Leveraging informal leadership in higher education institutions: A case of diffusion of emerging technologies in a southern context
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In the last decade, emerging technologies and transformative practices have diffused into higher education social systems in ways that formal leadership styles are increasingly stretched to both keep abreast of and to manage. While many scholars have argued for the importance of the role of leadership styles in shaping the strategic direction of institutions, there is a paucity of research on the role that informal leaders, and more particularly opinion leaders and change agents, can play in enabling wide-scale adoption of innovations in higher education institutions. This paper focuses on the ways in which leadership in higher education can best extend their influence to accelerate the diffusion of transformational educational practices using emerging technologies by leveraging informal leaders. To illustrate how this could be achieved, we report on a study of 22 public higher education institutions in South Africa involving 259 participants who responded to an online survey. The survey focused on the uses of emerging technologies to transformthe teaching and learning practices and the nature of institutional support such initiatives received.The findings reveal that for emerging technologies to be diffused in institutional social systems, more transformative and less transactional leadership is required. The paper proposes a model for accelerating the diffusion of emerging technologies in higher education institutions and concludes that leveraging informal leadership is particularly critical in accelerating the uptake of emerging technologies practices.