Application of Change Theory

“We must be strategic about who is taking on what role in fighting injustice: Some of us are warriors, out there vocally calling out racism and other forms of oppression. Others are bridge builders, helping to teach, heal, and connect people.” quoted from, website Nonprofit AF; Hey progressives, can we stop using the tools of social justice to tear one another down?

Being an educator can be a revolutionary activity. Those of us who promote distance learning act as revolutionaries by simultaneously, and perhaps unwittingly, promoting social justice. We make education available to those who, without online delivery, would not have access.

However, I am no warrior! I stay away from conflict as much as possible. Rather, as an administrator of distance learning I make every effort to challenge norms while keeping the peace, always respecting and giving voice to both the naysayers and the promoters. Naysayers help you know why they and others resist change so that you can develop tactics for addressing the reasons. Promoters help you advocate for change by sharing their positive perspective and experiences with others – positive experience being the most powerful tactic for change.

Change theory provides an essential foundation for working effectively as a distance learning administrator. I looked to change theory and applied the principles daily to help administrators and instructors anticipate, identify, take advantage of, and facilitate change from lecture modes of delivery to online modes:

  1. Change is a constant- Think of ways in which education has changed over the past few years?
  2. People often resist change- It is safe to say that everyone has at least some resistance to distance education. Can you think of some reasons that keep you or others from readily embracing online education?
  3. The technologies we use, the procedures we follow, and the values we hold are institutionalized and make us comfortable- Can you describe the social equilibrium of technologies, procedures, and values in higher education that might be shaken by distance learning?
  4. An innovation is the introduction of a new idea to its users- As we innovate, we can be too enamored of the idea such that we forget to take the higher education administrators’ and instructor’s experience into account. How might online instruction threaten administrators’ and instructors’ current procedures, roles, or values?
  5. The potential adopter cares only about the ideas that apply to him or her- How well have we identified the benefits of online learning that are most relevant to administrators and instructors? How can we improve?
  6. In times of crisis, change is more readily accepted- What crises may our nation and world be facing that might be partially addressed by broadening participation in higher education through distance delivery?
  7. Never underestimate the power of social climate- Can you think of any changes in the social climate going on now? How might those changes impact attitudes toward online education?

Reflecting on answers to these questions can help you and your team design tactics.

Nine Tactics for Facilitating Positive Change

  1. Perceived Advantage- What are some advantages of distance learning? For whom?
  2. Small Negative Consequences- What are the downsides of distance learning? How can those downsides be minimized?
  3. Small Steps/Divisibility- How might online course design, development, and teaching be broken down into small, easily adopted steps? What might be introduced first to break the ice?
  4. Familiar Language- How can we best communicate the advantages of distance learning? What is some specific language we might use that will resonate with potential adopters?
  5. Compatible with Current Practice- How is distance learning similar to what people are currently doing?
  6. Credible Messenger- Who are the best, most credible messengers to promote distance learning? How can you team with those people?
  7. Reliability- How does distance learning do what it is supposed to do without breaking down?
  8. Easy and Low Cost in Money, Time, and Effort- What will be the costs of online courses in terms of time, money, and effort? How can we make it take less time? How can we make it less costly financially to try? How can we make it take less effort to try?
  9. Easy Reversibility- How easy is it to back out of online teaching once an institution or person has dedicated time, money, or effort? How can we make it easier to back out if a person wants to?

These principles and tactics (Barker, 1998) as well as the resources below were so helpful to me a I tried to help my campus grow its distance learning offerings.

References and Resources

Barker, J. (1998). Tactics of innovation: How to make it easier for people to accept new ideas. Star Thrower Distribution Corp.

Ellsworth, J.B. (2000). Surviving change: A survey of educational change models. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology.

Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher technology change: How knowledge, confidence, beliefs, and culture intersect. Journal of Research On Technology In Education, 42(3), 255-284.

Fullan, M. G. (1993). Why teachers must become change agents. Educational leadership, 50, 12.

Gutman, D. (2012). Six barriers causing educators to resist teaching online, and how institutions can break them. Distance Learning, 9(3), 51.

Hall, G. E., & Hord, S. M. (2001). Implementing change: Patterns, principles, and potholes.Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Keller, J. M. (2010). Motivational Design for Learning and Performance: The ARCS Model Approach.New York, NY: Springer.

Kotter, J. P. (1996).  Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Karnopp, J. R. (2013). Reinventing schools: It’s time to break the mold. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Education.

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations(5th Ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.

Schneckenberg, D. (2010). Overcoming barriers for E-learning in universities—portfolio models for eCompetence development of faculty. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(6), 979-991.

Straub, E. T. (2009). Understanding technology adoption: Theory and future directions for informal learning. Review of Educational Research. AERA. Http://

Turner, J. C., & Patrick, H. (2008). How does motivation develop and why does it change? Reframing motivation research. Educational Psychologist, 43(3), 119-131.

Wickersham, L. E., & McElhany, J. A. (2010). Bridging the divide. Quarterly Review of Distance Education,11(1), 1-12.




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