Use eLearning To Revolutionize Change Management
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Revolutionizing Change Management With eLearning: Shepherds Of Thought 

The great power of eLearning technologies is not in their ability to homogenize learning, but to personalize it. In terms of the role of the teacher, that means not pulling students forward through material in lock-step, but accommodating the individual pace, curiosity, and learning style of each individual student.

A servant leader has a similar challenge: Getting the most out of each employee by taking responsibility for equipping everyone with the tools, support, and mentorship necessary. eLearning systems can decentralize instruction by making the materials, lessons, and assessments all accessible. This does not eliminate the need for the teacher, but certainly changes the role from one of gatekeeper, to one of watchful mentor.

In the parlance of workplace change management, this is the essence of servant leadership: Managing through empowerment, mentorship, and support, rather than through absolute authority and micro-tasking.

Change Management: Leading By Serving

The concept of servant leadership is not new. Nearly 30 years ago, a team of researchers from Northeastern University’s business department conducted research on change management. The goal was to distinguish what made some programs successful, and doomed other to failure. What they discovered was seemingly counterintuitive: The most effective managers of a change initiative weren’t the most assertive managers:

“The most effective senior managers in our study recognized their limited power to mandate corporate renewal from the top. Instead, they defined their roles as creating a climate for change, then spreading the lessons of both successes and failures. Put another way, they specified the general direction in which the company should move without insisting on specific solutions.”

This conclusion dovetails remarkably well with Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on education:

“The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it. If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners.”

In both cases, the most effective teachers and managers are enablers; they create conditions that allow everyone to naturally learn, adjust, grow, and perform. Whether in the classroom or the workplace, successfully integrating eLearning solutions means embracing a view of the teacher/manager not as an emperor or dictator, or even as a trailblazing leader, but rather as a servant.

Engaging With Goals

This relationship is newly important today, because learning and education are not restricted to the school years. Workplace skills gaps are endemic in today’s economy, with market forces, technology, and demographics in constant flux. eLearning solutions can help address these gaps, but they require a supporting philosophy of servant leadership to maximize their impact.

This does not mean that teachers are entirely hands-off, nor that managers need simply become observers of their inherently high-performing teams.

Goal-setting is integral to both.

eLearning that embraces gamification or virtual reality can create a digital playground for students of all ages. While this kind of kinaesthetic learning environment is naturally conducive to engagement, it is critical to spell out learning goals and expectations to ensure the platform does not become a distraction from focused learning.

As the Northeastern University researchers concluded, managing organizational change is best achieved through continuous communication of expectations. Leaders tell various staff what outcomes are expected and what roles need to be filled, then support them as they find solutions that fit these expectations. This is what the researchers called “Task Alignment”, but in education it amounts to learning through problem-solving.

In both cases, it can mean the difference between rote memorization and active learning; between administrative compliance and true productivity.

Putting Learners At The Center

The earliest incarnations of eLearning were mostly video lectures: Record a live presentation, then make it accessible online. Slowly, it has evolved to incorporate more interactive elements, like integration of analytics to give teachers a more dynamic window into students’ learning and engagement with material.

eLearning solutions allow teachers to become servants of their students’ learning by making the whole learning experience more personalized. On-demand access to materials means students can self-pace; analytics integration means teachers can virtually “look over the shoulder” of their students, and provide real-time guidance and support; most importantly, eLearning takes education away from the one-size fits-all model, and lets students and teachers work together to find the best combination of resources and engagement possible.

Teachers in a digital environment are mentors, helping students find their own ways forward, rather than setting a path and enforcing compliance along the way.

In management terms, this is like shifting from a strict top-down hierarchy of organization, to a more fluid system of peer-to-peer collaboration. Managers are still engaged, but they aren’t always front and center of every task.

What eLearning is showing us is that in the digital age, good change management and effective teaching look very similar. Good teachers don’t mandate learning or force new knowledge and ways of thinking into the heads of their students; likewise, the best managers today don’t simply dictate what change will look like and how everyone will cope and adapt.

The power of new technology, tools, and platforms is not built-in, but requires the right approach for success. Collaboration, personalization, and communication are still the secret ingredients to making eLearning and organizational leadership.

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