A Survey of Educational Change Models. ERIC Digest.
by Ellsworth, James B.
Change isn't new, and neither is its study. We have a rich set of frameworks,
solidly grounded in empirical studies and practical applications. Most
contributions may be classified under a set of major perspectives, or "models"
of change. These perspectives are prevalent in the research, and combine
to yield a 360 degree view of the change process. In each case, one author
or group of authors is selected as the epitome of that perspective (Ellsworth,
2000). A small group of studies from disciplines outside educational change
(in some cases outside education) also contribute to key concepts not found
elsewhere in the literature.
Everett Rogers, one of the "elder statesmen" of change research, notes
that change is a specialized instance of the general communication model
(Rogers, 1995, pp. 5-6). Ellsworth expands on this notion to create a framework
that organizes these perspectives to make the literature more accessible
to the practitioner (Ellsworth, 2000).
Ellsworth's framework might be summarized as follows: a change agent
wishes to communicate an innovation to an intended adopter. This is accomplished
using a change process, which establishes a channel through the change
environment. However, this environment also contains resistance that can
disrupt the change process or distort how the innovation appears to the
intended adopter (Ellsworth, p. 26). By uniting these tactics in service
to a systemic strategy, we improve our chances of effective, lasting change.
PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER
We must strive to guide all our change efforts with a systemic understanding
of the context in which we undertake them. Nevertheless, depending on the
circumstance, or as the implementation effort progresses, it may be most
effective to focus interventions on a particular component of the framework
at a time.
Anyone trying to improve schools, for example teachers, principals,
students, district administrators, consultants, parents, community leaders,
or government representatives may look to The New Meaning of Educational
Change (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991) to decide where to start (or to
stop an inappropriate change).
From there, read Systemic Change in Education (Reigeluth & Garfinkle,
1994), to consider the system being changed. Consider all assumptions about
the nature of that system (its purpose, members, how it works, its governing
constraints and so forth). Question those assumptions, to see whether they
still hold true. Look inside the system to understand its subsystems or
stakeholders and how they relate to one another and to the system as a
whole. Look outside the system too, to know how other systems (like business
or higher education) are interrelated with it, and how it (and these other
systems) in turn relate to the larger systems of community, nation, or
human society. The new understanding may illuminate current goals for the
proposed innovation, (or concerns for the change you are resisting) and
may indicate some specific issues that may emerge.
This understanding is crucial for diagnosing the system's needs, and
how an innovation serves or impedes them. Now, clearly embarked upon the
change process, read a discussion of that change process in The Change
Agent's Guide (Havelock & Zlotolow, 1995) to guide and plan future
efforts. The Guide serves as the outline for a checklist, to ensure that
the right resources are acquired at the proper time. The Guide will also
help you conduct and assess a trial of the innovation in a way that is
relevant and understandable to stakeholders. It will help extend implementation
both in and around the system...and it will help to prepare others within
the system to recognize when it is time to change again.
At some point one must commit to a plan, and act. The Concerns-Based
Adoption Model (Hall & Hord, 1987) provides tools to "keep a finger
on the pulse" of change and to collect the information needed. The model's
guidelines help readers to understand the different concerns stakeholders
experience as change progresses. This, in turn, will help readers to design
and enact interventions when they will be most effective.
Even the most effective change effort usually encounters some resistance.
Strategies for Planned Change (Zaltman & Duncan, 1977) can help narrow
down the cause(s) of resistance. Perhaps some stakeholders see the innovation
as eroding their status. Possibly others would like to adopt the innovation,
but lack the knowledge or skills to do so. Opposition may come from entrenched
values and beliefs, or from lack of confidence that the system is capable
of successful change.
One way to approach such obstacles is to modify or adapt the innovation's
attributes. Even if the actual innovation cannot be altered, it may be
possible to change the perceptions of the innovation among stakeholders.
For example, instead of competing with them, perhaps it is more appropriately
seen as a tool that will help others achieve appropriate goals. Whether
one modifies the attributes or merely their perceptions, Diffusion of Innovations
(Rogers, 1995) identifies the ones that are generally most influential,
and will help readers select an approach.
Other obstacles may arise from the environment in which change is implemented.
The "Conditions for Change" (Ely, 1990) can help you address those deficiencies.
Possibly a clearer statement of commitment by top leaders (or more evident
leadership by example) is needed. Or maybe more opportunity for professional
development is required, to help the stakeholders learn how to use their
Of course, this is not a fixed sequence. Involvement may start when
resistance to an innovation is noticed. If so, begin with Zaltman and Duncan
(1977), then turn to Reigeluth and Garfinkle (1994) to identify the systemic
causes of that resistance. If you are an innovation developer, begin with
Rogers (1995), then use the systemic diagnosis in Reigeluth and Garfinkle
to guide selection of the attributes needed for your innovation. The professional
change agent may begin with Havelock and Zlotolow (1995), to plan an overall
change effort. The models are also frequently interrelated.
For example, when modifying innovation attributes pursuant to Rogers
(1995), one might make an IC Component Checklist (see Hall & Hord,
1987) to avoid accidental elimination of a critical part of the innovation.
When assessing the presence or absence of the conditions for change (Ely,
1990), verify that the systemic conditions mentioned in Reigeluth and Garfinkle
(1994) are present as well. While using the Concerns-Based Adoption Model
(Hall & Hord, 1987) to design interventions aimed at stakeholders at
a particular level of use or stage of concern, consider the psychological
barriers to change presented by Zaltman and Duncan (1977).
REACHING OUT, REACHING ACROSS
Much useful knowledge of the change process comes from other fields
as well-particularly the business-inspired domains of Human Performance
Technology (HPT) and Human Resource Development (HRD). Include these other
knowledge bases as an involvement with educational change grows.
Reach out to other disciplines to share experiences and to benefit from
theirs. Reach across to other stakeholders, to build the sense of community
and shared purpose necessary for the changes that must lie ahead. The road
won't always be easy and everyone won't always agree which path to take
when the road forks...but with mutual respect, honest work, and the understanding
that we all have to live with the results, we can get where we need to
The lessons of the classical change models are as valid today-and just
as essential for the change agent to master-as they have ever been. Yet
a single innovation (like a new technology or teaching philosophy) that
is foreign to the rest of the system may be rejected, like an incompatible
organ transplant is rejected by a living system. Success depends on a coordinated
"bundle" of innovations-generally affecting several groups of stakeholders-that
results in a coherent system after implementation.
These are exciting times to be a part of education. They are not without
conflict...but conflict is what we make of it. Its Chinese ideogram contains
two characters: one is "danger" and the other "hidden opportunity." We
choose which aspect of conflict-and of change-we emphasize.
Craig, R. (1996). "The ASTD training and development handbook: A guide
to human resource development." New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Ellsworth, J.B. (2000). "Surviving change: A survey of educational change
models." Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology.
(ED 443 417)
Ely, D. (1990). "Conditions that facilitate the implementation of educational
technology innovations." Journal of Research on Computing in Education,
23(2), 298-305. (EJ 421 756)
Fullan, M., & Stiegelbauer, S. (1991). "The new meaning of educational
change." New York, NY: Teachers College Press. (ED 354 588)
Hall, G., & Hord, S. (1987)." Change in schools: Facilitating the
process." Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (ED 332 261)
Havelock, R., & Zlotolow, S. (1995). "The change agent's guide,"
(2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. (ED
Reigeluth, C., & Garfinkle, R. (1994). "Systemic change in education."
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. (ED 367 055)
Rogers, E.M. (1995). "Diffusion of innovations," (4th ed.). New York,
NY: The Free Press.
Stolovitch, H., & Keeps, E. (1999). "Handbook of human performance
technology: A comprehensive guide for analyzing and solving performance
problems in organizations." San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Zaltman, G., & Duncan, R. (1977). "Strategies for planned change."
New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.