches the long-term scale goal envisioned.

For a scaling up strategy, each project must create sustainable results (shown by the green arrows). Without sustainability, each project’s impact will be short-lived (shown by the red broken arrows) and cumulative impact will ultimately return to zero. The heavy blue line representing the progressive impact of the scaling up pathway is often a step-shaped line, reflecting step-wise expansion of capacity and people. Progressive learning, improved institutional capacity, and growth resulting from economies of scale all help bring the scaling up pathway from a flatter beginning to a steeper upward slope with each project’s implementation, as shown in Figure 3.

Returning to the D2L annual conference, I spotted several outstanding technology-enabled learning innovations designed by faculty champions operating under limited-resource conditions, and that, if scaled, could noticeably enhance student learning outcomes and success conditions.

Student 360 degrees: The University of Central Oklahoma has scaled an innovation termed “STLR” (, or Student Transformative Learning Record. Students capture artifacts representing their growth and transformation learning through diverse experiences in six institutional learning outcomes – disciplinary knowledge, global and cultural competencies; health and wellness; leadership; research, creative and scholarly activities; and service learning and civic engagement. STLR is an eportfolio, that acts as a secondary transcript, and defines College as About More Than a Degree. Students store evidence of their experiential artifacts, periodically reflect on their experiences and their connection with specific learning outcome. There are four ways to accumulate STLR credits on five of the ILOs (excluding disciplinary knowledge); (1) A web accessible live feed of STLR OrgSync Event Calendar lists the official STLR-tagged events at which students can earn “credits” in one or more of the UCO ILOs. (2) Students may also earn STLR credits by taking and completing official STLR-tagged class assignments (the listing of courses with class assignments tagged for STLR is made available through a web accessible live feed). (3) Students may participate or be elected to leadership roles in STLR-tagged student groups, and submit reflections about their experiences to get STLR credit. (4) Students may participate in the official STLR-tagged, out-of-class projects to gain skills across the six ILOs. These projects are typically funded by the STLR grant, on the basis of an application from the faculty/staff supervisor and/or student. For the disciplinary knowledge ILO, each course has a separate page in eportfolio, in which students capture any of their relevant learning artifacts from that course, along with a brief reflection. [At Saint Leo university, a team of instructional technologists has added digital badges for all courses in LMS, based on the assignments, and students can capture these badges as evidence in their eportfolio]. Technology enables a wonderfully easy and scalable solution, using the following model – outline- upload – create -edit – customize. After outlining all experiences to take, students capture photographic evidence of their experience participation using a eportfolio app (upload). They then include reflections on the set of experiences for each ILO, and their transformative learning and growth over time by making connections across experiences (create). Faculty then grades their eportfolio, and employers also provide feedback that is also included as evidence. That input propels students to make any edits, and then customize the multiple presentations of their eportfolio for different audiences. Students are offered lifetime access to their portfolios, and can link them while applying for campus internships and jobs as well.

· Personalized Adaptive Learning: Faculty at many universities are using tools such as TechSmith Relay and Voice Thread to easily add quiz questions or comments by stopping a video at different points. Students are offered adaptive feedback, based on their answers. If the student answers incorrectly, s/he is directed to another content e.g. a video or specific page in the reading. If the answer answers correctly, s/he may be given a kudo and allowed to move on. Techsmith Relay automatically generates captions with 85% accuracy, and a dedicated team of captioning experts at campuses that have scaled this review and correct. It is easy to measure results – overall summary, by learner and by question. At Saint Leo university, a graphic artist works with the faculty on Articulate storyline tool to gamify the experience for the students. For instance, in a history quiz about the accuracy of historical events, the game context informs the students “The chaos will ensue if you do not correct critical historical events”. In other classes, as the students answer their questions incorrectly or correctly, they move on ladder and snake game – caught by next snake with incorrect answers and taking on next ladder with the correct answers.

· Progressive Learning: Faculty at some of the universities are making course-based adaptation of CBE (competency-based education). They are asking students to demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge in different modules of their course, before they can move on to the next module and finish the course. Not only learning outcomes, but also competencies, are mapped on to content and assessment. Instead of conceiving their course as a series of weekly lessons (a topic based approach), they are envisaging the course as comprising of 3-5 modules. For each module, students take a pre-test to assess their competencies for readiness to engage with that module. If they score less than a threshold (say 66.67%), then they are redirected to content that they need to review before retaking the pre-test. In some of the lower-division courses, students are offered a pathway to acceleration – if the student scores more than a benchmark say 80%, then they may skip a module and accelerate their progress. This offers a course-embedded approach to placement tests or waiver exams, and ensures that the students get credit for their prior knowledge of the concepts and are able to master the concepts they still need to. Students may also be asked to engage in “module musings” – a social platform for students to reflect on their learning in relation to their vision statement at the end of each module.

· Progressive Learning 2.0: Faculty led innovations in progressive learning are opening new opportunities for cost-effective student and academic support services. As additional scaffolding of learner experience at universities where such a model has been brought to scale, students complete an orientation to LMS as well as an orientation to such adaptive (CBE type) learning. One of the exercises in the adaptive learning orientation is to complete a CBE-type fit assessment and capacity development– in terms of tech fluency and autonomous working/learning behavior. Students also complete a vision statement – a guided exercise on articulating whey they are in College, that they revisit at the start of each term to do a self-assessment of their confidence in knowledge and skills for accomplishing the vision. They also learn to map out mastery assessment assignments for each module in their calendar before starting a course. Peer coaches keep students on track with the mapped milestones they need to achieve. Students learn to communicate with their coach if their life condition changes and if they need to change their map. Technology-enabled progressive learning model helps students facing academic challenges to take ownership of their learning, and to gain mastery of key competencies, instead of struggling, failing and needing to repeat the entire lower-division courses. [It is also being used as a tool for drop-off recovery, helping students with unsatisfactory academic performance gain credit for their prior learning and master the areas of deficiency autonomously]. Technology helps generate weekly caseload reports – classifying risks by known predictive indicators – such as how frequently a student is logging in, how engaged the student is in completing assignments and doing so in time, and how effective the student is in terms of passing assignments. The caseload reports are discussed jointly on a weekly basis by the faculty and the peer coach, with the faculty charged with academic interventions and the coach charged with life interventions. These course level reports are used as a third pillar of assessment, along with the assurance of learning data from the program and student success data from institutional research.

· Writing-intensive courses: At the University of Alberta, faculty have developed a game of writing that allows students to give peer feedback on student writing. It offers a scalable solution for giving formative feedback on writing to students in large classes. The research using this game shows something fascinating – students report learning more about writing from giving feedback, than they do even from receiving feedback. The game software, developed with an investment of $250,000, has been implemented in many writing-intensive courses, and is showing significant improvement in student writing.

These are just a few examples of the power of scaled up faculty-led innovations- the power of recognizing micro innovations that support micro learning, building evidence on this power, and then developing conditions and capacity to enable their systematic and spontaneous scaling to further the vision of enhanced and engaged learning for everyone. Isn’t that a beautifully easy, flexible, and smart way to address the student success crisis of today?





Categories: Blog / Published On: July 25th, 2017 /