Spread and Scale in the Digital Age

Project: Research project

Project Details


Since 2006, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has been engaged in an initiative on Digital Media and Learning. After an initial exploratory phase devoted to understanding how learning is changing as a result of digital media, the Foundation has supported several innovative programs that draw on this new knowledge to design model learning systems for youth in both in- and out-of-school settings. The DML initiative now faces the challenge of spreading these new programs to more schools, libraries, and other youth- serving institutions in order to meet its goal of “creating, at sufficient scale, the conditions to continually test, refine, and expand the ideas, practices, and policies that emerged from Phase 1 and now constitute Connected Learning” (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 2012). The MacArthur Foundation is not alone in its current concern about spread and scale. Funders, policy makers, educational leaders, and advocates for children and youth have a strong interest in bringing approaches that positively impact youth to larger numbers of youth and youth-serving agencies. There is also a developing field of scholarship on this issue, which has documented the challenges of spread and scale (Berends et al., 2002; Coburn, 2003; Coburn, Russell, Kaufman & Stein, 2012; Datnow et al., 2002; Hargreaves & Fink, 2000; McLaughlin & Mitra, 2001; Tyack & Cuban, 1995), and provided some insights into successful strategies (Peurach, 2011; Glazer & Peurach, 2012). However, most of what we know about scale-up and its challenges comes from the pre-digital age. Existing research on spread and scale with programs for youth focuses on conventional programs: traditional curricula, whole school reform models, or specific instructional strategies. It also focuses primarily on spreading promising programs through face-to-face interaction: meetings, professional development, coaching. The advent of digital media has changed the equation substantially. Digital media programs for youth create new challenges around spread and scale. They require new ways of engaging with youth, different ways of configuring physical space, and new ways of imagining the boundaries between learning inside and outside of school (Gee & Hayes, 2011; Ito et al., 2010; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, & Robison, 2006). Scaling up these innovations not only requires substantial attention to the technological infrastructure in schools and other youth serving organization, it also requires the development of social and human capacities necessary to support these new ways of working with youth (Collins & Halverson, 2009; Papert, 1993; Warschauer & Matuchniak, 2010; Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, & Byers, 2002). At the same time, technological developments in the last decade have created alternative pathways for scale-up. The explosion of the internet in general and social media in particular has created new ways for teachers and others to get information about digital media and other innovations. These technologies have also created new ways of providing support to teachers and other adults who seek to implement novel innovations, including on-line professional development and support communities. New technologies are also more interactive than traditional mechanisms for scale up, pushing us to move past conceptions of scale-up as unidirectional and transactive to consider the ways it can be bi-directional and interactive. All of this suggests the need to reconsider existing conceptualizations of spread and scale and investigate new strategies for foste
Effective start/end date8/1/149/30/17


  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (14-106412-000-USP)


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