Change Management in Digital Learning Environments

Change.  That word elicits emotions ranging from trepidation to exhilaration.  Change management theories can help leaders in digital learning environments guide their teams through changes, ensuring a successful implementation.  With the speed that technology is advancing, change is the norm rather than the exception. While there is no formula to enable a leader to manage change perfectly, there are tools available to help him or her when the need arises.

I had the opportunity to discuss change implementation in digital environments with three individuals who have experience with this field.  Two of these individuals work in government and one works in post-secondary.  These conversations contributed to the ideas behind the infographic (figure 1) regarding change management along with literature on the topic, and my experiences with change.

“A good room set-up can’t make the class succeed by itself, but a bad room set-up can make it fail” (Feldstein, 2017, para. 5).  While this quote does not directly address change in digital learning environments, it does connect to it.  Often change is for the best or required due to adjustments in surrounding variables; without a well-planned execution, no matter the value of the change, it can fail.  Digital environments come with added challenges since much, if not all, of the team is inaccessible face-to-face.  If the change is unsuccessful, the effortless choice is to blame the change without looking at each component.  If this occurs, it takes a strong reflective practice to discover what happened.  According to Catelli (2016), reflecting on events can help leaders learn about the people they have on their team, and how events affect their industry (p. 217).  Providing leaders with strong tools to use, including to encourage empathy and learning throughout the process as indicated in the infographic (figure 1), will help provide a good (figurative) room set-up, increasing the probability of successful implementation.

The importance of clear and frequent communication was a common theme in the conversations with those in my network (J. Brown, personal communication, February 21, 2020; K. Mart, personal communication, February 17, 2020; F. Peermohamed, personal communication, February 20, 2020), ensuring its place in my checklist.  Al-Haddad & Kotnour (2015) also believe that communication is key to creating an atmosphere so “content, people, and process [come together to] lead to successful change” (p.244).  By keeping communication open between levels of staff (i.e., top-down and bottom-up), the entire team remains informed regarding the impact of each step on the environment (F. Peermohamed, personal communication, February 20, 2020).  Communication also facilitates answering What’s in it for me? which helps staff members know more about the change, the benefit to them, their work, and their productivity.

Mart and Peermohamed discussed the value of the change model they use, Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement (ADKAR) (K. Mart, personal communication, February 17, 2020; F. Peermohamed, personal communication, February 20, 2020).  As they explained this model, I realized that it has a lot in common with Theory O (Biech, 2007, para. 6) as each one focuses on participation between the organization, the leader of the change, and the staff members.  If used in a digital learning environment, these theories encourage team members to work with the change.  Weiner (2009) posits that when team members accept the change, regardless of the reason, they are more apt to accept the transformation.

The team on which Brown is a member does not use a change management theory (J. Brown, personal communication, February 18, 2020).  In listening to her describe what is taking place, I believe the leader applied systems theory (Biech, 2007, para. 3) to implement the digital change across two organizations; also, the team consists of members from both organizations, resulting in change for both systems.  Early in the project, the leader of the team engaged the members in an activity, in a face-to-face setting, which encouraged empathy throughout the project (J. Brown, personal communication, February 18, 2020).  Once the members returned to their home site, the activity connected them and provided the necessary tools to continue the work surrounding the change, following systems theory (Beich, 2007, p. 3).

Leading digital change is a challenging task.  In order to have a successfully implemented change, leaders need to have tools available throughout the process.  Based on my conversations with two leaders of digital change management and one member of an ongoing team experiencing digital change, teams, by nature of the knowledge, skills, and personalities of the members, have differing needs.  It is up to the leader to select and apply the best tools and approaches to ensure success.

Figure 1


Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management28(2), 234-262. Retrieved from

Biech, E. (2007). Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD

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

Feldstein, M. (2017, May 28). A flexible, interoperable digital learning platform: Are we there yet? [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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

1 thought on “Change Management in Digital Learning Environments

  1. Hi Kathy – Thank you for your insightful post and infographic. There were several sections of your post that resonated with me and my experiences.

    You mention WIIFM as it relates to employees knowing what will happen in the future. I believe that everything we do as facilitators or instructional designers must incorporate WIIFM from the perspective of the participant. We are designing or delivering learning that is relevant to their needs. (My experience is in business rather than an academic setting.) If this is considered at all times (WIIFM) participants are far more engaged because the learning is timely and relevant to them.

    You have also mentioned team members accepting change which relates to organizational readiness. Weiner, (2009) suggested that “commitment to change refers to organizational members’ shared resolve to pursue the courses of action involved in change implementation (p. 2). Depending upon the team members perspective they may or may not value the change. However, even during times of uncertainty and change the leader can create WIIFM for team members when each member feels their contributions are valued. People want to feel and know that they matter.



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

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