Knowing where to start can be exceedingly difficult when confronting the myriad changes that accompany online and digital learning initiatives. This field guide curates change management resources to aid individuals in identifying obstacles, needs, and opportunities as they build a coalition of support for continuous improvement in online education. While change can be tough, the international team of online education leaders who maintain this project recognize that managing wide-scale change can be both possible and enjoyable.

Change: An Online Leadership Field Guide was developed during participation in the Online Learning Consortium’s first global Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning (IELOL).  IELOL Global assembled our team in fall 2020. While we come from various roles, institutions, and educational backgrounds in the United States and South Africa, it did not take long for us to identify a common interest in helping others successfully manage change in teaching and learning initiatives.

About “change”

Change is vital but it is also difficult to navigate well with others. Rostek & Młodzianowski (2019) affirm that every organization will face challenges when the prospect of change involves a variety of ranges, scales, schedules, and industries to consider. Add to this complexity the interpersonal inclinations, insights, and experiences that mediate an organizational culture, and the path toward leading any deviation from the norm will naturally become more unpredictable. Education leaders—individuals who are commonly constrained by a lack of resources, support, time, and access—will only get so far without relying on a relevant, reliable framework for managing change.

According to Abdulla, Singh, Al-Nahyan & Amrik (2017), change management is a systematic approach that includes the application of knowledge, resources, and tools that can be used to leverage the benefits of change. Burns (2004) recommends that organizations should identify the approach best suited to change, especially the change they desire based on organizational context. While many frameworks exist to help individuals engineer more certain outcomes when implementing change, the variety of available approaches can prove overwhelming. Never mind trying to efficiently and comprehensively vet change management approaches when immersed in a project that is already in flux.

About this resource

By way of this field guide, individuals will quickly identify the level of change management that they are considering and then be able to quickly determine approaches that most align with their change management needs. It is our hope that this text becomes a just-in-time resource for helping others identify the dynamics of change affecting them, determine which forms of change management best apply, and further validate their efforts by clearly accounting for the variables facing their strategic initiatives. Though we winnow our recommendations to those that most overtly apply to change in postsecondary education, this resource may serve additional contexts.

As an open resource, the content presented here should not be seen as a product with finality, rather a starting point and resource that has infinite prospects for additions as models of change emerge. See the chapter titled “Improving Change Management” for more information about how you can contribute to this project.

About the authors

  • Elizabeth Barrie is the Director of the Office of Online Education at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States.
  • Jonathan Lashley is the Associate Chief Academic Officer at the Idaho State Board of Education in Boise, Idaho, United States.
  • Fezile Mlungu is an E-Learning Specialist at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha, East Cape, South Africa.
  • Heather Zeng is Faculty at Capella University, an online university based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.


Abdulla Ahmed Al-Ali, Singh, S. K., Al-Nahyan, M., & Amrik, S. S. (2017). Change management through leadership: The mediating role of organizational culture. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 25(4), 723-739.

Burnes, B. (2004) “Emergent change and planned change – competitors or allies?: the case of XYZ construction” International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 24 No. 9, pp. 886-902.

Rostek, K., & Młodzianowski, D. (2019). Impact of conscious change management on the quality of cluster management. Acta Universitatis Lodziensis. Folia Oeconomica, (341), 117-135.


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Change: An Online Leadership Field Guide Copyright © 2020 by Elizabeth Barrie; Jonathan Lashley; Fezile Mlungu; and Heather Zeng is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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