Digital transformation of schools and executive training and leadership centres

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About the project

Digital technologies are transforming political, economic, cultural and social issues and dynamics on the global, continental, national, regional and local levels at an impressive rate. They are forcing decision-makers, the general public and the next generations to reconsider the rules of the game in the short and long term, and to re‑envision how they see the world as newly developed knowledge shatters previously standard perceptions, attitudes and capacities. Communication systems, and the quantity and diversity of information they carry, influence people’s mental processes and how they analyze and explain situations, make decisions and develop policies, strategies and management methods. Such sweeping changes are particularly relevant for staff in educational institutions, specifically in terms of the crucial part they play in helping new members of the work force get their bearings, learn the culture, integrate the work environment and train for their new positions.

A knowledge synthesis, then, is well warranted, so that we can better understand the factors that may influence organizational change (“digitalization”). Worthy of particular attention is senior administrators’ leadership and the ways in which such leaders can mobilize and support their workplaces toward digital transformation.

The goal of this synthesis was to answer the following two questions:

A) What mechanisms (devices, procedures, practices) and social processes (awareness-raising, mobilization, etc.) should an institution’s leadership opt for?

B) What factors can be obstacles to successful digital transformation?

Key findings

  • Many research studies have highlighted both the strategic role of institutional leadership and the importance of senior administrators’ digital competence and the strategies they employ in achieving organizational change (“digitalization”). These studies identify the “mediator role” that an institution’s senior administration is called upon to play in balancing governmental policies or ministerial digital action plans with the educational institution (school or training centre). Studies have also shown the importance of creating a culture of learning within the institution in order to pave the way for digital transformation.
  • Some of the literature enabled us to identify factors affecting digital transformation, potential barriers and the relation between them. These studies also classify these factors (personal, organizational, contextual) and barriers (first-order barriers and second-order barriers).
  • An analysis of the research suggests that a consensus on vocabulary has not yet emerged. Researchers use a variety of expressions to describe senior administrators’ leadership for digital transformation. Deeper research and a comparative analysis of terms and definitions, research subjects, metrics and conceptualizations would be fruitful.
  • We also found considerable variation in the tools used to measure certain aspects, including usage of digital technology by senior administrators, their digital competence, and the behaviours and practices associated with their leadership. There seems to be little research that has studied this type of organizational change from the perspective of senior administration of educational institutions. Likewise, few studies seem to have integrated a systemic and dynamic vision of an institution’s digital transformation that takes into account factors affecting various levels of analysis (personal, organizational and contextual) and attempts to account for how these factors interact over time.

Policy implications

  • Digital competence of senior administrators of an institution and those aiming at such positions: It seems of fundamental importance to provide them with organized and tailored training, devices for education “by and with peers” (colleagues) and the support of skilled individuals (coaches) to guide senior administrators in their digital transformation efforts.
  • Similarly, activities should be offered to senior administrators and those aiming at such positions in order to enable them to “discover” the potential of digitalization (utility, added value) not only for teaching/learning, but also for management (analysis and decision‑making supported by reliable, high‑quality data).
  • Senior administrators’ leadership for digital transformation: It seems likewise fundamental to train senior administrators and members of digital transformation committees of educational institutions not only for the transformation projects that affect the organization at various levels, but also on various social processes, such as awareness-raising, mobilization and empowerment of the staff who will influence the success of organizational transformation that affects not only structures and processes but also culture and professional practices.
  • Tool development: Based on a number of research studies, we suggest developing tools that could help administrators to assess their institution’s potential for digital transformation and to follow up on the progress of that transformation (monitoring).

Further information

Contact the researchers

Nancy Lauzon, Professor, Faculty of Education, Université de Sherbrooke:

Martine Picard, Lecturer in Education, and PhD student, Université de Sherbrooke:

Alexandre Moïse, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Computer Systems and Quantitative Management Methods, Université de Sherbrooke:

Alain Huot, Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières:    

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, the Future Skills Centre or the Government of Canada.

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