Creating change in higher education starts with radically rethinking the way we learn and the way we change.

Change in higher education is a crucial component in the personal and professional development of students, staff members, and faculty members. Yet, statistics show that 80% of attempts at change in higher education fail.

change in higher education is not impossible

It’s time to redesign change in higher education by rethinking the way we learn. In this article, we explore how to navigate change in academia through the following topics: 

  • What is Change Leadership?
  • Creating Institutional Change
  • Facing the Realities of Academia
  • The Challenges of Institutional Change
  • Designing Learning Experiences

What is Change Leadership?

Change leadership is a method for leading a proactive approach to change. In change leadership, facilitators foster a growth-oriented mindset to empower institutions and individuals to tackle challenges and create advantageous changes for all parties involved. 

Institutions and leaders benefit from change leadership and its values. In academia, institutions and their staff are now at a critical moment where the capability to change and change quickly is a necessity. Redefining change leadership in higher education is the key to bringing about change in higher education.  

Creating Institutional Change

In academia, creating change comes as a challenge. Typically, universities and colleges aren’t quick to enact change, yet the ever-shifting atmospheres of today’s world require decisive action. Educational leaders can meet these challenges by working to sustain change in the following ways:

1. Planning

Planning is an important part of implementing and sustaining change initiatives in academia. For systemic change to occur, academic leaders must create initiatives incorporating long-term strategic thinking. With plan-ahead teams, institutions can sustain change with the help of future leaders. 

These teams should develop scenarios, recommend actions, and identify trigger points that allow leaders to escalate certain topics and ideas to the administrative leadership and university board to make further decisions. 

2. Stakeholder Engagement

Institutions should encourage their stakeholder groups to engage early on and often in strategic decision-making. Stakeholders include students, parents, staff, and faculty members. Leaders should be transparent with their decision-making processes and establish clear timelines. 

Identify the Right Level of Stakeholder Communication


Get Our Identify the Right Level of Stakeholder Communication

Identify the right stakeholders and map them to a communication grid to balance support with time and resources.

Leaders should focus on engagement as an inherent part of the decision-making process. This way, thought leaders within the institution can take quick action when it comes to creating change.

3. Board Governance

When it comes to creating change in higher education, board members play an important role. Board members should ensure they engage in helpful and inspiring ways without micromanaging and interfering with stakeholders that are promoting change initiatives.

change in higher education

Facing the Realities of Academia

Change in education is necessary as higher education moves in a distinctly different direction. Trends in education indicate new realities that professionals in the institutional sector must prepare for. The future of academia points toward an outcome-based, digital, time-independent, low-cost, and individualized reality. 

To respond to these external factors, change initiatives in academia should consider the following trends:

  1. Education is bound to new digital technologies that allow for virtual learning.
  2. Less institutionalized control with an increase in the power of higher education learners.
  3. The increased need for accessibility and affordability.
  4. A new measure of academic progress.
  5. A rise in students seeking degrees for upskilling and reskilling.

Designing change for academia requires all stakeholders to completely transform the way their institutions operate to prepare for the future of higher education. 

The Challenges of Institutional Change 

Designing change in higher education creates a unique challenge. Institutions face financial, structural, social, and diversity challenges. As a result, institutions are often slow to implement systemic changes.

Similarly, members of institutions face their own struggles. When change initiatives threaten the status quo, it’s easy to feel attacked by the fear that comes with change. This is especially true for students, professors, and faculty members that equate their roles within the institution with who they are. 

Navigating change in educational spaces must first address the risk that participants feel. Most faculty and staff members fear the risks of their changing identity. From a loss of tenure to challenges with their peers, many may consider resistance to change more beneficial than making a shift. 

Likewise, institutional change has systematically affected  

Designing institutional change requires marching into the unknown and embracing a vulnerable process that is oftentimes unrewarded. For this reason, motivation can go a long way in creating change in higher education. Change experts like Erik Skogsberg, Sarah Gretter, and Jeff Grabill point out that motivation plays a significant role in obtaining acceptance from all stakeholders. 

To illustrate, institutions may consider offering their faculty members a letter of recommendation for participating in change initiatives. While this isn’t a cure-all for resistance to change, the right motivation may inspire faculty members to embrace change.

designing change in higher education

Designing Learning Experiences

The solution to transformation in higher education begins with the design process itself as designing change is designing learning.

Design as a practice offers a two-fold approach to institutional transformation: the act of designing and the process itself.

Design (verb)
The act of designing actively encompasses the planning aspect of a change initiative. This encourages accountability in navigating change intentionally as possible. 

Design (noun)

The design process reveals the urgency that change requires. This process offers a more creative approach to change. Such visionary language invites us to consider change in a nonlinear way, creating the perfect atmosphere for transformation to take place.

Institutions can design learning experiences by considering all participants to be learners first. Leaders can rethink the academic environment by designing learning experiences that are: 

  • Learner-focused
  • Designed backward
  • Provide an opportunity for assessment
  1. Learner-Focused

Take a learner-focused approach when designing change in higher education. Keep in mind that your audience is new to the process and actively learning information simultaneously. 

Consider questions such as:

  • Who are your participants?
  • Who’s coming into the room?
  • Who is the meeting created for?
  • Who is the training created for?

Tailoring the learning experience specifically to your audience will increase the chances of buy-in. 

Consider using a survey, poll, Google form, or similar tool to determine who your audience is and what their needs are. Additionally, keep your learners in mind as you introduce your goals for the experience. This makes it easy to gauge the success of the learning experience. 

2. Designed Backwards

 Successful learning experiences are designed backward. Start by identifying the ultimate endpoint and work from the end to the beginning. 

Consider the following questions:

  • What should participants learn?
  • What should they achieve at the end of the experience?
  • How can you measure success with each experience?

Consider using Voltage Control’s Learning Experience Design Canvas or Session Lab to better plan your sessions from end to beginning.

3. Assessed

Assessments are another component of designing a successful learning experience. Assessments allow facilitators to better gauge success and identify key indicators of change. 

Determine deliverables of change using the following assessments:

  • Summative Assessments

Summative assessments evaluate the information that should be learned by the end of an experience. Use these assessments to review learning artifacts and any by-products of the learning experience.

  • Formative Assessments

Formative assessments evaluate the progress of the learning experience and offer “check-in” points. These assessments allow the facilitator and learner the opportunity to address comprehension and understanding. 

Creating change in higher education starts with rethinking our relationship to institutional change, responding to resistance to change, and transforming how we learn. If your institution is struggling with systemic change, we’re here to help. We help leaders, teams, and educators thrive through change at Voltage Control! Contact us today to learn more.

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