Leading Change in Digital Learning

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I used to believe, when leading change in digital learning, that it was best to be efficient: decide what needs to be done, then make a plan and follow the plan.  I now see that these projects did not give sufficient time and energy to important factors such as reflection (Castelli, 2015) and organizational readiness (Weiner, 2009).  I have also learned that it is critical in organizational change to create and follow both a project management plan and a change management plan.  I have experienced organizational change where several steps in both these plans were completed hastily or ignored completely.  Many skip the first steps of change management, such as identifying why there is a need to change and why now is the time to do so, ensuring the organization is ready for change, and ensuring all leaders are consistent in understanding what the change will be, how it will occur, and how it will be shared with other members.  Too many organizations jump straight into formalizing and initiating the change (Ruth, 2020).  In addition, many organizations do not fully evaluate, debrief, and celebrate the success at the end of the change process.  I now believe these oversights are why most attempts at change fall short of the intended objectives, are cancelled, or are delivered but never used (Watt, 2014, p. 13).

How can I help lead successful change within my organization?  I now have an understanding of some key models and templates on change and project management and knowledge of how to apply these to my organization’s unique context.  I can encourage organizational readiness by helping myself and other leaders provide a unified message to other members in the organization regarding why the change is necessary, what will change, and how it will change, and encourage other members’ feedback to help everyone involved “perceive the change as needed, important, [and] worthwhile” (Weiner, 2009, Summary, para. 3).  I can also encourage and participate in the celebration of successes that occur throughout the change process to ensure members’ efforts are acknowledged and appreciated.  Even a small gesture such as thanking someone in an email or in person can go a long way to continue the organization’s engagement and readiness for future change.

Of course, reality is messy and “achieving change in a world ever more defined by complexity is difficult” (Conway, Masters, & Thorold, 2017, p. 3).  As people around the world face the unprecedented effects of COVID-19, this could not be truer.  Even the best intentions and the greatest innovations can face huge barriers to change, such as cultural norms, regulations, market readiness, competing incentives, and media response (Conway, Masters, & Thorold, 2017, p. 12).  We need to deeply understand the system being targeted – the big picture – and use that knowledge to identify the most promising opportunities to change.  We need to educate ourselves of current research, apply relevant models and processes, understand our organizations’ unique contexts and how they fit in the bigger, complex system of our society and world, and come together and communicate with our organizational members and stakeholders.  Although Megginson (1963) was referring to civilization, it also rings true for leading change in digital learning environments: “Change is the basic law of nature….  It is not the most intellectual… that survives; it is not the strongest that survives [but] the one that is able to adapt to the changing physical, social, political, moral, and spiritual environment in which it finds itself” (as cited in Matzke, 2009, para. 2).


Castelli, P. A. (2015). Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236. DOI:10.1108/JMD-08-2015-0112

Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J. (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. Royal Society of Arts, Action and Research Centre. Retrieved from https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_from-design-thinking-to-system-change-report.pdf

Matzke, N. (2009, September 3). Survival of the Pithiest [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/09/survival-of-the-1.html

Ruth, S. (2020, February 24). Leading change in digital learning environments [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0119/leading-change-in-digital-learning-environments/

Watt, A. (2014). Project Management. Victoria, BC: BCcampus. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/.

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