Do you need a change theory?


The goal of this resource is to provide summaries of change theories, how they have been used in the context of STEM higher educational change, and key information and references. These summaries are just a few pages and are meant to be a jumping off place.

Intended Audience

Individuals interested in or currently involved in change efforts in higher education. This may include people who are developing a grant proposal, starting a change effort, conducting research on a change effort, and many more.


A change theory is a framework of ideas, supported by evidence, that explains some aspect of change beyond a single initiative (Reinholz & Andrews 2019). Change theories represent generalized knowledge about how and why change occurs in higher education. Change theories can inform the reasoning behind change efforts, help you inquire about the underlying assumptions of efforts, shine light on the context and system in which you seek change, guide the selection of indicators used to measure outcomes, and inform the design of interventions.

Change theories relevant to STEM higher education come from diverse fields. It can be hard to find relevant theories and key references. We designed this resource because we needed help learning about theories.

Summaries are organized by the target of the change you seek to enact.

  • Are you trying to change individuals? See these theory summaries
  • Are you trying to change organizations or systems? See these theory summaries
  • Are you trying to change culture (in a department or institution)? See these theory summaries
  • Do you want to know what change theories have been used in other work? This systematic review identifies which change theories have been used in STEM higher educational reform efforts and how theory informed the work (Reinholz, White, and Andrews, 2021).

We aim to build this collection over time and we seek authors who have used these theories in their own change work. Are you interested in authoring or contributing to a new summary? Contact Tessa Andrews ( or Dan Reinholz (

Search the Collection


Results 1 - 6 of 6 matches

Innovation-Decision Model
Tessa Andrews, University of Georgia
The innovation-decision model maps stages that individuals experience as they consider and adopt an innovation. It also outlines the features of innovations that make them more likely to be adopted.

Target of Change: Individual

Four Categories of Change Strategies for Undergraduate STEM
Alice Olmstead, Western Michigan University
Rather than being a change theory, the four categories are a framework or typology for organizing different approaches to achieving change.

Target of Change: Organizations or Systems, Individual

Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM)
Brenda Garrison, Community College of Denver
The Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) is a theoretical model for facilitating change that helps leaders and researchers understand, lead, and monitor the complex process of change in education.

Target of Change: Individual

Four Frames
Daniel Reinholz, San Diego State University
The four frames model focuses on organizational culture, defining different lenses for making sense of an organization's culture. Recent work suggests applications of this theory to undergraduate STEM education.

Target of Change: Cultures

Teacher-Centered Systemic Reform (TCSR) Model
Marilyne Stains, University of Virginia
The teacher-centered systemic reform model focuses on the instructional change of individual faculty within a larger system. A teacher's thinking is central to their practice, and both occur within a larger context of personal factors and contextual factors.

Target of Change: Organizations or Systems, Individual

Theory of Planned Behavior
Rebecca Sansom, Brigham Young University
The theory of planned behavior explains individual behavior as resulting from intentions, which in turn are influenced by attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control.

Target of Change: Individual