In keeping with international trends of introducing online collaboration and networked learning, South Africa too has joined the race. For this blog I draw extensively from my research on teacher collaboration conducted for the completion of my Doctoral studies. I believe that the literature is equally relevant to facilitators in higher education. The lesson learnt from that study is to be cautious as we put structures into place without consideration of the culture of the very people we expect to be impacted by the implementation.

The literature on educational change suggests that attempts at restructuring are unsuccessful due to features associated with the nature of the change. Change theorists profess that the most successful way to begin implementation is to consider the relevance (interaction between need, clarity, and utility) and readiness (capacity and need); otherwise it will only be partially successful or not successful at all.

There are also many perspectives of change including the technical, political and cultural. The technological perspective assumes that all people share a common interest in promoting the move from face to face to online interaction. What is required is for facilitators to believe that first working online and second working collaboratively will yield better output. The political perspective emphasises issues of power, authority, and competing interests that influence the veracity and appeal of the change process as well as the impact the change has on those they affect, such as teachers. The cultural perspective assumes that group norms, rather than political or economic interests, determine the process of change unlike the political perspective which assumes a common set of values, presupposes a fragmented society, and assumes there is basic agreement on values within organisations and groups and less agreement between groups. The cultural perspective is useful in explaining how different cultures affect the process of change.

Restructuring, as a preferred approach to creating communities of learning in the online space, does not automatically enable changing the form and content of people cultures which shape existing practices. Restructuring may be a necessary condition for changing practices, but it is not enough. Reculturing which creates opportunities for change in the content and form of people’s practices and beliefs, and for time release from regular duties to allow for collaboration and planning, allows for professional development. What this means is that professional development needs to pay particular attention to people ‘selves’ in restructuring and reculturing as they share a reciprocal relationship. Practices and beliefs tend to change interactively and together, and hence restructuring and reculturing should occur simultaneously during the transition from face to face to online learning and additionally the shift from the culture of invidualism to collaboration.

In conclusion, in 2016 the Joint Information Systems Committee in the UK echo similar sentiments as those presented in my study. They believe that cultural barriers can be as challenging as technological or legal constraints. Social networking present opportunities to embrace more interactive and collaborative approaches to learning and teaching. This can take facilitators out of their ‘comfort zones’, leaving them feeling vulnerable and reluctant to change. There may even be ‘institutional myths’ or confused perceptions around online learning in the institution, where staff wrongly believe that they are not allowed to do certain things. Your institution will need to engage staff and manage change well to overcome these kinds of obstacles.


Chetty, MK. (2013) Institutional-level support teams: a case study of teachers’ understanding of providing educational support through collaboration in the context of inclusive education in one district in KwaZulu-Natal.

Jisc Guide. (2016). Scaling up on Online learning.

3. Restructure-Reculture: Separate or Simultaneous