Change in Digital Learning Environments

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Weiner (2009) looks to “…define organizational readiness for change… (p. 6). In a perfect world, this preamble is necessary to make institutional changes that are costly and time-consuming. Readiness is an essential step in change-making, but as educators are keenly aware, organizations were not given a chance to ready themselves for COVID-19. This is especially true for K-12 education, which is where I find myself amid many changes. Online learning became a reality for the majority overnight; in a world where just days prior, online learning was a choice for the few. This rapid and necessary pivot that many educators and learners have made is nothing that any theory or model could have prepared us for.

Leading in this particular digital learning environment requires empathy, patience and grace. In reading and dissecting the various models and theories of change, Al-Haddad & Kotnour (2015) describe Lewin’s method from 1946 as “…unfreezing the current state of the organization… (p. 248)”. COVID-19 sure did that! I also appreciate the concision on Lewin’s method.

If we indeed are in the change stage of Lewin’s method, this is where good leadership plays a role. On a macro scale, folks look to political leaders in times of world crises such as these. On a micro-scale, in our jobs, for example, we need just as much security and reassurance. Castelli (2016) writes, “… archaic leadership practices and traditional thinking will not propel growth in an ever-changing and highly perplexing transnational marketplace” (p. 217). In the K-12 education system, the shift to digital learning has meant principals and other administrators need to be good leaders. Some are, and some are not.

For some K-12 institutions, their leaders are not digital natives. Therefore, the quick decisions regarding digital learning that needed to happen at the beginning of the pandemic were stalled and hampered due to leadership’s lack of knowledge and experience in online learning environments. Not all districts and leaders had these issues, but unfortunately, I venture to guess many did.

I look forward to moving through this change stage. The days when COVID-19 is in our rear-view, and we can begin to refreeze in the ideological, digital-learning-playgrounds we shall find ourselves enjoying together.


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.

Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development35(2), 217–236.

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science4(67), 1–9.

3 thoughts on “Change in Digital Learning Environments”

  1. I really appreciate your perspective on this, Sandra. As an instructor in post-secondary, I am curious about the transition for K-12 and how it differed from my own experience. The school I teach in is fairly new (about five years old) and it would be hard to say we ever reached a state of “freeze.” Reading your post helped me realize the difficulties of the transition for a school system that has been around for far longer and where many in leadership may be able to simply maintain the status quo rather than work toward change. You’ve referred to the current state as being “change” and looking forward to refreezing and I am interested in how you feel your school district might attempt to transition into that freeze. Will the refreeze be somewhat communicated from leadership or do you think it might be a gradual return to education as it once was without anyone really talking about it?

    1. Hi David,

      Thanks for your question. I actually think it will not be a return to education as it once was. I see all around me, stakeholders in education realizing how digital environments can play a vital role in helping to solve some of the past issues education has been faced with. We see a connection with youth through technology, we are seeing ways to bring rural communities into a more equitable educational playground as the ‘city kids’ (with the right infrastructure and resources, of course), we see cost-effective ways of delivering learning to students who find themselves unable to attend a brick-and-mortar school (for health or other reasons), and more educational leaders are now seeing the value of online learning than ever before.

      As far as how this change is communicated and maintained remains to be seen. If only the leaders in the vast school districts across the country could take this course to learn how change theory and leadership might aid them in their journey, we might have a hope of seeing real change.

      1. That sounds so interesting! It will be fascinating to see how different districts and education levels (eg., K-12 vs. higher ed) will respond post-pandemic. It appears there have been many areas of benefit but, as you’ve said, it remains to be seen how leaders will use change theory to settle back into a new norm. My conversations with colleagues suggest that many post-secondary institutions will settle back into the comfort of what was done before, but it will be interesting to see how reality will differ from predictions.

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