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Whats does the expression at scale mean?

Does it mean "on a larger scale" or does it mean "at a level appropriate to the what's available"? I came up with these two definitions by looking the expression up on the internet, but I still feel very confused.

Here are two sentences:

Over the course of that first afternoon, the next months, and finally over several years, we honed our practice activities into tools that could help make teachers better, at scale

If you seek to do somethings great, you most likely live a battle for talent – for smart and capable people who can do great things at scale.

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    Can you please also give the example of where you first saw it and which, presumably, prompted this question?
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 12:58
  • I'm reading a book called "Practice Perfect", which talks about the power of practice in Education...
    – Maria M.
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 13:05
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    I meant, can you please copy the sentences where you first read it - or are those the sentences you have copied?
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 16:08
  • these are the sentences I have copied...
    – Maria M.
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 16:56
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    The two sentences look to be written a technical dialect. As such, general references won't pin down the term's correct meaning in context. For that, you'll have to go to the Education literature. Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 17:23

6 Answers 6

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See scalability (Wiki)

scalability is the ability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work in a capable manner or its ability to be enlarged to accommodate that growth.

In the given cases,

tools that could help make teachers better, at scale

implies those that could measure up to the size of the task.

people who can do great things at scale.

similarly implies people who can do great things when those things manifest in a real-life (larger) systems. It is easier to demonstrate a prototype supersonic aircraft, but extremely complex to build a really usable/ commercial product of the same design concept.

We do not say on a large scale in this context, but instead we say at scale, because the magnitude could either increase or decrease from time to time. Adapting accordingly and producing comparable results in all cases is a challenge in itself. Think prosthetic & orthotic devices, for one.

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    So, in this context, at scale essentially means not just on a small scale. Interesting.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 18:47
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    @J.R. Not quite. My effort was to clarify that it not necessarily up-scaling alone, nor is it about uncommonly large sizes. Scalability relates only to difference in size, in either direction, to a smaller or greater extent on the scale. In some cases, small is difficult, in yet others, 'scaling' to a particular size is difficult. Think microminiaturization; think custom-designed medical devices to fit an individual patient.
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 15, 2013 at 4:33
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    Kris: I was unfamiliar with that phrase until I read your answer; it prompted me to look up some example usages. In this case (i.e., in the quotes cited by the O.P.), I think the phrase does mean not just on a small scale, in that the authors are saying that their techniques won't just help one or two teachers here and there, but have the potential to improve an institution's faculty at scale. I understand your point, though, about how the phrase is flexible enough to go in the "smaller" direction. Like I said, this was interesting.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 15, 2013 at 8:33
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In the software world, the idea of "at scale" refers to automation or other tools that lets you execute some needed task or great idea easily, no matter how many machines or applications or whatever need to be changed. In other words, if you have to go and change each machine or application one by one, then clearly you can't operate "at a large scale" effectively. If you have some way to just press a button and have all the changes made automatically, no matter how many machines or applications you are talking about, then you are able to make those changes "at scale."

In the example the questioner gave, my guess would be that they were creating training tools that can be delivered locally, and do not require the experts who created them to go deliver the training. The former could reach an infinite number of teachers, i.e., "at scale"; the latter could not.

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I think it's the same as 'at a large scale' when used loosely. I've got an example that reads 'Provide powerful and easy-to-use solutions at scale.' This, in my opinion, means that those solutions are intended for a large group of recipients, not just a few, which is why I think the meaning is the same as in 'at a large scale.'

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Dictionaries give different definitions. YourDictionary

at scale: on a large scale: involving large amounts or volumes of something

and Wiktionary

at scale [prepositional phrase]

On a large scale: involving large amounts or volumes of something.

  • This manufacturing process is fine for a cottage industry, but it can't be done at scale.

give a purely (large-!) size-related definition.

LawInsider [amended slightly]

[Proven] at scale means that the proof needs to involve more than a lab test, a pilot, or a single small region. It means that recycling of a certain packaging type needs to be proven to work in practice in multiple regions, collectively representing a significant geographical area in terms of population size, ideally across different country and city archetypes. This to indicate that the recycling in practice is replicable, and that the design of the packaging is not the barrier to realise recycling in practice in other countries.

gives a corresponding meaning, 'across the board / in all contexts / not niche'

while The Computer Language Company Inc. (courtesy of the Free Dictionary)

at scale A phrase that means at the required size to solve the problem. At scale typically refers to handling larger volumes.

and Martin Lassen at GrammarHow

'At scale' is an expression that implies that something has the needed requirements to handle a task or problem. It has to do with something or someone being good enough to tackle an issue. It is mostly used when speaking technically.

give a required-size–related definition (the Computer Language Company definition with the caveat that this usually means using larger volumes).

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It always just means “at a large scale”. It’s an example of a phrase where no one knows its origin, no one can explain why we use those words to mean that thing, we all just agree on what it means. But in this case many people will wax poetic about scalability. (The rules are to back this up, so: this answer is based on 24 years as a professional software engineer.)

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Regarding the possible, or the intended, meaning of "At Scale": Consider the difference between "Like I said" and "As I said". In the former, the referenced is similar but not identical to what had been said. In the latter, the reference is intended to be identical to what had been said. Speakers need to indicate which of the possibilities is to be taken as the case. Pre-language hominids must have had some way of distinguishing between the signal of immanent danger from a Sabre Toothed Tiger and an example of the sound of an attacking Sabre Tooth Tiger.

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    Hi, welcome to the site. Does this answer the question? Please clarify, and do take a moment for the tour and the help center.
    – livresque
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 3:46

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