I returned to The Bahamas after completing my graduate coursework. Instead of returning to my old Vice Principal position I was promoted to the Board Office. I shared an office with the technical director for schools. He would continually express frustration at the teachers’ limited proficiency with the systems we were trying to implement: “I don’t know what their problem is. I’ve given them training at the beginning of the year and I’ve detailed all the implementation steps in the manual. All they have to do is read and follow the instructions!” I smiled to myself because I could hear myself saying the very same things five years prior (when I was VP we didn’t have a technical director: all those tasks were my responsibility). Truth is no matter how hard we tried, we could not get to full or even widespread adoption. We seemed stuck in an in-between stage where some teachers had completely adopted and some had partially adopted and some again had not adopted at all (we discovered that they were getting other teachers to do their electronic work for them).
Really I should have known better.
Although I hadn’t read Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations before grad school, I was familiar with the ideas. The truth was of course most teachers were going to be massively uncomfortable with the changes we were trying to implement even when they could see the long-term benefits, and so should they have been. These changes were set to take them from a position of expertise or proficiency to a position of a novice learner. From doing something well to doing something poorly with no guarantee that they would ever be as successful as they had been previously. All that was needed was for the teachers to practice and to work at it consistently and they would improve we thought. Even if it took a couple of years. If we could get teachers to a level of competence the system would begin to manage itself and the continuous training and scaffolding needed would fade rapidly.
That’s not how technology works however. Product cycles are at most two to three years so we could expect upgrades over that period which would need further training and scaffolding and so on. What we had failed to do was to design a proper change management strategy. And this strategy must be designed to account for continuous change, because once you start along the path of technology integration, the one constant is change. Importantly, it would have been critical for us to remember that the term “change management” is a euphemism for “managing people in a continuously changing environment”. That’s what change management is all about really: meeting people’s needs for support and training when adopting new processes, and providing structures to meet those needs. Designing supports so that novices and beginners can still function at a high level and take advantage of the technological changes.
And so that is the fifth e-learning challenge: how do we design structures and supports to manage the emotional issues and performance challenges that accompany innovation adoption.