Last Monday, I attended a session at Victoria University of Wellington entitled Understanding and supporting organisational change in e-learning. The workshop was presented by Dr Stephen Marshall, Senior Lecturer from the University Teaching Development Centre. The session began by looking at motivators for organisational change. The majority of change in New Zealand education institutions is coercive by nature, that is, driven by external, mostly financial, motivators. However, changes driven by the quality of learning would be more beneficial for students.
Effective change needs to incorporate a combination of sustaining and disruptive principles. These are not either/or concepts; both exist and we need to be continuously aware of them. Sustaining change refers to old things being done in new ways, but the nature of an underlying experience remains the same. This ultimately just increases the cost structure of what we’ve always done, as it involves changing the superficial qualities, rather than the nature, of an experience.
Conversely, there are two main types of disruptive change. Low-end disruption occurs where a small proportion of the population who might use a service doesn’t because of cost. This is mostly likely to affect the tertiary education sector, where the traditional target market is changing. High-end or new market disruption is something which changes the way people react with their environment. Early adopters tend to see the high-end disruption possibilities. For example, people learn better when they feel known or recognised as people. This supports the notion of discourse being fundamental to effective learning and teaching. However, the natural tendency is for tertiary institutions to turn high-end disruption into sustaining change, that is, insisting on retaining the old while trying to bring in the new.
So, why change at all? Stephen identified three main motivating factors for change in tertiary education:
- People. The type of person engaging in tertiary education is changing. They have different expectations, lives, careers, and modes of engagement. The group of people we are meant to be servicing is different.
- Financial. There is constant pressure to be financially efficient in what we provide. This compliance mechanism is trying to drive down the cost of obtaining tertiary qualifications in New Zealand. It has been found that people may be prepared to pay for expensive qualifications once in their lifetime, but not again. This affects the rate of uptake in ongoing management development
- Technical. People’s ability to work with information is dramatically improving and they are arriving with alternative means for communication.
The e-learning Maturity Model (eMM) is a benchmarking methodology designed for institutions and organisations to assess and compare their effectiveness and capability to sustainably develop, deploy and support e-learning. Stephen reported on his findings from his research, using this model to analyse the capability and sustained development of e-learning in New Zealand tertiary education institutes. It is a remarkably comprehensive tool and one which I would like to explore further and in depth
Briefly, the eMM identifies areas that all institutions should be doing, categorised according to five dimensions: delivery, planning, definition (organisational culture), management, and optimisation (making purposeful changes). The model is designed to preserve the core business of an institution while stimulating progress. Organisations that are more capable understand why they have done something well and ensure that it happens again (or improves), rather than just knowing that they have done well.
Two major findings from this research jumped out at me as being particularly relevant to my work as a facilitator for online professional learning. They related to a case study which identified one particular private training organisation (PTE) to be the most successful in terms of the eMM.
- A professional e-learning culture needs to be firmly established in order for sustainable e-learning and development to take place. This must be embedded throughout the whole organisation: “At [name], we believe/value/do/…”.
- Staff need to experience e-learning for themselves as students before they can effectively facilitate e-learning with their own students. This PTE runs two induction courses in e-learning in which all staff are required to participate; the first is for all students to complete, and the other is in teaching online. Results showed that there were not only significant benefits for students, but also for staff who used the courses to become familiar with the student experience of e-learning.