The new scaling rules
Business schools have delivered a premium product in the form of globally accredited expertise by teaching large cohorts. However, scalability is changing with the ‘new normal’ that David Lefevre describes so well in his article for the EFMD Global blog.
This article examines two aspects of teaching and learning, the lecture and the seminar, to assess the impact of scalability on each. It is supported by a YouTube channel – Getting started this Autumn – some of which is referenced below.
The new lecture
From time immemorial, the lecture was scalable until you ran out of seats. It was so popular that double teaching was often chosen instead of worrying why the model had just hit the buffers.
Other pressures were building on the lecture, however, as it gravitated towards mere content delivery. Ted Talks profiled much better communicators, while all kinds of content were bursting onto the web: funny, clever, engaging, informative, whatever. The lecture was dying and the crisis has only helped it along.
Sure, one speaker can still reach millions on-line, but most students prefer their content in better forms. The big opportunity, however, is what is already out there, by curating content instead of creating it. That way, we still fulfil our pedagogical responsibilities but must abandon our dreams of swaying the masses with the weight of our words.
These ideas are explored in What will teaching & learning look like? and Hard learning, but it is not just about searching for great material, fun as that may be. It’s about curating a collection that targets outcomes (see Outcomes & content).
This can be fun for students, too, once they are drawn in with training in what to look for. They will find better stuff faster than you, and it sets them up for lifelong learning.
Scalability? Less creation; more curation.
The new seminar
The scalability challenge with face-to-face is that more than 4 or 5 students on-line is hard, and even socially-distanced rooms admit fewer than before. So how affordable is it to deliver seminars to hundreds of students in small groups?
I’ve started to explore this in An industry-style focus on teaching costs is vital to survive the pandemic (Times Higher Education, September 2020) by building a simple business model to show that weekly small groups are affordable for large cohorts once the rest of the module has been redesigned to make face-to-face encounters key to the learning. There is practical help on the model in Lessons from the budget and on streamlining in Making face to face encounters pay.
Affordability will demand serious decluttering of the lecturer’s life and removing duplication and all haphazard or off-the-cuff meetings. The good news is that you can do this while promoting the importance of the time you will spend with your students.
Scalability? Radically new module designs; streamlining out distractions.
The new pedagogy
These ideas cannot be bolted onto the measures taken to survive the last academic year nor adapted to suit them: they require significant re-thinking. However, they can be structured to ease implementation and to get up and running relative quickly.
Scalability? Think hard; implement in viable steps; get senior support for the (creatively modest) changes needed to your regulatory processes.
Terry Young is Director of Datchet Consulting and Emeritus Professor at Brunel University. He specialises in challenges across the borders of industry, health and academia. His earlier career was first in commercial R&D and then as a university professor.