Managing Ongoing Change for Digital Learning Environments. Original graphic by David Piechnik can be found here.

Change sticks when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here,’ when it seeps into the bloodstream of the corporate body.(Kotter, 2007, p. 67)

Rather than a method of change that addresses major organizational shifts, I offer a method that makes change an organizational norm and encourages ongoing change from each member. Digital learning environments are complex, as are the institutions that use them. Therefore, my method uses the perspective of open systems theory which considers the dynamic nature of organizational environments, necessitating a state of almost continuous change (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). Through discussion with my colleagues, it was clear that the most meaningful changes were ones they had a direct hand in ideating and implementing (J. Clemens, personal communication, February 17, 2021; P. Flegel, personal communication, February 17, 2021). For P. Flegel, a desire to provide students with real-world learning scenarios resulted in synchronicity between two courses through digital collaboration with another instructor. In the case of J. Clemens, the change was initiated by a student who discovered a hardware limitation that affected their ability to meet required learning objectives, requiring a rapid shift to a virtual environment. Lengthy change management processes would have delayed the improvements, thereby losing the opportunity to improve students’ learning. Instead, their changes highlight the importance of a culture that promotes and encourages ongoing change from every organizational level. As such, it follows a path of defining and developing a culture of change, empowering members to adopt ongoing change behaviours, promoting risk taking, rewarding change, and spreading change throughout the organization.

Undergirding my method is Kotter’s (1995) eight-step approach to change. Though our methods share the goal of making “fundamental changes in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a new, more challenging market environment” (Kotter, 1995, p. 59), they diverge in the type of changes they aim to make and how they build those changes. For example, Kotter framed his method around making major organizational changes, starting by building urgency. However, my method removes the urgency and empowers all levels within an organization to make smaller, adaptive changes as they see the need. The two colleagues I spoke with were both able to effect change because their workplace culture freed them to act, mostly without hindrance, when a situation arose. Flexibility in digital learning environments (DLEs) is key to creating an effective space for students, yet most DLE platforms do not allow for this (Feldstein, 2017). Therefore, it is necessary that organizations create a workplace that equips instructors with the skills and authority to make ongoing changes to their learning environment.

These learning environments are not only DLE platforms provided by the institution, but sometimes instructors must be free to incorporate other digital tools to ensure students can achieve required outcomes. In one instance, an instructor mentioned to J. Clemens (personal communication, February 17, 2021) a hardware issue that was keeping students from creating a virtual server environment. Tools taught in another course presented J. Clemens with the idea to use an Amazon Web Services (AWS) tool to resolve the issue. The change was rapidly integrated into the curriculum, and those involved simply made organizational leadership aware of the challenge met and the change created. Alternately, P. Flegel (personal communication, February 17, 2021) revealed that their previous educational environments had not encouraged change or collaboration between members. This reduced instructor’s abilities to change digital learning environments to effectively meet student needs, hampering their overall education experience. To ensure ongoing change is effective, everyone involved should see the value in the change, and the organizational culture must give them the authority and confidence to initiate it.

Organizations must address internal roadblocks to ensure they do not interfere with small-scale ongoing change. Conversation with P. Flegel (personal communication, February 17, 2021) revealed difficulty in making the collaborative classes co-requisites, thereby diminishing the effectiveness of the change due to students not being required to take the courses at the same time. The lack of internal resources and cooperation resulted in failure of that aspect of the change. While the culture in one part of the organization may be supportive of change, organizational leadership needs to create an overarching culture of change that will remove these obstacles (Kotter, 1995).

All members of an organization need to be on board for these changes to be effective. Organizational leadership must encourage risk-taking, remove barriers, recognize attempts at change, equip members to engage in ongoing change, and build intra-organizational cooperation that spreads the lessons learned. This change begins from the top, but it creates change behaviour throughout the whole organization that will result in more effective large-scale change in the future (Weiner, 2009).

References

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. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

Feldstein, M. (2017, May 28). A Flexible, Interoperable Digital Learning Platform: Are We There Yet? E-Literate. https://eliterate.us/flexible-interoperable-digital-learning-platform-yet/

Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 59–67.

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(1), 67. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

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