Laggards (Skeptics): What can you do with those whose heels are dug in and just won’t budge?

Originally posted on February 10, 2011 by Brian Beatty

In most social organizations there is a small group of people who simply refuse to change their practices from the way they’ve always done something, even when the majority of their “peers” have adopted a new way. This group is the non-adopters, “Laggards” or “Skeptics,” and most of them will never change. Some may, especially if the system forces them to change with irresistible pressure, but they certainly won’t go quietly!

In my experience in education, members of this group in schools are often the most “seasoned” faculty or administrators. These people may have decades of experience teaching a certain way, and they probably see no reason to change just because someone else has a different idea and claims some supposed advantage. When I address faculty groups and speak to them about online, hybrid, and HyFlex course delivery, members of this group are easy to identify by their questions or comments at the end of the presentation.

“You’ll never get me to change.” “I’ll be dead or retired before they’ll force me to teach this way.” “This is fine for you, but I’d rather teach students than computers any day.”

Personally, I’ve never seen a situation where faculty were being forced to adopt a new way of teaching, though I am sure it happens when an organization decides on a new delivery approach, such as moving a program from the classroom to online. Even in my own home department, Instructional Technologies, existing faculty are free to choose their delivery mode, though we do encourage HyFlex where practical. However, once a course is delivered in HyFlex and the program starts listing it that way, new faculty may not have the option to return to classroom-only participation mode.

Because tenured, public higher education faculty in the US have traditionally had a lot of control over their specific teaching activities, changes in course delivery of existing programs may be difficult to bring about unless the faculty assigned to teach a course is willing to give it a try. Higher education faculty who work for private universities, especially for-profit schools, are not likely to have as much control over course delivery decisions, and in that situation it is more likely that faculty may be forced to change (or lose their job). If an organization is run with more centralized power structures, and if it is responsive to the changes in its operational climate, faculty are likely to have less control.

The bottom line for this adoption group is that they are not likely to change, and that’s that. As a change agent, you may have more success in isolating the impact of their refusal to innovate rather than continuing to try to help them make the change. Unless you enjoy beating your head against a wall! (In that case, you’ve got other big troubles, too!)

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