Leading Change in Digital Learning Environments


Leading change in digital learning environments depends on the strength of the leadership involved in the process. To gain insight from a more diverse perspective set, I interviewed two leaders from two separate areas of my work. I interviewed Dan Bourdage, COO of RaceRocks 3D and a NTDC(P) Commander (Cmdr.) at the Royal Canadian Navy who asked that he not be named. The culmination of these interviews and the course readings to date lead me to the creation of seven steps to leading change in digital learning environments.

Step 1 – Is change needed?

At the beginning of the change process, assessing the need for change is essential. If the proposed change could be organizationally disruptive, a logical explanation for its adoption will be required to facilitate engagement. That being said, not all change has to fix a problem, change for the sake of innovation or momentum like that of the insurrection model is also valid. (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015) However, being able to articulate why the change is important is key to gaining buy-in.

Step 2 – What are the expected outcomes?

Both the interview subjects stated clearly understanding the expectations of the change when creating the plan was imperative to its success.   

Step 3 – Are we ready? 

Operational readiness is a term the Navy employs frequently. It translates as well to organizational readiness as “implementation is often a ‘team sport’”. (Weiner, 2009) 

Step 4 – What’s the Plan?

Ensuring any documentation and communications are clear. “Always perform a sanity check” (D. Bourdage, personal communication, Feb 17, 2020) with an expert if one is available or an objective colleague if one is not. However, planning to plan can become a vicious cycle. Both interview subjects agreed with Weiner’s findings that there comes the point where regardless of the remaining questions, confidence needs to show and be communicated effectively. (Weiner, 2009)

Step 4 – How are the staff?  

The Cmdr. shared insights into people management in the armed forces. While transactional leadership is the expected methodology, orders given, orders followed. Other approaches fair more successfully in times of change. With the Navy moving into the Future Naval Training Strategy, adoption of digital environments is required and challenging for a military service whom has been late adopters of many technologies. Approaching those who struggle with the change from an adaptive or reflective leadership stance is more likely to improve engagement. (Khan, 2017)

Step 6 – Go Time! 

The plan has been created, its time to go. During the interview, Dan said that an “implantation plans will live or die by its communication strategy” (D. Bourdage, personal communication, Feb 17, 2020) this viewpoint aligned closely to stated by Biech. (Biech, 2009)

Step 7 – What did we learn? 

Reflection after the implementation on what went well and what could have been improved upon was a point stressed by Dan. His belief is that even though each change is different, we as leaders can only learn from them if we look back in a timely manner to self-reflect and analyze where we could have improved.  


As a result of the course readings and the interviews conducted, I believe that numerous theories and models can and should be applied strategically to manage change for digital learning environments. Leading change not merely about the execution of a plan but the shared vision of what the plan can bring.

Al-Haddad, S. and Kotnour, T. (2015), “Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change”, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 234-262. https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

Biech, E. (2007). Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD [Retrieved from Skillsoft e-book database]

Canada. Department of National Defence. A-PD-050-000/AG-003, Royal Canadian Navy Future Naval Training Strategy. Ottawa: DND Canada, 2015.

Castelli, P. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or Transactional Leadership in Current Higher Education: A Brief Comparison. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(3). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i3.3294

Kotter, J. (1996). Leading change (Professional development collection). Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Weiner, B.J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Sci 4, 67 https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

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