Managing Change for Learning in Digital Environments

Learning technologies are emerging rapidly in higher education, and institutions are looking to concurrently evolve to maintain relevance and to provide the best digital learning environments.  Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015) provided a research synthesis for the history of change management and deduced that less than thirty percent of organizational change initiatives are successful.  Being a part of past organizational change initiatives within healthcare and educational contexts, I have witnessed both the successful and unsuccessful processes and products of change management, and I strongly believe that leadership plays an integral role.  There is ample evidence to support that innovative leaders require characteristic skills in order to be successful in driving change initiatives (Sheninger, 2019; Kouzes and Posner, 2012; Kanter, 2000).  Common attributes pin-pointed in these studies included the ability of leaders to be creativeforward-thinking, and to embrace change.  

Managing change for learning in digital environments presents unique challenges.  I work closely with educators from various programs, from certificate to degree, with varying levels of digital literacies and pedagogical understandings, and support them in integrating educational technologies into their practice.  Given the diverse nature of the educators I support, implementing learning technologies requires an individualized approach.  Leaders driving the change for learning in digital environments must recognize this diversity and the importance of the inclusion of educators in the strategic planning process.  Khan and Smuts (2005) studied the barriers of technologyenhanced learning among more than a dozen European educational institutions and discovered that one of the key solutions to abolishing these barriers included support for the integration of technology to support pedagogy.  Educators need opportunities for professional development in both pedagogical approaches and educational technologies.  

Witnessing change from somewhere in the middle, amongst the educators, the students, and the leadership, I believe that in order to truly innovate our culture and to drive the change, those expected to use the innovations need to be included in the process.  Biech (2007) argued that one of the keys to success in promoting change is involving stakeholders at all levels that are impacted by the change and offered several frameworks to support the success of organizational change, including Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  I believe that an AI approach could promote progress in implementing educational technologies within my context, as it includes the voices of all stakeholders. According to Biech (2007), AI identifies the current positives, dreams about what could be, and implements what will be, all the while, from a vantage point of appreciation.  This approach speaks to me as I prefer to approach the challenges of change through a positive lens.  AI is a framework that allows stakeholders to dream; therefore, forwardthinking, creative leaders who embrace educational technologies would be well suited to leading this approach.  More importantly, AI allows for an inclusive process in which all participants collaborate to drive the organizational transformation, which can support successful outcomes in change initiatives.  

What approach do you think your organization should take to manage change for digital learning environments? 


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 Press. 

Khan, H., & Smuts, R. (2005). Comparison of change management guidelines to address technology adoption barriers: A case study of higher educational institutions. Journal of Theoretical and Applied Information Technology, 97(7), 1999-2020.  

Sheninger, E. (2019, December). Pillars of Digital Leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education. Retrieved from 

4 thoughts on “Managing Change for Learning in Digital Environments

  1. Hi Lisa,

    Your thoughtful consideration of involving and collaborating with the people that are most impacted by a change resonates with me. I experienced change management at different levels- from leading, facilitating and receiving, and from my experience, one of the success determinants is involving the people that will be most impacted by the change being implemented. I think organizations should take the approach of reflective and adaptive leadership when managing change . Change management is complex as it deals not only with the external factors but as well as the internal factors- group dynamics, organizational culture, and individuals’ perception of change. As Weiner (2009) asserted “organizational readiness for change is a multi-level, multi-faceted construct. As an organization-level construct, readiness for change refers to organizational members’ shared resolve to implement a change (change commitment) and shared belief in their collective capability to do so (change efficacy).” Hence, leaders need to be acutely aware of the complexities involving change management. And as you stated AI could be an effective tool to ensure all voices are heard in the system.

    Weiner, B. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67). Retrieved from

    1. Thank you for sharing your past experience Sharon, your perspective as someone who has engaged in change initiatives through various lenses is appreciated.

      I agree with Weiner’s (2009) conclusion that two requirements are needed for organizational change to be successful, nevertheless, I think that wanting to change organizational systems is more common than believing in the changes. Involving stakeholders at all levels could potentially help with this buy-in.

      As I continue to interview various colleagues to seek elements of change success, I will keep Weiner’s (2009) two key requirements in mind.

      Thanks for posting your thoughts!

      Weiner, B. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67). Retrieved from

  2. Hi Lisa,
    I couldn’t agree more with your observation regarding the unique challenges present when changes in learning are proposed. I believe that is primarily due to the clash of generations and individual autonomy. The tension generated between the autonomy of the instructors to do as they deem best and the students demand for modernization of learning.

    In his book Digital Leadership – Changing Paradigms for Changing Times Sheninger observes that today’s learning institutions are still building graduates designed to fit the needs of the twentieth century. Producing employees for the assembly line and not for today’s fast paced 21st century digital world of collaborative work and independent thinking (Sheninger, 2018).

    In my experience, any time I have attempted to engage my coworkers on the subject of change I am met with strong resistance. This resistance seems to stem from a lack of understanding of the need for change and confusion between what a potential change in delivery practice is; somehow associating change with making the course easier. For some reason most relate change with “lowering the bar so everyone gets a gold star” in spite of me clearly explaining that it does not have to mean altering content, just how it is delivered (though it certainly could include content revision).

    As I contemplated your question regarding an appropriate change model for my context, I feel that the six step CHANGE model resonated most with me (Biech, 2007). I note that more effort must be spent on step 1 defined as Challenge the Current State. This is the step that addresses the question of why change is needed and specifically in my context, there seems to be no recognition that the changes would result in an improved future through innovation.

    The difficulty for me is that I am not a leader within the group, being the junior faculty member so I need to find a way to identify change in a way that is less threatening to the established system. Currently my approach is to lead by example and institute delivery and content change within my own courses and hope to gain buy in through recognition of student successes. I can affirm that student conversations are gaining momentum so there is hope yet.

    Thank you for your thought provoking post.

    Biech, E. (2007). Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery.$1544:_ss_book:22651#summary/BOOKS/RW$1544:_ss_book:22651
    Sheninger, E. (2018). Digital Leadership Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. (Second Edition) [Audiobook]. Retrieved from

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic Owen, I appreciate your perspective.

    I absolutely agree that resistance to change is often due to the perceptual stigma that is perpetuated by others, who are also resistant to change. Good for you to be a champion of change in your organization even though it sounds like a tough sell.

    Persistence can help you to persevere in these situations. As you have noted, you think that Biech’s (2007) approach may work – by challenging the current state and providing the rationale to motivate the late adopters, you may find they begin to come on board.

    Change is never easy, but having champions like you in the workplace can make change a little easier for those that are struggling.

    Again, your thoughts are much appreciated,

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