Organizational Culture and Leadership for e-Learning

This week’s readings which included the WICHE (2013) survey and the Skype recording of an interview with Vivian Forssman (2013) drew many parallels in terms of leadership and organization to promote e-learning in institutions. Clear themes emerged regarding what is required for e-Learning initiatives in order to be of high quality, attainable and sustainable. I thoroughly enjoyed the recording of Forssman’s Skype call and frantically took over three pages of notes while viewing it. According to Forssman leadership and organization are of particular importance when shifting to e-Learning because, “even in the year 2013 where technology should be the bread and butter in our life, organizations are still grappling with technology enabled learning.” In order to have quality e-Learning, institutions need to understand that the, “politics of adoption and diffusion far supersedes the technical issues.” The themes that emerged from this week’s readings and Forssman’s recording were that institutional leaders must invest significantly in the following: budget, culture/professional learning, policy, and collaboration.

Garrison and Kanuka surface the same themes as Forssman in their 2004 article that provides an action plan for post-secondary institutions interested in moving towards blended approaches to learning. They state that in order for a redesign to successful blended learning approaches, learning organization will require a strong and careful plan. For the authors, these areas of focus for organizations fall into one of five categories which echo that of Forssman and the readings: “policy, planning, resources, scheduling and support” (p. 100). First and foremost, a shift requires a “clear institutional direction and policy” (p. 102). This direction would require an organization to fully understand the commitment required and to plan for resources: human, technical and financial. Care and attention to scheduling and support are deemed to be essential in a redesign toward blended learning. Of the themes outlined by Forssman, and Garrison and Kanuka are of particular interest to my research is the focus on culture and models for professional development and faculty adoption of e-Learning. The biggest challenge for institutions is how to appropriately invest in staff in order to facilitate change. Forssman stressed that an institution can talk about pedagogy but if there is not financial support for technology integration, it will be left to individual innovators rather than institutional innovation. Small or large, budget capacity to invest in professional development that leads to attainable, sustainable adoption and diffusion of technology integration, is still a struggle for most institutions. Even in institutions that have the fiscal capacity, faculty adoption is still a huge challenge. Often times, when there are efforts to invest in PD, there is still minimal uptake due to the fact that there is no time, no reward, and no recognition for moving towards e-Learning. Forssman states that one of the challenges for uptake is that in the post-secondary world, professors are rewarded for publication, not for teaching and definitely not for teaching with technology.

This leads to the question: What does work to foster technology integration? The WICHE (2013) survey found that respondents expressed they experienced success in shifting culture when they “have full time faculty who are paid a stipend to be online lead faculty. They have the responsibility of making sure faculty (full and part) in their content area are meeting the minimum faculty responsibilities for teaching online courses” (p. 36). As well as incentivizing e-Learning adoption, approaches for supporting e-Learning need to be carefully considered. Forssman stressed that a great deal of resources and money go into staff development plans that are often poorly attended. Instead of mandating professional development for all staff that is one size fits all, she suggests that success can be found in individual one to one support that is individualized and just in time. For instance, drop in centres for faculty that are less formal than organized professional development workshops but provide access to support for integrating innovation into courses for those who are ready and willing. The respondents in the WICHE survey also support this idea: “We offer individualized on-campus support sessions for the two weeks prior to the start of the online learning semester. These are extremely popular with online learning instructors and it gives them a chance to fine tune their course or skill” (p.35).

Lastly, a design approach to shift to e-Learning is required that allows for “strategy prototypes” and pockets of innovation to emerge and stand as exemplars that point to institutional learning. From such prototypes, the hope is for organizational learning to be applied to a larger scale implementation. Forssman agrees that the best support for e-Learning is delivered one to one for these early adopters and their pockets of innovation. In Forssman’s experience at Mount Royal University she pointed to concrete examples of these services that could be accessed just in time for both instructors and students. She stressed that the “real power for change in higher education for broad adoption and diffusion actually comes through the students.” Therefore it is essential that every leadership and organization plan include resources to tap into students allowing them to become the agents of change who can demand from their professors what they need and expect in terms of the thoughtful infusion of technology in learning. The culture of learning and the professional development of staff, according to Forssman is the key to an institution’s competitiveness. “Competitive advantage is not in the commodity of your online course, it’s in the flexible access, tuition, faculty and support you have. A great way to have a competitive advantage is through the quality of your instructors.”


Forssman, V. (2013). Exploring leadership issues in Educational Technology implementation (D. MacLachlan, Interviewer. Retrieved from

Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended Learning: Uncovering its Transformative Potential in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 95-105.

WICHE Cooperative for EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGIES (2013). Managing Online Education 2013: Practices in ensuring Quality. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license.


One thought on “Organizational Culture and Leadership for e-Learning

  1. drblogubc says:

    I like the quote you chose from Vivian Forsmann’s interview, “even in the year 2013 where technology should be the bread and butter in our life, organizations are still grappling with technology enabled learning.” Vivian has been a leader years ahead of her time and has done much to drag institutions at least part way towards 21st Century learning. A big part of this, as you say, is to ensure that the organization fully understand the commitment required in order to move effectively in this direction. How to optimally invest in faculty development is indeed an important puzzle to solve. Indeed, it was the first question I was asked when I applied for my position at SAIT. Vivian has come up with some unique opportunities for faculty, including the Collaboratory at SAIT where staff could drop in or make an appointment, depending on their need, to sit one on one with an expert to grow their skills. I also like the strategy for incentivizing e-Learning adoption suggested in the WICHE study. Finally, you noted the importance of tapping into student expertise and interest for the thoughtful infusion of technology in learning. I believe we are at a place in time where instructors are aware of their limitations and would welcome input, even technological support, from their students more than ever before.
    Much to think about and write about! Thanks for an excellent reflection Laurel.
    – Doug

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