Online Education and Organizational Change

By Mitchell, Regina L. Garza | Community College Review, July 2009 | Go to article overview

Online Education and Organizational Change


Mitchell, Regina L. Garza, Community College Review


An in-depth case study examined faculty and administrator perceptions of how online education affected the organizational culture of a large, suburban community college. Findings suggest that in addition to structural and procedural changes, online education had an impact on faculty and administrator roles, teaching and learning (in both online and face-to-face settings), and the community of students and faculty members who comprise the college. The result was a new perception of the organization itself.

Keywords: online courses; faculty roles; administrator roles; organizational culture

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Community colleges are known for their ability to change quickly, and their adoption of online education is no exception. Since this instructional form emerged in the 1990s, community colleges have consistently been on the forefront of offering online education. Currently, over half of the 3.9 million students taking at least one online course do so at a 2-year college (Allen & Seaman, 2008), a larger percentage than their share of overall higher education enrollments (American Association of Community Colleges, 2008). Growth in online education has remained steady since its inception, and we are just beginning to understand its organizational impact.

When online education is implemented, structural and procedural changes occur. Though surface changes are a natural outgrowth of any new component introduced to an institution, there also exists the potential for change in organizational culture. It is important to understand how this change is experienced by those who are affected because organizational structure and dynamics, along with the lenses through which organizational participants view the organization, contribute to culture (Harris, 1994; Kezar, 2001; Schein, 2004). Much of the literature regarding online education focuses on surface-level changes rather than its cultural impact. This study sought to better understand the impact of online education on organizational culture from the perspectives of faculty members and administrators.

Online Education and Change

Online education does not neatly fit into a college's existing structure because it involves technology, academic administration, academic departments, and student services, blurring traditional boundaries between units (Jones & O'Shea, 2004). Though changes at the structural level are disruptive, they are only first-order, surface-level changes that affect positions, procedures, and processes while leaving the culture of the institution intact (Harris, 1994; Kezar, 2001). The longer-term effects of online education, however, are far reaching and may achieve deeper, second-order or cultural changes because the philosophies behind those changes challenge underlying values and beliefs.

Structural and Procedural Changes

Implementing online education involves immediate changes to technological and organizational structures. On the physical side, technology is necessary to create an infrastructure that supports and promotes online education. Organizationally, a structure must be in place to handle the day-to-day administrative functions. It is possible that either technological or structural components of the infrastructure for online education may be incorporated into existing systems but processes and procedures will be affected.

The technological infrastructure for online education includes, at a minimum, computers, networks, online student services, and a course management system (Hanna, 2003; Moore & Kearsley, 2005). Instructional technologies available for use within a college may also be used for online course delivery. However, online education requires a much higher usage of these resources (Diaz & Cheslock, 2006). In addition, teaching and learning in an online environment require different processes, policies, and procedures. For example, online courses are generally developed as part of a process involving the faculty member as a content expert working with technology and multimedia experts to produce a course package for student delivery (Hanna, 2003; Moore & Kearsley, 2005). …

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