Change Management


Supporting efforts to self-transform

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … the scope of possible activity of an entity
  • Knowing is … current activity of an entity
  • Learner is … a human-based entity
  • Learning is … changes in practice that enhance the scope of possible activity
  • Teaching is … effecting and measuring adaptation




Change Management is an umbrella term that is used in reference to a family of strategies, models, and programs designed to support individual, collective, and organizational efforts to self-transform. Associated discourses include:
  • Change Leadership – Advocates of Change Leadership typically define the discourse by distinguishing it from Change Management – for example, by caricaturing Change Management as a reactive, linear approach that’s driven by pre-set goals and governed by mechanical processes, thus positioning Change Leadership as a proactive attitude the is oriented more to open-ended growth and so more attentive and inspirational in nature.
  • Critical Management Studies (Mats Alvesson, Hugh Wilmott, 1990s) – discourses informed by and/or aligned with Critical Pedagogy that are principally concerned with critiquing the theories, practices, and foci of modern business schools
  • Educational Change – a term with both general and specific meanings. In broad terms, Educational Change is applied to shifts in philosophies (or paradigms, or theories) and reform initiatives. More specifically, it is the title of a branch of educational research that is concerned with such matters.
  • Management Development – an umbrella term that can be applied to any program intended to improve management duties. Most often, such programs include lesson-based and mentoring activities.
  • Organizational Change Management – an umbrella term, used in reference to discourses on Change Management that are explicit that their primary focus is on transformations of full organizations
  • Organization Development (Organizational Change; Organizational Development) – an umbrella term that reaches across theories and practices associated with efforts to modify an organization – whether top-down or bottom-up, driven by opportunity or motivated by threat, focused on beliefs or concerned with skills
  • Personnel Training (Employee Training) – pre-structured, formal programs designed to ensure that employees have the awareness, skills, and attitudes appropriate to their assigned roles in an organizations. Associated constructs include:
    • Needs Assessment – an assessment, conducted at the community or organization level, of unmet collective needs
    • Performance Review (Performance Appraisal; Performance Assessment; Performance Evaluation) – a periodic review of one’s effectiveness in one’s assigned role, usually conducted by a direct supervisor and generally intended for formative purposes (although often also tied into compensation and/or promotion structures)
    • Person-Needs Analysis – a part of a Needs Assessment that is focused on necessary sorts of Personnel Training
Assumptions and advice vary significantly across perspectives, and so the topic is perhaps best managed with specific examples (listed chronologically):
  • Scientific Management (Taylorism)  (Frederick Winslow Taylor, 1910s) –  an early Change Management model that attempted to apply principles of physics and engineering to workflows, aiming to improve economic efficiency (mainly by increasing worker productivity). Though mainly concerned with factory production, it was taken up by some educational policy makers and curriculum developers in the early 1900s and its sensibilities infuse many Instructional Design Models.
  • Lewin’s Model of Change (Lewin's Change Management Model; 3-Step Change Management Model) (Kurt Lewin, 1950s) – a model that posits organizational change as a three-step process: Unfreeze (identifying an issue, analysis, proposal, initial community engagement), Change (implementation and continuing communication); Refreeze (implementation of structures to maintain new practices, accompanied by a critical view of the process and attainment.
  • Management by Objectives (Management by Planning) (Peter Drucker, 1950s) – an outcomes-oriented model of Change Management that emphasizes clear objectives and evaluations of performance based on achievement of those objectives
  • Adaptive Management (various, 1970s) – an iterative, learning-based Change Management process that is especially attentive to uncertainties, resourcing, and system self-monitoring. An aim of Adaptive Management is to balance acting (on current knowledge for the short term) and learning (i.e., developing greater knowledge for the longer term).
  • 7-S Framework (McKinsey 7-S Model) (Lowell Bryan, 1970s) – Developed for/by McKinsey & Company Consultants, this model identifies seven aspects of the Change Management process: Change Strategy; Structure of Your Company; Business Systems and Processes; Shared Company Values and Culture; Style or Manner of the Work; Staff Involved; Existing Staff Skills.
  • SWOT Analysis (SWOT Matrix; TOWS; WOTS-Up) (Norman Stait, 1970s) – a planning and management technique that is structured around critical considerations of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
  • Change Grid (Cynthia Scott, Dennis Jaffe, 1980s) – a pathway through a 2 ´ 2 grid, depicting the change process as shifts from focusing on the past to focusing on the future (in the left-to-right motion) and from focusing on external dynamics to internal and back to external (in a down-up-down motion)
  • Satir Change Model (Satir Growth Model) (Virginia Satir, 1980s) – a model that focuses more on preparing for change than on structuring or implementing change, but monitoring the emotional progressions of participants across five stages: Late status quo, Resistance, Chaos, Integration, New Status Quo
  • Bridges Transition Model (William Bridges, 1990s) – a three-stage model, intended to help recognize and attend to emotional challenges during moments of organizational change: (1) Ending, Losing, and Letting Go (initial emotional response to change); (2) Neutral Zone (tension between established structures and new possibilities); (3) New Beginning (acceptance of and comfort with new structures)
  • Change Curve (Kübler-Ross Change Management Framework) (Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, 1990s) – an adaptation of Kübler-Ross’s widely known “Five Stages of Grief,” applied to anticipate, interpret, and address participant responses to organizational change. There are multiple versions of the Change Curve, but their stages tend to reflect Kübler-Ross’s original Denial (refusal to believe), Anger (resentment at being forced), Bargaining (pushing for compromise), Depression (feeling hopeless and helpless), and Acceptance (realizing there are no other options).
  • Plan–Do–Check–Act Cycle (Deming Cycle; PDCA Model) (W. Edwards Deming, 1990s) – a model intended to both guide choices in change making and implementation of desired changes, based on four factors: levels/goals/strategies; measurement system; sequence of options; implementation and change
  • ADKAR® Model of Change Management (Jeff Hiatt, 2000s) – Focused on individual change, the ADKAR model proposes five building blocks of success: Awareness of need; Desire to change; Knowledge necessary undertake; Ability to act on that knowledge; Reinforcement to maintain the change.
  • Maurer 3 Levels of Resistance and Change Model (Rick Maurer, 2000s) – a model that attends more to the likely causes of failure in efforts to change than to methods to implement change. Three critical levels of resistance are emphasized: I don’t get it (not understanding the purpose and/or means to change); I don’t like it (negative emotional response to change); I don’t like you (lack of trust or confidence in the change process or the change leaders).
  • Theory U (Otto Scharmer, 2000s) – a Change Management model organized around “presencing,” which is characterized as a “journey” that involves becoming better aware of the possibilities that exist outside one’s institutional bubble, becoming productively critical of one’s institutional reality, and participating in bringing forth new possibilities.
  • 8-Step Process for Leading Change (Kotter’s Model of Change Management) (John P. Kotter, 2010s) – a model of Change Management that comprises eight sequential steps: Create a Sense of Urgency; Build a Guiding Coalition; Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives; Enlist a Volunteer Army; Enable Action by Removing Barriers; Generate Short-Term Wins; Sustain Acceleration; Institute Change
“Leadership” has emerged as its own domain of discussion as an integrated complement of the Change Management literature:
  • Leadership Theories – an umbrella notion that stretches across approaches to, strategies for, and effectiveness of leadership efforts. Most Leadership Theories align with the sensibilities of socio-cultural discourses on learning, but almost all discourses on our map are represented in some way across the range of perspectives. Categories include:
    • Behavioral Leadership TheoriesLeadership Theories that focus on well-defined leader activities and their documentable outcomes (i.e., in relation to goal attainment and relationship development). Examples include:
      • Leader Categorization Theory – a model of leadership that that suggests one’s conception of and approach to leadership are grounded in continuous, ongoing appraisals of people classified as leaders, from which conclusions on that leadership traits are distilled
      • Path–Goal Theory (Robert House, 1970s) – a Leadership Theory founded on a Path-Following Metaphor that frames the leader’s role in terms of managing the organization’s goals while helping workers to choose/create the best paths for their personal goals – in the process, increasing productivity and quality while fostering worker’s satisfaction and motivation
    • Cognitive Leadership TheoriesLeadership Theories that focus on and offer explanations in terms of leaders’ perceptions, interpretations, and habits of thinking. Examples include:
      • Attribution Theory of Leadership – (Stephen Green, 1970s) – a model of leadership that suggests one’s conception of and approach to leadership are rooted in inferences based on one’s of experiences and observations
      • Cognitive Resource Theory (Fred Fiedler, Joe Garcia, 1980s) – rooted in studies of military leadership, a perspective on leadership that emphasizes the role of experience in high-stress moments and of intelligence in low-stress moments. (Note: There is another Cognitive Resource Theory; see Cognitive Processes.)
    • Contingency Leadership TheoriesLeadership Theories that focus on situations, founded on the premise that contexts and circumstances are more vital determiners of “good” leadership. Examples include:
      • Postmodern Leadership – an attitude toward leadership that rests on the assumption that organizations are not entities in themselves but assemblages of persons, each of whom operates from their own subjective truth
      • Substitutes for Leadership Theory (Leadership Substitute) (John Michael Jermier, 1970s) – a Contingency Leadership Theory that focuses on aspects of the situation that reduce or remove the need for a designated person to coordinate and motivate a group. Situational aspects include the purpose of the collective, the nature of the task, the qualities of the group, and the traits of members
      • Situational Leadership Theory (Paul Hersey, 1980s) – a Contingency Leadership Theory that suggests a leader’s style depends on professional experience, psychological maturity, knowledge, and followers
    • Implicit Leadership Theories – the study of everyday beliefs and assumptions about good leadership – which are often held with conviction, but many of which are founded on Folk Theories
    • Participative Leadership Theories (Participatory Leadership)Leadership Theories that emphasize matters of individual autonomy and involvement of group members in decision making. Examples include:
      • Complexity Leadership Theory (Mary Uhl-Bien, Russ Marion, 2000s) – an attempt to incorporate principles of Complex Systems Research into leadership practices. Recommendations vary considerably from one version to another, but consistent advice is focused on “flattening” the organization (i.e., reducing hierarchical structures), maintaining adaptability to pursue emergent opportunities, and enabling subgroups to self-organize around matters of shared interest
      • Distribution Actions Theory – a Leadership Theory founded on the premise that the distribution of certain leadership functions (e.g., decision making, role assignment, standard setting) is positively correlated to collective effectiveness and individual satisfaction
      • Servant Leadership (Robert Greenleaf, 1990s) – a style of leadership based not on centralized power, but on decentralized authority, prioritizing the needs of organization members, and nurturing a broader attitude of serving others
      • Ubuntu (Lovemore Mbigi, 1990s) – a mode of leadership rooted in ideals of interconnectedness and profound morality, named with a Bantu word that has been translated as “collective personhood,” “humanity,” and “I am because we are.”
    • Trait Leadership TheoriesLeadership Theories that focus on and offer explanations in terms of leaders’ traits (e.g., self-assurance, intelligence) abilities (e.g., for supervising, for engaging others). Examples include:
      • Human Relations Theory – an attitude common to many Leadership Theories and Management Styles (see Teaching Styles Discourses) that assumes and asserts the leaders with strong communication skills and who are attentive to interpersonal relationships and group dynamics are more effective that more detaches and/or authoritarian leaders

Of course, every domain of human engagement is subject to superficial or disingenuous efforts. Within Change Management (and Leadership), constructs used to label such efforts include:

  • Conspiracy of Convenience – a manner of training or other educational engagement that is designed to respond to a targeted need, but that is not subjected to a review or evaluation (and, so, it “checks a box,” but doesn’t necessarily meet the identified purpose)
  • Solutioneering – the tendency of decision-makers to move toward solutions before properly analyzing the circumstances that give rise to the problem


The term, “Change Management,” is simultaneously well understood and diversely interpreted by those who use it. For example, it appears that currently prevalent discourses on Change Management are informed by and in-line with well-supported Collectivist Learning Theories. However, it is also clear that some discourses are highly prescriptive and founded on mechanistic assumptions on humans and human interactions.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Kurt Lewin

Status as a Theory of Learning

Change Management discourses draw on a wide range of perspective on interpreting learning, especially Collectivist Learning Theories and, less often, Emergent Complexity Discourses. However, for the most part, they make little or no contributions to those perspectives

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Change Management discourses are principally concerned with influencing learning, and so they are properly understood as discourses on teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Change Management is more as a domain of discussion than a focused or coherent discourse on learning. While some of its associated discourses are robustly theorized and have strong evidence behind them, others to not – and so, in general terms, Change Management falls short on multiple of our criteria for a scientific theory.


  • Adaptive Management
  • ADKAR® Model of Change Management
  • Attribution Theory of Leadership
  • Behavioral Leadership Theories
  • Bridges Transition Model
  • Change Curve (Kübler-Ross Change Management Framework)
  • Change Grid
  • Change Leadership
  • Cognitive Leadership Theories
  • Cognitive Resource Theory
  • Complexity Leadership Theory
  • Conspiracy of Convenience
  • Contingency Leadership Theories
  • Critical Management Studies
  • Educational Change
  • 8-Step Process for Leading Change (Kotter’s Model of Change Management)
  • Human Relations Theory
  • Implicit Leadership Theories
  • Leader Categorization Theory
  • Leadership Theories
  • Lewin’s Model of Change (Lewin’s Change Management Model; 3-Step Change Management Model)
  • Management by Objectives (Management by Planning)
  • Management Development
  • Maurer 3 Levels of Resistance and Change Model
  • Needs Assessment
  • Organizational Change Management
  • Organization Development (Organizational Change; Organizational Development)
  • Participative Leadership Theories (Participatory Leadership)
  • Path–Goal Theory
  • Performance Review (Performance Appraisal; Performance Assessment; Performance Evaluation)
  • Person-Needs Analysis
  • Personnel Training (Employee Training)
  • Plan–Do–Check–Act Cycle (Deming Cycle; PDCA Model)
  • Postmodern Leadership
  • Satir Change Model (Satir Growth Model)
  • Scientific Management (Taylorism)
  • Servant Leadership
  • 7-S Framework (McKinsey 7-S Model)
  • Situational Leadership Theory
  • Solutioneering
  • Substitutes for Leadership Theory (Leadership Substitutes)
  • SWOT Analysis (SWOT Matrix; TOWS; WOTS-Up)
  • Theory U
  • Trait Leadership Theories
  • Ubuntu

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Change Management” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

⇦ Back to Map
⇦ Back to List