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Achieving Systemic eLearning Change: A Flight of Fancy or Realizable Reality?


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DOHERTY, Iain (eLearning Pedagogical Support Unit, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. The University of Hong …

DOHERTY, Iain (eLearning Pedagogical Support Unit, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. The University of Hong Kong)

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  • 1. The University of Hong KongAchieving Systemic eLearning Change:A Flight of Fancy or Realizable RealityDr. Iain DohertyAssociate ProfessorDirector eLearning Pedagogical Support UnitCentre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning9th May 2013
  • 2. Overview• Systemic Change• Socio-cultural Milieu• Change Management• Flight of Fancy of Realizable Reality?• Running the Risk of Failing to Change
  • 3. Systemic Change• Systemic change refers to change that effects an entity as a whole. Inthe case of an educational institution achieving systemic eLearningchange necessarily entails some sort of fundamental shift in thenature of the institution.• However, it is not entirely clear whatthis shift would look like. Forexample, does systemic changeinvolve change at all levels of theorganization: people, processes,systems, structures, Faculties andDepartments (Marshall, 2010)?
  • 4. Systemic Change• If systemic change does refer to change at all levels of theorganization then what is the nature of the change at thesedifferent levels?• More specifically, what components or parts of theinstitution have to change in order for one to be able tosay that there has been systemic change?• Finally, when we talk aboutsystemic change are we talkingabout change in which thechange as a whole is greater thanthe sum of the parts that led tothe change?
  • 5. Socio-Cultural MilieuOne way to answer the questions inthe previous paragraph is to think ofan institute of higher education as asocio-cultural milieu that can bedeconstructed into component parts.These parts can then be analyzed interms of their importance in theprocess of bringing about systemiceLearning change.
  • 6. Socio-Cultural Milieu• In this milieu there are people – the socioelement – along with patterns of beliefs,behaviors, interactions and affectiveunderstandings – the cultural element – thatare common to the members of the institution.The cultural element is learned through aprocess of socialization.• If we think about the complexity of the milieu then we can begin tounderstand just why it is so very challenging to achieve systemicinstitutional eLearning change.
  • 7. Socio-Cultural Milieu• An example should serve to illustrate the point made in the previousslides concerning complexity.• An institute of higher educationconsists of a “community” ofindividuals at various levels ofseniority, with different responsibilities,varying attitudes, different career goalsand a range of aspirations. In concreteterms the implementation of aneLearning strategy will meansomething different both betweengroups and within groups.
  • 8. Socio-Cultural Milieu• A Vice Chancellor driving an eLearningstrategy will be – or at least should be –firmly committed to realizing thestrategic goals. The same should be trueof the Pro-Vice Chancellors and thesenior management team. Whilst wewould ideally see the same commitmentfrom other groups – Faculties,Departments, Centers etc. – the realitywill likely be that the commitment ofother groups and within the other groupswill differ to one degree or another fromthat of the Senior Management.
  • 9. Socio-Cultural Milieu• Another equally important partof the strategy consists ofaddressing the cultural elements– beliefs, behaviours andinteractions – of the institution.These beliefs, behaviours andinteractions are instantiatedacross people, processes anddocumentation and it isimportant that an effort toachieve systemic eLearningchange address the culturalnorms of the institution.
  • 10. Socio-Cultural Milieu• Faculties, Departments, Centersetc. have to report periodically ontheir teaching. If these reportsrequire an update on eLearninginitiatives then, to some degree atleast, eLearning becomes a partof the reporting culture within theinstitution.• Reporting per se will not bring about systemic eLearningchange. It can however serve to progress the institutiontowards embedding eLearning within the institutional culture.
  • 11. Change Management• Having broken systemic change downinto two component parts – socialchange and cultural change – we can seethat a change management process isrequired (Kotter, 1995).• Uys (2007; 2010) has an enterprise widechange model that conceptualizes thechange process as both top down andbottom up. From a top down perspectivemanagers institute change and from abottom up perspective the “workers”contribute to change.
  • 12. Change Management• However, this model missesthe concept of “middle in”change. Middle in change canbe thought of in terms of the“middle managers” who are ina position to influence thesocio-cultural environment inwhich they work.• For example, Associate Deans Teaching and Learning could beconsidered as “middle management” and these Deans are in a positionto influence the culture – the way that things are done – and theindividuals who comprise the community.
  • 13. Change Management• Achieving systemic change involves acomplex process of transforming thesocio-cultural environment so thateLearning becomes simply a part of theway that things are done within aninstitution.• This raises the question whether aimingfor systemic change is a flight of fancy ofa realizable reality.
  • 14. Change Management• Kotter (1995) argues that transformationefforts tend to fail when there is aninsufficient sense of urgency.• A sense of urgency can have many sourcesbut one of the most potent drivers comeswhen there is a sense that “business” cannotcontinue as usual.• University business cannot continue as usualwhen something is perceived to be broken.• Even then effecting change is difficult.
  • 15. Flight of Fancy or Realizable Reality• Change is nigh on impossible in a universitysystem that is perceived to have been operating“effectively” for decades (Katz, 2003).• In the absence of this sense of urgency we cansuggest that aiming for systemic change is a flightof fancy because there is no “apparent” driver fordisruptive change.• Does this mean that change is impossible?• Depends on the sort of change we have in mind.
  • 16. Flight of Fancy or Realizable Reality• Change can occur in the absence of asense of urgency (Marshall, 2010).• In this case we are talking about atransformative change process that takesa top down, middle in and bottom upapproach.• This sort of change process can bethought of as bringing about sustainingchanges that improve the function of theorganization in ways that are consistentwith previous activities (Marshall, 2010).
  • 17. Flight of Fancy or Realizable Reality• Sustaining changes do not achievesystemic change.• We have to consider the possibility of“the emergence of new institutions‘where the weight of history does notcondition and constrain technology’suse’” (Katz, 2010, p.48).• In other words sustaining changes may simply not be enough.• Think what MOOCs might mean for the middle to lower tier universities.
  • 18. Flight of Fancy or Realizable Reality• We can understand the component parts of a university system.• We see complexity but we can adopt a planned approach toachieving change.• Problem is that there is no real sense that thesystem is broken.• Therefore systemic change does not occur.• Any particular organization might survive for awhile but what are the long term risks?
  • 19. References• Katz, R. N. (2003). Balancing Technology and Tradition -The Example of Course Management Systems. EducauseReview, 4(38), 49–59. Retrieved from• Kotter, J. P. (1995). Why Transformation Efforts Fail.Harvard Business Review, March/April(61), 59–67.Retrieved from
  • 20. References• Marshall, S. (2010). Change, Technology and HigherEducation: Are Universities Capable of OrganisationalChange? ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 18(3),179–192. Retrieved from
  • 21. References• Uys, P.M. (2007). Enterprise-Wide TechnologicalTransformation in Higher Education: The LASO Model.International Journal of Educational Management.Retrieved from 08 uysLASOmodel.htm• Uys, Philip M. (2010). Implementing An Open SourceLearning Management System : A Critical Analysis ofChange strategies. Australasian Journal of EducationalTechnology, 26(7), 980–995. Retrieved from