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Navigating Change Management in Higher Education 

  • 30 Min Read

In this guide, get an understanding of what change management is and different approaches for your institution to use when implementing a shift.

You’ll also find details on how to successfully manage the change to a new learning management system, including relatable stories and helpful advice from your peer institutions that have lived through successful change management.


There are two constants in life: change and resistance to change. Our brains are hardwired to combat change and actually release fear hormones to protect us from the threat it sparks in our minds. This is why a lot of people have a hard time embracing innovation even when the rational part of their minds can understand its benefits.  

Whether it’s a new tool that reduces grading time by half or a filing system that makes student grades more accessible, change can still be given the cold shoulder. People like the idea of an easier future working environment but struggle with the mechanics of getting there because they’re not unhappy with the way things are. 

Resisting change can take a heavy toll on organizations, higher ed institutions included. We know that most change programs fail to achieve their goals due to employee resistance and lack of management support. With student, faculty and staff success at stake, having a strong change management plan is crucial in order for people to adapt successfully. 

In this guide, we share the details on what you need to know about change management, including: 

  • what it is 
  • why it’s important 
  • how to implement a change management plan 

This guide will also provide specifics on how to successfully manage the change to a new learning management system (LMS). You’ll find relatable examples of what to expect when migrating to a new LMS, as well as stories and helpful advice from your peer institutions that have lived through successful change management.  

Read on to find out how you can encourage your campus community to embrace change and welcome a brighter future. 

What Is Change Management?

Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with the implementation of new processes or procedures across organizations. It typically includes a multistep plan in order to split the project into manageable pieces. 

For example, here’s what a change management plan might look like: 

  1. Create a vision and plan for change 
  1. Prepare your organization for change 
  1. Implement the changes 
  1. Give staff the support they need 
  1. Embed the changes within your organization’s culture and practices 
  1. Review progress, analyze results and sustain the change 

What Is the “Change” in Change Management? 

The change in question will vary from task to task—ranging anywhere from a minor refinement to an entire system transformation. 

A graph showing four stages of change management.

In some cases, the change will be an incidental update to a procedure used by a small group of staff. In others it will be implementing new software—such as a brand-new LMS—that will impact the day-to-day functioning of the entire campus community.   

Change Management in Practice: SUNY
The State University of New York (SUNY) is the public university system for the state of New York. It’s one of the biggest and most complex university systems in the U.S. because it has 64 campuses statewide and includes four varying institutional sectors. 

This led to SUNY having 56 different LMS instances, a mix of vendors and an inconsistent user experience. SUNY knew it was time for a change and decided to consolidate all its campuses to one vendor: D2L Brightspace. 

Learn how SUNY successfully implemented a systemwide transformation and managed the change across its campuses during the implementation process. 

Change Management in Education

Change management in education can involve pedagogy, administrative processes and technologies, or a combination of one or more of these areas. 

Examples of institutional change management Where change management practices could be helpful 
Instructional Practices How educators comprehend and execute instruction Instructors are asked to incorporate more blended learning practices into their courses or provide students with additional time for exam taking.   
Administrative Processes The development, implementation and evaluation of institutional systems and policies Instructors are asked to implement a new policy for detecting AI content in student work. The institution is rolling out a new process for delivering ID cards. 
Technology How technology is used to facilitate learning A new, campuswide computer system is introduced in classrooms. The institution switches LMS providers to provide a more innovative and seamless experience for students, staff and faculty. 

Joanne Struch is a former learning management consultant at D2L and a change management practitioner. She has experience leading LMS implementation and other academic-related changes at educational institutions. 

Struch paints a picture of how migrating to a new LMS can play out at an institution, and why effectively managing the change—both technical and human—is critical. 

“Imagine this scenario: Your organization has decided to implement a new LMS. The project plan is solidly in place, and the teams have a strong idea of the technical changes that the project will bring. As a leader or participant in the change, you know that it will mean a significant modification to the way that you or your team operates,” said Struch.  

“Despite sharing some communications around the project,” continued Struch, “you start to hear some of these phrases:  

  • I don’t know why we’re changing this. The old way works fine. 
  • I’m not going to attend the training because the change doesn’t affect me. 
  • We’ve tried this before and it didn’t work. It’s not going to work now. 

Often, as leaders, coworkers or teammates, even if we know that the change is needed, it’s difficult to respond to phrases like this,” said Struch. “It’s very common for organizations to plan extensively for the technical side of change but less for the human side of change.”   

The Human Side of Change

The best change management considers the people being affected by it. The plans to tackle change need to incorporate means of inspiring the humans involved to be the champions of innovation—and be effectively communicated to them. 

Implementing a new process or system is a key part of any change management plan. But the goal must also include finding a way to have everyone involved better understand the purpose of the change and garner their support moving forward. 

70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals because of employee resistance and lack of management support. 

McKinsey & Company, Changing Change Management

In Struch’s experience, she has seen the technical side of change overshadow the needs of the people involved. 

“Often a project plan is in place for the technical change. Sometimes we assume that just because the technical change is in place, individuals will follow along. In my experience, that is not the case,” said Struch. “The technical part is sometimes more straightforward than the people part. That’s because each individual will experience and navigate change differently.  

This can lead to gaps—such as in knowledge or usage—in the future state of the change. These gaps can lead to a lower ROI for the project or unachieved improvements that were expected or hoped for.” 

a graphic depicting the importance of organizational change.

Making long-lasting change is not as easy as flipping a switch and letting it run. The people who are involved and impacted by the change are just as important. They need consistent, relevant communication to understand that they’re being considered in the process, and those lines of communication need to go both ways. 

The Change Arc 

Successful change means individuals have moved from their current to their future state. Managing this move can help people through the process of change. It takes effort to instill enthusiasm for change in all individuals and teams.  

Struch shares Erika Andersen’s change arc as a representation of the need for understanding what it is that the individual needs to participate in the change.

Graphic of the change arc.
Source: Adapted from Change From the Inside Out: Making You, Your Team, and Your Organization Change-Capable.

The change arc helps exhibit what will move individuals to those new behaviors where change actually occurs.  

“When approaching a change initiative, it’s important to not assume that we can ‘flip a switch’ and expect people to know what is changing and how to change,” said Struch. 

Andersen outlines key questions individuals will want to know when it comes to change that provide a solid structure for the process: 

  • What is changing for me? 
  • Why is it changing? 
  • What will it look like? 

These questions should be addressed during the planning stages of the change, and answers should be clearly communicated to stakeholders. 

“The key questions that Andersen suggests are ingrained in me,” said Struch. “I do panic at the first thought of change, but as I understand the change and there is a shift in my mindset, I see myself taking on the new behaviors and changing.”    

The Importance of Communication

Making a campuswide change—such as migrating to a new LMS—can be intimidating. To help alleviate any anxieties, developing a communication plan will make the transition go more smoothly. By keeping all stakeholders in the loop, you’ll be headed toward organizational change with minimal surprises along the way. For example, here’s how one university took on the challenge of communication throughout their change management process. 

The University at Buffalo is a large public research institution with 13 academic units and multiple locations. After over 20 years with a previous LMS provider and a robust evaluation process, the institution adopted Brightspace. 

The university includes 2,500 instructors and over 32,000 students who are making the transition to Brightspace. That’s why having a solid communication plan in place was critical for this institution to make the transition a success. 

With the help of the University at Buffalo let’s look at five ways your communication plan will help make a positive impact on your users: 

  • First up, it’s important to draft a clear narrative on why the change is being made. Outline the value the change will produce in the long and short term and the pain points it will solve. For Carol Van Zile-Tamsen, associate vice provost and director of the Office of Curriculum Assessment and Teaching Transformation at the University at Buffalo, confidence in making the transition was also key: “We knew that it would go well, and that we could tell the faculty, ‘We’ve got you, we can support you through this. It’s going to be manageable, no need to panic. We’ll just take it one step at a time and we’ll all get there.’” 

  • For an LMS switch, having a longer runway to launch with clear check points will make it easier for users to warm up to the change. “The biggest area where we were concerned about confusion was the timeline,” said Jeremy Cooper, assistant director for digital operations and communications for the Office of Curriculum Assessment and Teaching Transformation. “We very clearly established a project timeline on our website and in communications so that faculty could see the various milestones that we would hit.” University at Buffalo rolled out its Brightspace migration over three semesters to get content successfully migrated and incorporate plenty of time for training.

  • Not everybody consumes information in the same way or at the same time. Having a variety of ways to reach your target audiences will improve the odds of the information being received. For the University at Buffalo, they set up a website with information on the transition to Brightspace in only four days. This allowed curious members of the campus community to seek out information on their own and answered questions before they needed to be asked. The second channel they used was email. “Email really is the primary communication method when working with instructors,” said Cooper. “They’re already accustomed to receiving emails from our office about different training opportunities. Adding this in was just a natural fit to communicate all the moving parts of the Brightspace transition.”

  • Sometimes it’s easier to talk about change with your peers. Identify users who are keen on your change and can share that passion with others who may be less sure. “I think that as time goes on, we’ll see more faculty come around to Brightspace because they need to see their peers being able to work with it successfully,” said Jeffrey Kohler, associate director for teaching transformation. “They need to be able to say, ‘my colleague is teaching a course that I’ll be teaching next spring. They did a great job with it, it works, and I feel comfortable doing it too.’”

  • Strategy will need to be involved when it comes to how often you’re reaching out to your audience, and when you do it. If you send too many emails, your message could eventually be tuned out. “There are so many moving parts to an LMS migration, and I think all of that can very easily become white noise if you communicate too much,” said Cooper. “As you’re communicating, watch those benchmarks in your communication channels to make sure that you’re not getting tuned out, you’re meeting appropriate averages for your industry and institution, and adapt as you go.”

  • The Role of Repetition in Communication

    Repetition, repetition, repetition.  

    Give a great speech to your stakeholders by following the same structure of delivery used by the masters of rhetoric, the ancient Greeks: 

    1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. 

    We’re changing LMS providers to create a more seamless learning and teaching experience for our faculty, students and staff. 

    2. Tell them. 

    After a thorough review and input from our entire community, we’ve chosen a new LMS provider and will be implementing it over the coming months. Our new LMS will provide a stronger teaching and learning experience for our institution. 

    3. Tell them what you just told them. 

    As I’ve just explained, with your input, we’ve chosen a new LMS that we’ll be implementing for the benefit of our entire campus community.  

    Following these steps will help transmit the information you wish to convey to your audience.

Why Do Institutions Need an Effective Change Management Process?

Institutional leaders are often responsible for improving efficiency and students’ learning outcomes. They oversee driving transformation of systems and practices across campus where necessary, making high-level decisions that impact the entire institution. 

Struch uses the example of implementing a new LMS to showcase the variety of groups within an institution that are affected by change. 

“For many, the learner is at the center of a change in LMS. In this implementation, there are a number of individuals in the organization who influence this learner’s experience directly or indirectly. In educational institutions, it might be instructors, LMS admins or department heads.” 

A graphic depicting how to help learners through change.

Change can be unpredictable and unique to individuals, and each person will react to it differently. 

“If one or more of these groups are not aware of the change, don’t understand the need for the change, or do not have the ability to make the change, then the learner’s experience could be compromised in a way that is not necessarily beneficial for the organization,” explained Struch.  

“Bringing individuals and groups involved along with the change by communicating well and providing some tools for those individuals to change is important for ensuring its success,” she added.   

Change management practices can make transitions easier by giving leaders a better understanding of how to execute change, which also increases the confidence in their skills to make change a reality.  

Change Management in Practice: Bentley University 

After spending decades with the same LMS, Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, knew it was ready for a change. After Bentley considered solutions from multiple providers, the institution chose Brightspace as its new LMS, convinced by its positive community feedback, flexible design and intuitive user experience.  

Once Bentley made its choice, the university’s attention turned to planning a seamless migration to Brightspace—a journey that’s focused substantially on change management.    

“When you’ve had an LMS in place for over 20 years, there’s a lot of unlearning and relearning to do, especially for our faculty members,” said Gaurav Shah, director of academic technologies at Bentley. “Our top priority was to get everyone comfortable with Brightspace and set them up for success on the new platform.”  

A core implementation team was assembled, and it established a faculty advisory committee to provide guidance on the solution configuration and deployment. Bentley also made sure to involve stakeholders from across the business, general faculty and student body as the university worked to adopt Brightspace. 

Bentley and D2L collaborated to develop an implementation plan to smoothly support the changes. A key to the success was early and consistent communication with the school’s faculty and assembled teams about the proposed changes. Bentley also planned a piloted rollout of Brightspace over the spring and summer terms prior to an official fall semester launch. These pilots provided early feedback from faculty and students on what was working well and what needed to change to improve the user experience.  

Get the full picture on Bentley’s change management story

Change Management Can Boost Institutional Performance

Studies show that projects with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management. Clearly, the application of change management practices would improve institutional performance, considering the amount of change college campuses are exposed to. There’s an ongoing cycle of data analysis, thinking about improvement strategies, implementing and monitoring them, and assessing the outcomes. 

Chart depicting correlation of change management effectiveness with meeting objectives.

The upward trend in this graph shows that even change management that’s less than ideal can have a positive impact on organizations compared to those that don’t consider change management application at all. 

Change Management Can Create Long-Term Success 

Change management for institutions—while a big undertaking—can lay a solid foundation that encourages long-term success. For example, working with your provider to effectively manage the change to a new LMS from the start will lead to its successful adoption and growth in the future. 

You and your provider should work together to develop an onboarding process that lays out a clear path to success and return on your investment. Here’s an example of how you and your new provider can work together to manage the change to a new LMS: 

  1. Kickoff—You’ll want to sit down with your provider to develop a timeline for meeting your requirements and addressing your challenges. Introduce your key stakeholders to important players on your provider’s team who’ll be helping to set expectations, validate scope and establish clear timelines. 
  1. Discover and Design—Collaborate with your provider to share your vision, goals and strategic initiatives. This will help map out your path to successfully navigating the change. Take this time to set up an approach to start showing your users the platform as an essential tool that can help make their daily lives easier. 
  1. Train and Coach—Talk to your provider about setting up a training program for your campus community. Take a phased approach that incorporates different styles of learning—such as on-demand, asynchronous or live workshops. You can also get tips on recommendations to improve course development to uplift content. 
  1. Prepare and Launch—Develop a detailed launch and communication plan to share with your team. This will help pave the way for a seamless rollout and boost engagement with your faculty, staff and students. You’ll also want to track progress after the change has been implemented to ensure it is sustained and continues to produce a return on investment. 

The Unique Conditions of Managing Change at Higher Ed Institutions

While institutions share similarities with other organizations, higher education is still a unique environment with its own challenges. 

Meaningful results often require months (or years) to show

Change—especially that which impacts the entire campus community—can be a slow process. It can take months to effectively make a change and even longer after that to see tangible results. Sometimes giving up seems like the easy way out, but seeing change through is almost always worth the effort. 

See the two-and-a-half-year implementation timeline SUNY followed as it successfully consolidated its existing LMSs in Brightspace across all its campuses. 

Faculty burnout and staff shortages present issues 

Faculty burnout is on the rise, and it’s causing many instructors to reconsider their career path. This burnout can have a trickle-down effect, eventually impacting staff, students and course development. 

This makes implementing change more challenging, because institutions are functioning at reduced capacity due to faculty and staff burnout. If staff members are already feeling worn out, any additional change—big or small—can seem impossible to embrace. 

When it comes to implementing a new LMS, meaningful results aren’t the only outcomes that should take time. When planning, baking in time to get faculty, staff and students acclimatized to the new software can increase its acceptance while lowering its chances of causing further burnout. 

Carol Van Zile-Tamsen, associate vice provost and director of the Office of Curriculum Assessment and Teaching Transformation at the University of Buffalo explains how her institution eased the burden on faculty when transitioning to Brightspace. 

“Our approach from day one was implementing Brightspace in a way that gave plenty of notice for instructors, that we had a good process in place to migrate over the content, plenty of staff and training opportunities so they could get a lot of support while they were going through this transition,” said Van Zile-Tamsen. 

“Our whole mantra during this time was just to be patient and to just start at that the lowest common denominator: getting faculty into the system and getting them acclimated. Once they’ve used Brightspace for a couple of semesters, then instructors can go into the advanced functionality and course design that we all want them to get to.”    

Everyone Is a Stakeholder in Higher Education 

What happens inside institutions affects not only the students but also faculty, staff, admin, and any and all members of your campus community. For example, an institutional rebranding can influence alumni looking for jobs. Staff reductions can impact student wait times or staff overtime hours. This can create an elevated sense of pressure, because some of the decisions being made can gain more attention.  

In addition, all members of your campus community have valid points of view and assumptions about how things should be run. Change can therefore be difficult to create and maintain due to the diversity of viewpoints across the community

Taking the unique aspects of higher education into account will enable you to create an effective change management process to help your institution reach its goals.  

Change Management in Practice: Ultimate Medical Academy 

Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA) is a nonprofit allied health institution helping its learners pursue successful careers in health care for over 25 years. After recognizing UMA’s LMS was dated, its administrators knew it was time to find a modern provider and ultimately chose D2L Brightspace. 

The UMA team used careful planning to ensure changing its LMS would be a success. This was done by delivering Brightspace in phases. For example, the first phase aimed to provide the same level of functionality as UMA’s previous LMS while adding new features that would be easy for faculty and students to adopt. 

Phase one also featured an emphasis on change management in addition to technical implementation. The team at UMA developed a training program a year prior to their go-live date, which was piloted with a small number of students and faculty to add refinements before its full launch. 

“Taking that time upfront versus rushing into an implementation was really worthwhile, because it meant that we all had a common goal, and we used that as our guiding light,” said Carrie Christoff, director, program management, at UMA. “It sounds simple, but that’s the kind of thing that makes these projects work.” 

Jennifer Birt, business analyst in the project management office, noted the importance of communication during the transition: “The communication and transparency throughout the entire organization were important too. Everyone knew what was going on, and nobody was working in silos. It was a whole team effort throughout the entire 18 months.” 

Richard Crowley, associate vice president, learning and student technology, joined the implementation halfway through and respected the organization and thought put into the process. “Stakeholders were brought in very early in the process and stayed on throughout the project. They were invested in the project and very enthused by the change, because we clearly communicated how it would benefit students, faculty and colleagues.” 

Get the full story about UMA and its approach to change management

How To Implement a Change Management Plan

The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out what kind of change you want to implement (such as an LMS upgrade) and who it will impact (such as faculty, students or staff). This will help you determine how you’ll carry it out. 

Categorizing Types of Change 

Change can be sorted into more general groups according to scale, origin and style of implementation. We’ve already covered how change can be small and only impact one area of an institution or, alternatively, how it can be an entire shift in process. Now, let’s see how the origin of change impacts the planning process. 


Change can be planned—such as an idea from the leadership team who’ve taken into consideration which improvements they can make to better serve their students. However, change can also be reactive. External factors—such as new government legislation concerning education—require thought and action. 

A graphic showing the differences between planned and structured change.

Most times the change can be a mix of planned and responsive. If a small group of instructors are struggling with learning a feature of your new LMS, you may suggest some on-demand training videos. This may be accompanied by carefully planned training hosted by your provider for all faculty members to get more familiar with the feature to prevent future confusion. 

Both changes meet the same needs: to help faculty adapt to the new LMS. But in this case, the responsive change is an acute measure that can be retired once the planned formal training takes place and makes a more permanent impact.  

You’ll want to have an idea of whether or not the change you’re thinking of implementing is planned or responsive. Its origin will impact the extent of your project and indicate whether the change will be temporary, long term or permanent. 


The type of change can also be assessed by how it’s completed. Will it take on processes and procedures, or will it focus on the way people think and act? 

A graphic showing the difference between structured and cultural change

Structural and cultural changes are often seen together because it’s impossible to separate what humans do from how they think. If a new LMS is successfully introduced in your institution—which is a structural change—the attitude toward the tech seen after the change can be classified as a cultural shift. Similarly, a cultural change where instructors are encouraged to share their course outlines could lead to a structural change in how information is shared, as there is now an increased interest in idea sharing. 

Change Management in Practice: Algonquin College 

Algonquin College made a structural shift in its institution when it migrated to a new LMS. But it didn’t stop there. After deciding to move to Brightspace, its leaders knew the importance of achieving a cultural shift within their campus community. 

The college was inspired by another Brightspace user—Fanshawe College—to create a student ambassador program. In this program, Algonquin College students volunteer to help onboard new learners at the start of every term to help achieve a cultural change toward acceptance of and excitement about the platform. 

“It’s proved to be a great method to get feedback about Brightspace, and we often take new students’ initial thoughts into consideration,” said Patrick Devey, dean of the Centre for Continuing and Online Learning. “We also recently hosted our inaugural Brightspace Symposium, which was well attended by faculty, staff and students. We had some very interesting presentations from partner institutions, as well as from D2L itself—including sessions on usability, competency-based learning, and using gamification and other techniques to motivate learners.” 

Learn more about Algonquin College’s transition to Brightspace

Key Activities for Change Management 

While there are a number of approaches to change management, the ability to achieve every activity involved will depend on your institution’s bandwidth and people power.  

“The optimal experience is to have a knowledgeable change management leader and fully integrate change management into the project plan,” said Struch. “If this isn’t possible, including at least some change management approach in a project will be beneficial.”  

Struch suggests the following three “playlists” for change management—tools that are often used by D2L with organizations it works with to implement a change to Brightspace—that can be scaled and modified for an organization’s needs and resources.   

A chart showing key activities for change management.

Include Time for Training 

Depending on the type of change your institution is implementing, you’ll want to put an emphasis on training your stakeholders. For example, if you’re making a campus wide LMS change like the University at Buffalo, training will be essential. One way to accelerate training is to give faculty the opportunity to connect with something familiar, instead of requiring that they start from scratch. This can be accomplished by migrating faculty’s existing courses to the new LMS, using their existing teaching material as a baseline. 

“We offered many trainings every month throughout our spring semester to bring faculty in and let them get their hands into the system,” said Van Zile-Tamsen. “We had made it a point to get some courses migrated over from the old LMS into Brightspace. When faculty had access, they could go in and see what their content looked like in the Brightspace environment.” 

It’s also important to remember that training doesn’t stop after the LMS is first introduced. 

“You go through training before launch but plan on continuing support into the first year of implementation,” said Van Zile-Tamsen. “There will always be things that come up that they have questions about, and you need to be prepared to continue that support until they really are well versed in the system.”    

Jeffrey Kohler, associate director of Teaching Transformation, understands that training can be another task to be added into faculty’s busy schedules and suggests giving plenty of time and options to increase attendance. 

“As soon as we knew Brightspace was being implemented at our institution, we wanted to make sure that there was a litany of opportunities for faculty to get at the training, and that it was offered multiple times at multiple sessions,” said Kohler.  

Delivering the training in digestible pieces at regular intervals—like course organization one day, assessments the next—can also increase its delivery. 

“Break the training down into manageable chunks and make faculty feel like they can process that information, practice some of those strategies or play around in the sandbox a little bit,” said Kohler. “I think you’ll see faculty will be inclined to go from being a brand-new user, to an expert user, to wanting to try features that they may have never considered in their course that the new LMS allows them to do.”    

Learn more about D2L’s Certificate Training Program for Brightspace or the Brightspace Guided Training

The Six Steps of Change Management

We’ve reviewed the leading scholarship on change management and identified six key steps to incorporate when designing and executing a change management plan. 

1. Create a Vision and Plan for Change  

A compelling vision of how the future can look is one of the best ways to get people to adapt to change. 

The biggest mistake that we often see people make when they’re adopting new technologies is not presenting a compelling vision 

Kassia Gandhi, academic affairs director, D2L

For example, use the vision of a brighter future in your campus community as the place to start. When the implementation process starts to get tough, refer back to this idea. This is why constructing your vision first is an important step when preparing your institution for change. Making your goals clear and articulating them will make it easier to answer questions from stakeholders, and to do so in a prepared and inspired way. 

Check out how SUNY outlined the goal statement for its systemwide change to one consolidated LMS provider, Brightspace.  

When you begin making your plan, consider: 

  • How will this change help your institution achieve your strategic objectives? 
  • How do you define success? 
  • How will you measure your progress? 
  • Who will lead the implementation process? 
  • What policies and procedures need to be considered? 
  • What won’t be in the scope of the project?  

While you’ll need to have a strategy for implementing change, unexpected obstacles can still pop up. It’ll be important to consider any unknowns that can impact the implementation process and develop contingencies to solve any problems.  

2. Prepare Your Organization for Change

To be successful with your pursuit of change and its implementation, your institution needs to be prepared both logistically and culturally. Before diving into the logistics with your campus community, do the cultural groundwork so everybody starts to feel good about the change. 

In the planning stages, you’ll want to help your community understand the need for change. You can do this by encouraging your institutional community to point out pain points they want the change to solve. Getting your students, faculty and staff excited about the change will help them become evangelists of the innovation, helping persuade the naysayers and limit resistance in the next step. 

This all relates back to the human side of change. While your reasons for change may be compelling—for example, using a new LMS to improve institutional performance—faculty, students and staff will want to know how the plan will affect them personally before they can conceptualize it.  

“That doesn’t mean you don’t need a strong vision for change,” said Kassia Gandhi, academic affairs director at D2L. “You just need to make sure you’re addressing staff’s immediate concerns and how it impacts them, because otherwise they won’t be able to absorb your vision.” 

Once you answer your stakeholders’ questions (how will this impact me?), you can expect them to continue through the process of change adoption to consider the overall impact (how can we do it better together?). 

table outlining how change impacts people

3. Implement the Changes

Once you have a solid plan and your community is on board, it’s time to tackle the change head-on. While you’ll want to focus on getting your stakeholders to take any necessary action, you’ll also want to celebrate immediate wins. 

Keep your students, staff and faculty engaged; give them glimpses of the impacts the change can have—new features, building designs or logos—that help keep them involved and optimistic. 

Hear how SUNY accomplished its systemwide LMS change by intentionally thinking about how to support change management for people in all roles across its campuses to ensure success.

Planning Your Migration to a New LMS 

A big part of implementing changes when switching LMS providers will be migrating existing content—courses, content types, assignments and more. Depending on what you’re moving and the compatibility between your providers, this process can take time and should be factored in when creating a workback plan for your launch date.  

To help, here are six steps to plan your LMS migration:

  • First and foremost, outline what you want to achieve with the migration. This will help you determine what elements to prioritize during the transition process to ensure it’s fulfilling its primary purpose. These goals will also help inform your timeline for the migration and which content should be transferred first.

  • How long your LMS migration takes will depend on the scope of your project, the experience of your team and the LMS providers you’re switching between. The number of user accounts and apps you intend to migrate will also affect how long the implementation takes, so it’s important to make sure you have plenty of time to hit each benchmark before the actual launch. You’ll also want to become familiar with who will be doing the implementation—will your institution, your provider or a third-party partner, such as D2L’s migration partner K16 Solutions, be responsible for migrating the content, and how long will it take? 

    The implementation timeline should include all the major tasks required of both you and your vendor, including: 

    • Performing an inventory of your current courses to determine what actually needs to be migrated and what can be left behind. Consider items such as existing learning content, prerecorded video lessons or interactive courses. 
    • Ensuring your content is compliant with the new tool and determining whether adjustments need to be made. Standard support during a migration is critical, and you’ll need to know what systems your new LMS provider has and how it can support your content. Will you be migrating all course activities—including assignments, tests, quizzes, and SCORM packages—or will you be creating net-new courses? 

    Your implementation timeline will also help keep track of costs, prepare the right resources and track the effectiveness of the work once it starts.

  • Talk to your new provider to figure out which migration process will work best for your institution. For example, the migration can include: 

    • a complete changeover done quickly 
    • a gradual phase-out of the old LMS and phase-in of the new system 
    • running both systems in parallel before the changeover 
  • The data migration process consists of three main components that usually happen in one of two orders: extract, transform and load (ETL) or extract, load and transform (ELT). 

    • Extract: Data is pulled from all your data sources (for example: course content, user information, video and assessments). 
    • Transform: This process consists of several sub-steps. The data is cleansed, standardized, deduplicated, verified and sorted. 
    • Load: Data is loaded into the destination and verified. 

    Sets of technical standards for eLearning software products—such as xAPI, IMS and SCORM—tell programmers how to write their code so that it can work well with other eLearning software. If your legacy LMS and new system use the same standards, the migration process will be easier. If not, the migration to the new LMS will require more effort in the verification phase.

  • No matter which way you decide to make the switch, your LMS vendor, along with your IT team and any relevant faculty and staff, will need to do some quality assurance. The team must also work together to make sure that the data is being migrated successfully, the information appears as expected and nothing is left behind. 

  • Once you are done with the LMS switch, ensure all the goals and objectives you set are met and the required data is in place. 

    You’ll also want to create a post-implementation plan after migrating to your new LMS. Stay in touch with your vendor to be able to continually offer training and support for new users. You should also conduct regular reviews to guarantee you’re getting the most out of your system, especially as new features become available. 

4. Give Staff the Support They Need

The way people interpret change can be broken out into five categories on a bell curve, ranging from those who are ready to embrace change to those who dig their feet in: 

  • Innovators and Early Adopters: “New = good because it’s new.” 
  • Early Majority: “New = good because my friend thinks so too.” 
  • Late Majority: “New = suspect and should be questioned.” 
  • Laggards: “New = bad and not to be trusted.” 
Graphic depicting how to understand the people involved with change management.

To help address all categories of change acceptance, you can create enablement and communication plans for different roles (faculty, staff or student) along with their adoption type. This will help address all the different need requirements. 

Identifying your early adopters has its perks, too. If they’re willing, the people who are getting the most out of the change can share their excitement or expertise with others. You can invite some of the late majority or laggards to these sessions so they can see what’s possible with the change, to build motivation and inspiration. 

When it comes to switching your institution to a new LMS, providing the right education can make or break a successful adoption. For example, on-demand training videos can be shared with your campus community to help them get familiar with the platform. Take it a step further by finding an LMS partner that provides certificate training for faculty or staff, such as instructional designers. If needed, work with your vendor to build out a custom training program or host an in-person training session for a more hands-on experience. 

As Struch said earlier, learners are often at the center of a change in LMS, and they can be influenced by various members of your campus community. Not getting all members on board can have a trickle-down effect, ultimately impacting the experience of the learner. Getting ahead of this by providing the right training to the right people will help ensure a smooth transition. 

You’ll also want to check out the customer service reputation of your LMS provider. Having round-the-clock support can make a big impact on adoption when it really counts. 

Anytime we raise an issue, we know that our D2L contacts will either solve it or escalate to ensure we receive a quick fix. The quality of support has been fantastic. We never feel alone with the D2L support team on our side.

Vanessa Cox, director of online learning, University of Dallas

5. Embed Changes Within Your Organization’s Culture and Practices

When an initiative for change ends, it can be easy for some people to slip back into the way things were previously done. It’s crucial to avoid letting this happen. One way to prevent this backsliding is by embedding the changes into the workings of your institution. For example, if you stop giving hard copies of class syllabi to students and transition to an online tool, tie that piece of administration into a task instructors already do when setting up their courses. Adding a change to habits that are already well-formed will make it more likely to stick. 

6. Review Progress and Analyze Results

Not all completed change initiatives will end in success. Doing proper analysis and evaluation will help determine the results—successful, unsuccessful or somewhere in between. This information can also help inform future changes. 

All institutions will need to take a unique approach to change depending on size, expected length of time and the capacity you have to make the change happen. 

Researching change management can help, but remember that people outside of your institution don’t understand it at the same depth as you do. Your personal knowledge of support that works best for your community or a vision they will best respond to are invaluable. 

Overall, Gandhi asks leaders to give themselves time and never rush results. That’s not to say you shouldn’t rush the change itself, but just remember that large, fundamental changes can be years in the making, even if the results are positive from the get-go. 

Ensuring That Change Is Good

We’ve discussed the inevitability of change and the essential need for institutions to adapt to circumstances in order to better serve their communities. We’ve also looked at how change management plans work, the obstacles you might face and how to overcome those challenges. With our deep focus on managing change, we want to take a step back and ask: How do we ensure that change is good? 

The ultimate work of higher education institutions is to prepare their students to thrive in an ever-changing world. It’s therefore appropriate that the people and places that help shape their growth also have a positive attitude toward change and exhibit the ability to evolve. 

Change can offer opportunities to develop and grow. It can teach us about our ideas and our shortcomings. Change can therefore be a force for good, pushing us to shake off the inertia of stagnating systems and processes, improving the outcomes of both staff and students. 

Focusing on change management doesn’t mean we need to reject the past entirely—sometimes a strategy that worked previously could help with a current project. It also doesn’t mean we need to divorce ourselves from systems and processes that work well today—if a procedure is working efficiently and helps the institution meet its goals as well as it can, does it make sense to change it? 

Managing change effectively is important. However, your institution relies on its leaders’ discernment regarding what changes should be made. If you decide to implement a change that is unnecessary and will not help your institution reach its goals, it doesn’t matter how well you manage the process. On the other hand, if you combine efficient change management with a strategically selected area of improvement, you will be unstoppable. 

No matter how much progress we make in terms of systems or technology development, your judgment will always be the guiding star for change. The decisions you make today will affect the outcomes of staff and students for years to come, which are shaped by your discipline, focus, determination and perseverance. 

Kickstart Your Partnership With D2L

Our personalized onboarding and launch experience will propel you toward success. Find out more about how we can help you make the change to Brightspace.


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Table of Contents
  1. What Is Change Management?
  2. The Importance of Communication
  3. Why Do Institutions Need an Effective Change Management Process?
  4. The Unique Conditions of Managing Change at Higher Ed Institutions
  5. How To Implement a Change Management Plan
  6. The Six Steps of Change Management
  7. Ensuring That Change Is Good