The Multiple Meanings of Scale: Implications for Researchers and Practitioners

Richard Paquin Morel, Cynthia Ellen Coburn, Amy Koehler Catterson, Jennifer Higgs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Interest in the study of scale has grown over the past three decades, yet it still suffers from a lack of conceptual clarity. Despite attempts at conceptualizing scale, there is still wide diversity in how the term “scale” is used. These differences matter. They impact how scale is studied, the strategies used to achieve scale, and the lessons we can draw across studies of the scale of innovations. In this article, we argue that scale is a polysemic and dynamic phenomenon. There are multiple, legitimate definitions of scale, and such definitions can shift over time, depending on the goals and needs of reformers. Drawing upon an extensive review of the literature, we present a typology of scale comprising four predominant conceptualizations in the literature. We detail the conceptualizations and discuss the affordances and challenges of each. We conclude by offering implications of the polysemic, dynamic nature of scale for researchers and reformers. Presenting this typology, we aim to spark new conversations about scale and to help guide future scale research and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-377
Number of pages9
JournalEducational Researcher
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019


  • educational policy
  • educational reform
  • organization theory/change
  • policy
  • qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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