Leading change successfully in digital learning environments is an essential skill in the current rapidly changing digital ecosystem. According to Al-Haddad & Kotnour (2015) “change has become the norm for organizations to sustain their success and existence” (p. 234). Furthermore, for Udas and Masson (2008), online learning represents one of the most dynamic areas “in a rapidly growing part (educational technology) of a changing sector (higher education)” (para. 1).
Thus, in order to embrace change in digital learning environments, I have created a roadmap for those, who would like to successfully navigate and lead change in Higher Education. In my interview with two experts, who are the professors in the School of Transformative Leadership, I have focused on how they navigated change from physical to digital classroom and their successes and challenges along the way as they have been leading change in their institution by adopting and developing online courses. Following Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015) change taxonomy, this assignment is focused on the institutional change (guided by the industry change) as implemented by individual professors.
Based on their recommendations and experiences, as well as findings from the literature, this interactive roadmap will focus on steps for successful implementation of change when moving to and adopting online and blended course model Higher Education. The following elements were strategically identified as the elements of the roadmap:
1. Needs assessment. One of the important elements of needs assessment is “understanding where your organization sits today and what processes it needs to improve, change or transform” as an essential first step to implementing change (Moore, 2011, para. 6). According to Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015), “the organization needs to identify the environmental conditions required for the change plan to succeed” (p. 244), which also echoes one of the steps in the Kotter’s Eight-Step Model: Anchor new approaches in the culture (Biech, 2007). Both experts have emphasized the need for knowing their students and understanding their needs. According to one of the experts, every form of leadership is about good relationship and understanding who is in the room with you and what are the needs of these individuals (M. Martin, personal communication, February 24, 2020). Another expert emphasized the importance of listening to what the students are saying and create an open environment for them to express their needs (L. Levesque, personal communication, February 25, 2020).
2. Navigating challenges with integrity: Both experts have shared their challenges in moving towards blended and online learning environments at the beginning, such as struggling to “replicate a sense of community” in a digital classroom, address the needs of students that might be less self-motivated when studying online (L. Levesque, personal communication, February 25, 2020), maintain open communication between the members of the group, and achieve “transformative learning” online (M. Martin, personal communication, February 24, 2020).
3. Harnessing technologies: According to Fledstein (2017), “we now have many more discipline- and pedagogy-specific digital tools that can be incorporated into the learning environments” (para 6). Knowing all the features and potential of the digital tools (such as current LMS) and being able to use them effectively was identified as an important element for leading successful change (L. Levesque, personal communication, February 25, 2020). Furthermore, both experts identified the importance of using expertise, available for them on campus (instructional designers, librarians, etc). (L. Levesque, personal communication, February 25, 2020; M. Martin, personal communication, February 24, 2020).
4. Being an authentic leader. Biech (2007) has emphasized the importance of authenticity in digital learning environments. One of the experts has emphasized the importance of critical self-reflexivity and the capacity of being in tune with the class and adapt accordingly, as well as an ability to be open to constructive criticism (L. Levesque, personal communication, February 25, 2020). The second expert has stated the importance of designated leadership, recognized authentically, through the qualities of the leader (M. Martin, personal communication, February 24, 2020). Furthermore, authenticity is demonstrated in the following advice from the expert: “If in the process of change, the goal of the change itself changes, be ready to go with it” (M. Martin, personal communication, February 24, 2020).
5. Commitment to the success: One of the measurements of the organizational readiness for change, as outlined by Weiner (2009) is a feeling of commitment to “implementing an organizational change” (p. 1). Both experts have expressed their initial reservations about teaching online, but have demonstrated commitment to adapting to this change and succeeding in navigating it with excellence. For example, L. Levesque has stated that her pedagogical stance is a participatory, discussion-based pedagogy, which she was able to successfully implement online by designing diversified forms of assignments and discussions (personal communication, February 25, 2020). Also, M. Martin has stated that her stance: “Teacher is a lead learner” has been applied by her with regards to the digital learning environment (personal communication, February 24, 2020).
6. Leadership characteristics: When asked a question “What leadership qualities do you find most helpful when leading change towards digital learning environment?”, both experts have strongly highlighted the role of adaptive leadership echoing Khan (2017). Other important characteristics of a leader were: openness, flexibility, clear communication, and critical self-reflexivity (L. Levesque, personal communication, February 25, 2020; M. Martin, personal communication, February 24, 2020). Some of the ways adaptive leadership can be manifested in an online learning environment through finding new ways of creating digital content (shorter videos, interviews instead of traditional lectures, reimagining assignments to optimize engagement in the classroom) (L. Levesque, personal communication, February 25, 2020).
In conclusion, it is important to state that the experts I have interviewed have provided a strong example of authentic leadership and offered a critical reflection on their own experience of leading change towards the digital classroom. According to Udas and Masson (2008), “change never seems disruptive, jarring, or radical, instead seeming continuous – a natural progression down a path we discover as we walk it” (para. 6). The experts have demonstrated commitment to the changes brought on by the demands of online teaching and demonstrated a remarkable example of adaptive leadership and navigating change gracefully. The roadmap generated as a result of the interviews with the experts and consultations with the literature on this topic is designed to help others navigate similar changes and inspire commitment and authenticity.
Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262. doi: 10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215
Biech, E. (2007). Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD.
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). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/3294
Moore, C. (2011). The path to business process transformation, KM World, 20(5), 6-7. Retrieved from https://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/Feature/The-path-to-business-process-transformation-75124.aspx
Udas, K. & Masson, P. (2008, June 30). Distributed learning environments and OER: the change management challenge. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20160309200155/http://mfeldstein.com/distributed-learning-environments-and-oer-the-change-management-challenge/
Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67). doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-4-67.