Applying Change Creation to Improve Online Learning (Distance Learning)

Introduction: online learning

AND technology status in Education

Technology offers tremendous opportunities for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of online learning in the future. Over the past few years, technology has been integrated into most areas of education. Most students, faculty, staff, and administrators now use technology extensively in their daily activities and have become reasonably computer and technology literate. However, with this rapid and broad introduction of technology into education and online learning, it, unfortunately, has done surprisingly little towards significantly enhancing the quality and productivity of our learning programs. Meaningful examples of where technology has led to significant improvements in the quality or productivity of online learning are atypical.

According to the report, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U. S. Higher Education (2006), “American higher education has taken little advantage of important innovations that would increase capacity, effectiveness and productivity.”

The report goes on to say that:

Institutions … failed to sustain and nurture innovation in our colleges and universities; … that results of scholarly research on teaching and learning are rarely translated into practice …; that little of the significant research of the past decade in areas such as cognitive science, neurosciences and organizational theory is making it into American classroom practice, whether at the K-12 level or in colleges and universities; our postsecondary institutions have not embraced opportunities for innovations, from new methods of teaching and content delivery to technological advances; both state andfederal policymakers havefailed to make supporting innovation a priority by adequately providing incentives for individuals, employers, and institutions to pursue more opportunities for innovative, effective and efficient practice.

Among the report’s “strategic action” recommendations is:

Our colleges and universities must become more transparent, faster to respond to rapidly changing circumstances and increasingly productive in order to deal effectively with the powerful forces of change they now face.

In an interview for the Chronicle of Higher Education on “E-Learning Successes and Failures” (January 5, 2007), Robert Zemsky, Chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education and co-author of Thwarted Innovation: What Happened to E-Learning and Why (Zemsky & Massy, 2004), puts much of the above in perspective for us relative to e-learning: “I thought that e-learning, through media-rich technology, might provide some solutions, but it hasn’t.” … “But what we call e-learning is often just electronic workbooks.”

Neugent and Fox (January 1, 2007) provide an overarching reflection on the question of the “status of technology in learning” as follows: ” Unfortunately, despite the large outlays of funds for hardware, software, and connectivity, the degree to which technology has been integrated into teaching and learning remains largely disappointing.”


key Limiting Factors

With so much powerful technology available in the educational arena and with it comprehensively permeating education and online learning, why have we been so unsuccessful in using technology to substantially improve general and online learning?

Among the several reasons, five stand out:

• Preoccupation with the technology itself: The propensity for people to become overly enamored with the technology for its own sake as opposed to discovering how to use it as a powerful tool to improve the quality and productivity of the learning programs, especially online learning.

• Cultural paralysis: A lack of adequate cultural change. The strong, traditional academic culture is one of the most rigid and strongest cultures in society, often preventing leadership from nurturing an environment that encourages and rewards progressive change, taking sensible risks, new learning-system creativity and change-adaptability.

• Technology mostly applied to the old learning systems: Old learning systems are ingrained in the educational culture, successful relative to existing standards and optimized in effectiveness (i.e., reached their upper limit of productivity, Branson, 1998). Consequently, applying new online learning and technology to old learning systems provides little increase in learning quality and productivity. For substantial gains, new, more effective learning systems using online learning and technology must be created.

• Wrong local focus for learning improvement: Efforts to create genuine and meaningful change in learning systems at the local level must be done by the faculty and technology support people, where the new learning approaches are being designed and offered, with the overall encouragement and assistance of others at the institution. Regardless of what goes on elsewhere within the institution, if the faculty and technology support people do not collaboratively work together as a learning team to create the improved online learning systems targeting valid and valuable objectives, new effective learning approaches will not exist!

• Lack of transformational leadership: The proper environment and encouraging support for the development of more effective learning systems in online learning do not just naturally happen; they require intentional transformational leadership. Such leadership is good leadership plus leadership that has the capability to help transform the existing circumstances, culture and processes, and realign human capital so that something new and more effective can be created and sustained. It is leadership that:

a. Generates an inspiring and compelling vision for the direction of future efforts of and in the institution and one that is broadly supported across the institution;

b. Has deeply held human values and respects people’s unique talents and contributions;

c. Creates an environment that nurtures excellence, risk taking, and creativity; and

d. Becomes a strong and effective sponsor for all proposed change (as discussed in the later section on Roles and Sponsorship of Change).

failure of Learning System Change Efforts

Efforts to develop more effective learning systems in education, in reality, are major change efforts, and must be effectively treated as such to be successful. A critical question is: Why do most of our significant learning and organizational change efforts involving online learning and technology seem to fail or be only partially successful? Educational leaders and faculty often avoid this question because it is natural to fear the answer. Bolman and Deal (1999) found that two-thirds of all organizational change efforts fail to meet their goals. But what is the answer? Typically, leaders and faculty would find the following:

• They had not fundamentally reframed their own thinking relative to major change involving online learning and technology. For example, effective leaders must be capable of reframing their own thinking and the thinking of those whom they guide, enabling them to see that significant change is not only imperative, but also achievable. Reframing often requires that old goals and cherished means must be changed and must be created based on relevant research and data, not just fantasies.

A new framing is demanded, a different teleology (i.e., dealing with different purpose or meaning that directs what we do toward a definite end for individuals, the organization, and our shared society) that redirects the focus from the technology per se to the major creative change purposes and processes, and to the desired learning system, with the end being to improve learning quality and productivity.

• They had implemented a strategic planning approach that is incomplete and inadequate for the massive, holistic, systemic change that is required. What is required is a Mega-level planning process (Kaufman, 2000; Kaufman & Lick, 2000, 2005; Kaufman, Oakley-Browne, Watkins, & Leigh, 2003; Watkins, 2007; and also discussed in the chapter by Kaufman and Lick in this topic) with the principal beneficiary being society.

• They had failed to prepare their organization for the important transformations that major change and the significant introduction of online learning and technology require. For instance, before people will seriously commit to being an important part of a major change, especially one involving technology, they must understand the essence of the change and technology, appreciate why these are so important to the organization and internal and external stakeholders, and accept, both intellectually and emotionally, the implications of the change and technology for themselves personally and for their operation.

• They had not provided and implemented a detailed, structured, disciplined transition plan, including modified incentives, for identifying and then completing the major change – a plan that would effectively move people, processes and technology, and most importantly, the culture from the old paradigm to the new one.

MAIN Focus: overview of change creation change

Change has always existed. The difference is that for tomorrow, the intensity (i.e., speed, magnitude, and momentum) of change, in almost everything, is so much greater. The introduction of online learning and technology only complicate this picture further. Perhaps Conner (1992) explains best: “Never before has so much changed so fast and with such dramatic implications for the world.” (p. 3)

An excerpt from a statement of the American Association of University Professors (1999) provides an important perspective for higher education and others:

The world of higher learning is in the midst of change, often driven by technologies that are profoundly affecting the work of faculty members: they are reshaping the processes of teaching and learning, redefining the roles and authority of faculty members in organizing and overseeing the curriculum, and altering the bases for evaluating student (andfaculty) performance. The implications of these developments extend far beyond teaching and learning activities, for the new technologies are penetrating many, if not all, major facets of higher education, deeply influencing its organization, governance, and finances.

However, how do those in education usually respond to this dynamic, ubiquitous change? They, consciously or by default, resist, ignore, or sidestep the realities and impact of change, all losing and self-defeating responses. They often turn to change management, especially when technology is involved, in the hopes that once a change is upon them, they can manage or control the change and its effects – a reactive approach to change.

To increase the potential for success, instead of an organization being just reactive, such as to the introduction of online learning and technology, the leadership must become proactive and define, and then “join” the desired change, embrace it as a partner, and use it creatively to advance the organization’s and society’s goals. Remember, you can’t have progress without change!

Definition of Change Creation

With dramatic and omnipresent change being the order of the day, particularly with online learning and technology being involved, it becomes harder than ever to predict the future. To deal with tomorrow, management guru Peter Drucker (1985) provided a simple yet powerful answer: Since you cannot predict the future, you must create it. That is, organizations must exploit change, along with online learning and technology, and create the future that serves organizations and society best. To do this, an institution and its people must become effective leaders and practitioners of change creation, especially when online learning and technology are significantly in the mix.

Change creation (Kaufman & Lick, 2000-2001) is the process whereby an institution and its people:

• Invite, accept, and welcome change as a vital component in defining and achieving future success.

• Define the future they want to design and deliver.

• Develop and implement a change plan that capably transitions its people, processes, and circumstances, especially its culture, from the existing paradigm to the new, desired one.

Change creation is proactive. When institutions enact change creation, they intentionally move from being victims of change to becoming masters of change. This means that leaders and their organizations must: take genuine responsibility for leading change; effectively define and plan for the desired change; comprehensively prepare the organization for the planned change; and create the designed future and continuously make improvements while moving ever closer to the desired future.

Just as the branch of the grapevine is pruned back to allow it to bear more fruit, we must academically prune – prepare for nurture and change – some of what we (a) take for granted and/or believe; and (b) do and how we do it to allow for the development of more effective systems. Academicians must often radically prune academic processes and systems to develop the most effective learning systems, including modifying aspects ofthe existing culture that inhibits effectiveness, questioning the solutions of the past toward modifying or eliminating conceptual approaches and processes that interfere with new, potentially more effective systems, and replace comfortable processes and technologies with new ones that give potential for greater quality and productivity.

Roles and sponsorship of change

An appreciation of the four roles of change (Connor, 1992) – change sponsorship, change agent, change target, and change advocate – aids in the understanding of change processes and in building required levels of commitment to foster and sustain change. A change sponsor or sponsor is a person or group who has the authority and legitimizes a change, such as a board, president, dean, chair, or the faculty itself. A change agent or agent is a person or group who is responsible for implementing the desired change, such as administrators or administrative and faculty groups. A change target or target is a person or group who must change as a result of the change effort, such as administrators, faculty members and students. A change advocate or advocate is a person or group who supports a change but does not have the authority to sanction the change effort, such as administrators, faculty members, students and non-institutional people.

The four roles are all necessary for successful change, but initial and sustaining (i.e., ongoing) sponsorship is critical. Sponsors must demonstrate, initially and continuously, strong, decisive commitment and support for change to be successful.

The universal change principle


Learning is fundamental to change creation efforts involving online learning and technology. A deeper meaning for “learning” is proposed here for change creation, what might be called “capacity” or “action” learning.

• Learning (verbform): Gaining capacity (willingness and ability) for effective action.

• Learning (nounform): Capacity (willingness and ability) for effective action.

When these terms are used relative to change creation, effective action is to be interpreted in relation to the totality of the change being considered. Ability would include information, knowledge, skill, experience, understanding, and characteristics such as nuances and qualities that would enhance effective action relative to the change. Also, notice that capacity requires both willingness and ability, or you do not have capacity.

Learning, as described above, involves a “fundamental shift or movement of the mind,” as learning organization expert Peter Senge (1990) relates:

Through learning we recreate ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. (pp. 13-14)

This kind oflearning is essential to successful change creation involving online learning and technology.

The principle

Unfamiliar major change involving online learning and technology almost always generates fear and anxiety in people, often requiring them to radically shift their thinking, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. Consequently, the more individuals understand and accept about a change, the greater their sense of control and ability to anticipate relative to the change, giving them an increased sense of comfort and security and lessening their resistance to the change.

The above ideas and concept of learning are the basis for the seemingly simple but powerful overarching principle for change creation, the universal change principle (Lick, 1999, 2002). It is directly or indirectly applicable to essentially all change-related initiatives, especially those involving online learning and technology, and stated as follows.

universal change principle: learning must precede change

Illustration: Suppose the chair of the mathematics department wants her faculty to implement a new technology-driven teaching approach in calculus. If the chair just announces the new approach for next semester, probably most of the faculty will feel uncomfortable with the proposed change and resist rather than help facilitate it. If, on the other hand, the chair employs the universal change principle, she would, before any announcement was made, consciously ask herself, What learning must take place before this change effort can be successfully implemented? For instance, learning opportunities for, and dialogues with, the faculty about the new teaching approach involving technology might include why the new approach is critical to improving student learning; what the implications are for students, faculty, and the department; when and how this new approach will be implemented; why is the technology so critical to the change, and what training and support for it will be provided; what will be the general support and rewards for effectively implementing the new technology and teaching approach; and what are the consequences for not participating in these new efforts.

Application of this principle does not guarantee that resistance will be eliminated and that the desired change will be accomplished; however, its proper application does significantly improve chances for success. Notice that the principle implies no surprises, since it requires that learning must precede any change. For major educational initiatives involving online learning and technology, often there must be significant learning for several groups preceding change and planned, multidimensional, many-level iterations of appropriate learning over a substantial time period.

future trends

The change creation Model

Major change creation involving online learning and technology is often difficult to accomplish and typically requires an extensive, complex and multifaceted process.A recommended change creation process – The Lick-Kaufman Change Creation Model – follows:

1. Prepare your leadership team for planning (e.g., for defining the organization you would create) and change (e.g., for the potential change required to meet your goals). Before proceeding, leaders (a broadly representative leadership/sponsoring team, including faculty and staff) must reasonably understand the substance, complexities and ramifications of the planning and change efforts.

2. Prepare your institution for major planning and change. Your leadership team is responsible for the planning effort (which itself represents potential change to others), and it must provide stakeholders with sufficient learning to give them a good sense of the effort and its importance, and implications to them and the organization.

3. Complete mega-level strategic planning (Kaufman, 2000; Kaufman & Lick 2000, 2005). Mega-level planning defines society as the primary client and beneficiary of everything an organization uses, does, produces and delivers. It provides an ideal vision, a mission, and the framework and direction for the balance of the change creation effort.

4. Describe, in written form, your desired change project. Your project must be described clearly, in writing, and in sufficient detail so that all stakeholders have the same understanding of the project and its parameters and expectations.

5. Clarify the scope of your change project and the level of commitments essential for its success. Before you announce a major change project, your leadership team must understand the scope and basic commitments necessary for its success, including implications of online learning and technology, project expectations, transition process, markers for success, sponsorship commitment, consistency with the culture, and other restraints and barriers.

6. Communicate your change project and its importance and implications toyour stakeholders. Communications must be well planned and executed, and the process should identify the stakeholder groups (e.g., trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community leaders), analyze their initial learning requirements, and develop a communication plan for each group.

7. Diagnose your institution’s present status and capacity to accomplishyour change goals. Critical elements include: organization’s change history, especially that which is related to online learning and technology, its readiness for change, change sponsorship strength, cultural issues, change agents’ preparation, and targets’ resistance and commitment.

8. Create a detailed action plan for the implementation and long-term success of your change project. This plan must be comprehensive and lead to the transition of processes, circumstances, and a critical mass of the people from the old to the desired paradigm. The Universal Change Principle (i.e., “learning must precede change”) becomes the key tool for the design of the plan. In a comprehensive manner, each facet (e.g., structure, process, people, culture, and technology) of the organization involved must be identified and a specific subplan developed for the transition relating to that facet. For each facet identified, the question that must be asked is: What learning (i.e., capacity for effective action) must be provided and to whom?

9. Execute, monitor and refine your implementation plan. The implementation (i.e., change agent) team, in conjunction with the leadership team, will initiate the execution of the plan, monitor its processes and developments, and coordinate the plan’s unfolding to project completion.

10. Assess and report regularly the progress and status of your change project to stakeholders, seek their input, and celebrate success milestones. Since people have a reasonable comfort level with change when they feel a sense of control or at least can anticipate what is happening, it is critical that the progress and status of the unfolding change process be regularly and effectively communicated to stakeholders and they be given opportunity for additional input.

11. Evaluate the final results of your change project. To be accountable, every change project should have a final evaluation of its results (e.g., what worked and what didn’t work) so that they are known and their lessons learned may be appropriately applied in the future as you prepare for your institution’s next major change effort.

Additional details for the above process can be found in Lick & Kaufman, 2000. Also, the topic, Surviving Change (Ellsworth, 2000), discusses seven other major change models.


Change creation is a powerful, proactive process whereby change is an accepted and welcomed reality for success; the desired future is defined, justified and designed, including the appropriate technologies; and then a transition plan to create the designed future is developed and implemented. When change creation is enacted, an institution and its people consciously move from being victims of change to partnering with and mastering change. All of this implies that effective strategic planning is essential for effective change creation, but is only one key element in the critically important change creation process. The concepts, activities, and procedures in this article, though complex and demanding, outline a detailed map for effectively planning and implementing meaningful change creation in education. Change creation is a strategic vehicle for leading future academic advancement, especially for those meaningfully involving technology in online learning, for creating new, more effective learning systems.


Capacity or Capability means having both willingness and ability.

Change Advocate or Advocate is a person or group who supports a change but does not have the authority to sanction the change effort.

Change Agent or Agent is a person or group who is responsible for implementing the desired change.

Change Creation is the process whereby an institution and its people:

• Invite, accept, and welcome change as a vital component in defining and achieving future success.

• Define the future they want to design and deliver.

• Develop and implement a change plan that capably transitions its people, processes, and circumstances, especially its culture, from the existing paradigm to the new, desired one.

Change Sponsor or Sponsor is a person or group who has the authority and legitimizes a change.

Change Target or Target is a person or group who must change as a result of the change effort.

Learning (Noun Form): Capacity for effective action.

Learning (Verb Form): Gaining capacity for effective action.

Universal Change Principle: Learning must precede change.

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