The term scale applies to many contexts. We scale graphics by resizing while maintaining their aspect ratio. A business scales when its revenue increases without a substantial increase in costs. Trainers scale workouts by adjusting the intensity, volume, or movements to accommodate individuals. And let’s not forget that fish have scales.
Scaling is a seemingly complex concept, but it has a simple foundational meaning. To scale is to adjust without changing form. In the case of a graphic, it could mean making the graphic smaller. For business, it’s bringing in new business while maintaining the same workforce. Scaled workouts mean that both seasoned athletes and novices can participate meaningfully. Even the size of fish scales differs by body region; belly scales are larger than those on the head.
When we talk about scaling in the context of learning and development, it’s easy to get caught up in the complexity. We think about scaling learning like scaling a business because, well, learning is our business. It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in factors like audience, budget, authoring software, learning management systems, delivery mechanisms, accessibility, and timing. And those are just a few factors; there are many more.
After countless hours of reading books, articles, blogs, and studies, I’ve learned that there are many different strategies for scaling learning. Some argue that the first step is defining success by writing terminal objectives. Others state you must backwards plan by creating performance assessments before developing any learning content. Then, there’s the practice of assigning mentors to train others, creating a new cohort of mentors.
Simply put, there’s no perfect formula for scaling learning. It depends on the organization, their resources, and what they need to succeed. But I will forever argue that the most important thing you can do is meet the learner where they are. And how do you do that? By offering diverse learning options.
This is something that CrossFit does well. For every workout that CrossFit publishes, they provide a prescribed (Rx) and a scaled version. The Rx version is the workout exactly how it is written and defines the time, sets, repetitions, and weights. The scaled version provides suggested modifications. Rx is designed for individuals who have participated in CrossFit before. Scaled versions are used when an individual is new to CrossFit, has an injury, or wants to practice a specific skill that isn’t a part of the Rx. Sometimes the scaled workout is more challenging than the Rx. Sometimes it’s easier. It all depends on the individual athlete’s needs.
We can apply this same concept to scaling learning experiences. Design for the majority (while keeping accessibility in mind), but then offer options that meet individual needs. For those struggling, provide remedial learning. If they have prior experience and excel, offer challenges or coaching opportunities.
Commonly, in L&D, we tend to create one learning solution for one problem. It’s the “Oh, your account executives are struggling with objection handling? Buy my objection handling course and they’ll be pros in no time!” And even if that course has high-quality content and a well-developed assessment, there’s still no guarantee it will resonate with your audience. Instead, consider creating a variety of learnings: a course, an instructor-led training, a simulation, and an assessment. This approach allows you to scale based on the individual and is more likely to yield success.
And yes, I hear you. This is an idealistic approach. Sometimes there’s not enough time to create a webinar, a course, an assessment, and a simulation. That’s okay! That’s where something like a needs or skills self-assessment can be used to determine which topics require support. Topics with the widest range of experience and comfort level should be prioritized when creating materials. In other words, let your audience tell you what they need, and then use this information to scale your learning experiences.
Remember that scaling is dynamic. It involves continuous adaptation, refinement, and response to changing circumstances. That’s why feedback, iteration, and assessment are vital parts of what we do in L&D. A successful scalable learning experience is not a static, one-time implementation but an ongoing, evolving process.
For more insights, join me at ATD TechKnowledge for my session Scale Your Learning Just Like Your Workout.