Leading Change in Higher Education and Digital Learning Environments

A sign that says change.

Please note: This blog post is a course related assessment for the Master of Arts in Learning and Technology program at Royal Roads University.

While reviewing the readings for unit two on the topic of leading change, I found myself reflecting on my past two years working within the Centre for Academic and Faculty Enrichment at Durham College. Within my first year in the department, I reported into five separate managers and our department structure and roles within the department significantly changed. The initial changes to our department occurred in small scale changes that were easier to manage and did not require leadership to see through, aligning with the views of Boga, Ensari, and Stock (as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). Once our new Dean joined the department, we had a strong leader that worked with our team through the challenges and process of transforming our department to meet the needs of our evolving institution. Weller and Anderson (2013) state, “Higher education institutions face a number of opportunities and challenges as the result of the digital revolution” (para. 1). As an individual who assists academics with incorporating digital technologies into their teaching practices, I regularly see the problems that occur when managing change in digital learning environments.

Educational technologies are a rapidly changing aspect of higher education (Udas, 2008), with digital content and networking continuously providing new possibilities for post-secondary institutions (Weller & Anderson, 2013). In my experience, I have viewed two common traits when new technologies are successfully launched within a digital learning environment. These traits are project planning and employee buy-in. Change within an organization occurs over a period of time, and for an increased probability of a successful change, proper planning needs to occur, while outlining the key factors of successful completion (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). Implementing large projects that affect the entire institution requires several employees contribution and tends to be more successful when employees value the change that is occurring (Weiner, 2009). A leader is able to motivate individuals to complete their set goal (Khan, 2017), allowing for employees to work towards an institutional goal with a shared mindset of commitment between all team members (Weiner, 2009).

After completing the readings from unit one and reading A theory of organizational readiness for change by Bryan Weiner, I believe that the role of a leader in digital change is motivating and supporting employees throughout the change management. Weiner (2009) states “The more organizational members value the change, the more they will want to implement the change, or, put differently, the more resolve they will feel to engage in the courses of action involved in change implementation” (p. 3). Additionally, leaders should consistently seek out ways to improve areas of an institution (Sheninger, 2014); however, the improvements should be strategic and thought out. I have seen several digital technologies purchased that did not solve an educational problem and without the involvement of faculty in the purchasing process. These specific types of purchases often result in the technologies not being used in the learning environments.  

With motivation being a key aspect of changing, I am interested to know if you are more motivated with change when your employer involves you throughout the change process?


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.

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).

Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of digital leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education.

Udas, K. (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).

Weller, M., & Anderson, T. (2013). Digital Resilience in Higher Education. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning.

0 thoughts on “Leading Change in Higher Education and Digital Learning Environments

  • Christy Boyce says:

    HI Brandon, thanks for the great post. You mention that your new leader had worked with your team through any change difficulties and through the overall process of change as you transformed your department. Would you be able to give any examples (that you can remember) of interactions, activities or communications that occurred that made you feel supported? I am working as a Project Lead right now and will be introducing a large care-process change into two acute care hospitals in the coming months. I have 18 yrs experience in the front lines of care and can empathize with what I would want from leadership to support this change, but I am always entertaining ideas on supportive strategies. What are some activities that made you feel motivated and supported?
    In Biech’s (2007)work on thriving through change, he notes some ethical responsibilities that I want to also be aware of as I support a change in healthcare. Biech (2007) mentioned raising issues that the organization cannot raise itself, listening to opposing views and enabling participation. Through all project meetings, I have been very vocal in my expectation to have front line practitioners developing the clinical workflow processes for this new strategy of care. I have been clear that I would move our GoLive date to support this action occurring as it is that important to me and the success of the change. Can you think of any particular ethical considerations your leader positively exemplified during your change process?


    Biech, E. (2007). Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD [Books24x7 database]

  • Hi Brandon, your post resonated with me, as I too previously worked in a similar capacity as you did and have been part of several changes taken by my institution. When my institution first transitioned from manual grade entry to using an LMS for grade preparation and course delivery it was met with resistance by staff.This transition came with many challenges, such as 1. Technology resistance, 2. preferred traditional methods, 3. lack of readiness by staff etc. These challenges could have been easily dealt with if staff were involved in the change process . Weiner (2009) highlighted that “organizational readiness is likely to be highest when organizational members not only want to implement an organizational change and but also feel confident that they can do so” (p.3). He further noted that “When organizational readiness is high, organizational members will exhibit more pro-social, change-related behavior–that is, actions supporting the change effort that exceed job requirements or role expectations” (p. 5). Furthermore, Weiner (2009) literature on organizational readiness, and my past experiences, I do believe that staff will be motivated, being intimately involved in the change process and will be inclined at making the change successful.
    Do you think there is a need for a change management experts or change management framework to be present or built-in within our organizations (DLE’s)? Do you think such experts or frameworks will lessen such challenges that we are currently experiencing within our DLEs’?

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

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