Understanding Change Management In Relation to Non-Traditional Students and Academic Advising

Through the course of our professional lives we will always encounter change. The key is how we handle change, how we present ourselves in the face of change, and how we overcome the obstacles of change.

What is Change and how is it Associated with Academic Advising?

Change is not easy, never has been and never will be, but it is essential to every person, company, and/or organization if they are stay competitive in the global marketplace. In fact, Sharma (2008) states that change is often correlated with pain. According to Hechanova and Cementian-Oploc (2012), change is associated with leadership and leadership aligns people with their vision. As academic advisers or coaches in a ground or virtual campus, we are always aligning our students with their vision. Who would want to do something actively if they knew it would cause pain? That is one the main reason organizations and their followers fail at change- fear of the unknown and the ease of maintaining the status quo. Change can be good, though let us look at this example; can you imagine life if the TV never changed? We would still be watching the big box that was sitting on the floor in the living room with those aluminum rabbit ears sticking out the back. Do you think that those types of TVs would sell in today’s marketplace? Not with TVs that hang on walls and project 3D images. From this example, change is good and change needs to happen for elements of life to grow and be sustained.

So let’s examine what happens when we are confronted with change. Did I lose you already? Most people will quit their current activity that is causing them distress.

Let’s take a look at the higher education industry and more importantly, how academic advisers can help students with change. How do students handle change? There are a lot of great theories on how to handle change such as Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model or Kurt Lewin’s 3 Phases of Change Theory, but the best way that I have found through my research is through communication with my students. That is it: simple communication. This is something we do every day with our students but we just do not do it in an efficient manner. Let us look at Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model and the first three steps. According to Kotter (2007), they are:

· Create Urgency

· Form a Powerful Coalition

· Create a Vision for Change

The question that I want to pose is, “how do these three points work within student advising?” Take a moment to ponder how we can create a sense of urgency, empower our students to network and use resources and create a vision for their change. How can we communicate this to them?

According to Lewis, Laster, and Kulkarni (2013), communication has a lot to do with the leadership style and philosophy of the particular institution and whether it incorporates transformational leadership, transactional, top-down or servant leadership to name a few. It should be noted that the institutions that have made significant change successfully have had change agents that understood the power of communication, both positive and negative. In addition, Lewis, Laster, and Kulkarni (2013) site that trust is a major component of change and communication. Did you trust your academic advisor or guidance counselor when you were in school?

In talking to students and how they are going to adapt from a traditional setting to a non-traditional virtual environment, uncertainty is usually the answer I get. How is this virtual education going to affect my life, my family, and my job? Will taking online classes be harder or easier due to flexibility? A simple explanation would be to ask them what their dreams are and why they are going back to school in a non-traditional setting. What is their “WHY”? During this time, I have found that it is a great opportunity to share with my students stories of personal relevance or stories that relate to the student’s experience. Moreover, Sharma (2008) uses appreciative inquiry techniques such as define, discover, and dream to help create focal points that can be used to remove the stressors of change and help overcome barriers that might be affecting change. In this instance with students and schools, overcoming barriers is a massive and constant hurdle for practitioners in the field but being able to assist our students with making their dreams come true is worth the little extra work.

Let’s take a look at define, discover, and dream phases.

Define Phase

The define phase in student advising is getting a full understanding of what the student is looking to accomplish. This is the time that we can define goals and expectations about their program and about how going to school will assist them. In addition, this is a great time to speak with students about any other issues that they might be having such as time management, learning styles, needs, and technology concerns. It should too be noted that Bloom, Hutson, and He (2008) go into great detail concerning how appreciative inquiry correlates with student advising from the viewpoint of ground campus advising and have developed a great program called Appreciative Advising. In the define phase, Bloom, Hutson, and He (2008) discuss how to disarm students fears and discover their goals. For the purpose of this article, we are strictly looking at appreciative inquiry and how it relates to virtual and ground campus advising.

Discover Phase

This is a great time to work with your students and figure out why they are in school. What is their big goal and plans for the future? Some answers that you might get would be that they are the first in their family to attend school at a secondary level or they might be looking to get out of a particular situation. The difference that I have seen with students during this phase differs greatly from my experiences on the ground campus advising. Students in the virtual environment tend to be established adult learners, where at the ground campus, the demographic is 19-25 years old. The students in the virtual environment tend to have different goals and dreams as well, just like was mentioned earlier about getting out of a particular situation or life event. Regardless of the reason for them to go to school, we must be able to listen and apply their dreams and goals to their program of study and design a plan that will get them to where they ultimately want to.

Some questions that I like to ask during this phase include:

· So, tell me why you have selected this particular institution and this particular degree?

· Tell me about a time that you were faced with a challenge that you did not think you could overcome. How did you overcome that and what did this challenge teach you?

Dream Phase

This is my favorite phase and is also a phase in Appreciative Advising. The experience that I have had with this phase has really changed the scope of how I speak and deal with my student population. The questions that are posed during this phase show the students that student advisors and coaches are really listening to them and that we actually care and have a vested interest in their success. Some of the questions that I have asked during this phase include:

· Think outside the box, if money was not an issue, what would you do?

· Or I like to ask a legacy question: what do you want to be remembered for?

I have found that students, when asked these questions, are very receptive and excited since they probably have not been asked these types of questions before. This helps our student population in the virtual environment grab onto something that is tangible and provides them with a plan that is not at all transactional but very much a living plan. It is very exciting.


My challenge to you is to talk to your students and ask them about their dreams and goals. Whether it is in person or over the phone, engage your students. Just like in Kotter’s Model, set a sense of urgency with your students to define why they are in school, align them with the proper resources, and help them develop their vision for success. These three phases can be accomplished in one 60-minute appointment. I do recommend that if you have time to space it out then to conduct other appointments, but what I have found is that our students are busy enough that they do not need to be sitting in an office or on a phone all day. The great part is that you will be surprised as to what you find and you will put their mind at ease as they are changing from not being an academic to being an academic. Students need alliances and network partnerships in the virtual environment and by going that extra mile; we can assist our students with change management as they begin their journey in the world of lifelong learning.


Bloom. Jennifer L, Hutson. Bryant L, He. Ye, (2008). The Appreciative Advising Revolution, Champaign, IL: Stripes Publishing LLC.

Hechanova, Regina, and Raquel Cementina-Olpoc. 2013. “Transformational Leadership, Change Management, and Commitment to Change: A Comparison of Academic and Business Organizations.” Asia-Pacific Education Researcher 22, no. 1: 11-19. Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed July 10, 2013).

Kotter, J. P. (2007). Leading Change. Harvard Business Review, 85(1), 96-103.

Lewis, L. K., Laster, N., & Kulkarni, V. (2013). Telling ’em How It Will Be: Previewing Pain of Risky Change in Initial Announcements. Journal of Business Communication, 50(3), 278-308. doi:10.1177/0021943613487072

Sharma, R. (2008). Celebrating Change: The New Paradigm of Organizational Development. ICFAI Journal Of Soft Skills,2(3), 23-28.