Diffusion of innovation

Many of you are familiar with Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory, even if you didn’t know its formal name. Dr. Everett Rogers is probably most famous for popularizing the following diagram:


[from http://susanlucas.com/it/images/categories.gif]

We often think of this bell curve when we initiate new technology initiatives: Who are the innovators that will jump at this first? When do we start involving folks other than the early adopters? How do we get the rest of the folks (i.e., the late majority and the laggards) on board? And so on…

But Rogers also talked about how the adoption of any innovation (i.e., change) tends to occur in five stages:

  1. awareness,
  2. interest,
  3. evaluation,
  4. trial, and
  5. adoption.

And, importantly, he also discussed what he called perceived characteristics of innovations. These are things considered by potential adopters that affect how likely those potential adopters are to move from awareness to adoption. They are:

  • relative advantage (the ‘degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better than the idea it supersedes’);
  • compatibility (‘the degree to which an innovation is perceived to be consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters’);
  • complexity (‘the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use’);
  • trialability (‘the opportunity to experiment with the innovation on a limited basis’); and
  • observability (‘the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others’).

Innovations that have greater relative advantage, compatibility, trialability, and observability, along with less complexity, generally will be adopted over innovations that do not.

Numerous school technology initiatives fail to result in widespread changes in educator practice. One prevalent reason is because they did not adequately address the very rational concerns that educators have about one or more of these perceived characteristics of innovations. Anyone who is trying to make wide-scale change happen in their school system must address these sufficiently to alleviate the concerns of the late majority and laggards. Otherwise only the innovators and the early adopters will jump on board, along with some, but not all, of the early majority. I’m sure all of you can think of instances of this and hope you will share some in the comments area.

10 Responses to “Diffusion of innovation”

  1. This reminds me a little bit of the model in Who Moved the Cheese.

    I think the stage of moving the later adopters is very difficult, and also very delicate. If the early adopters jump on board, and keep going, and the later adopters don’t “adopt” then you end up with a schism in your faculty.

    Dr. Rogers’ model is very applicable. I think you are correct that teachers have excellent “complexity” radar, and that many tools that have excellent classroom applications don’t pass that “radar” so to speak.

    Our students’ ways of learning are changing dramatically from our own. We need to be having a dialogue about that in our schools.
    Teachers or administrators will not see the “perceived need” of web 2.0 technologies and interactivity if they don’t understand those changes.

    I think fear of change is an issue here as well. I’d be interested this week in seeing some resources on how leaders help others deal with change. What kinds of environment can school leaders create that facilitate change? And how can we create an environment that supports the early adopters and the reluctant learners as well?

  2. It looks like you’ve read the work of Dr. Jayson Richardson!

  3. The insight and research of Rogers is the basic framework I have used a number of times to implement, manage and monitor change initiatives in our district.

    Just last August, we issued laptop computers and initiated 15 hours of professional development on basic skills and technology integration to over 800 teachers and administrators.

    This was not an optional program. Every certified teacher and administrator is participating. I used the entire school year before starting the project to bridge the gap between a “forced” initiative and a “self selected” initiative.

    The perceived characteristics helped me assess the status of individuals and groups as to the impending laptop initiative. I could then spend some extra time with those that were struggling with certain aspects of their perceptions to the initiative.

    Our initial data indicate the majority of our staff have fully adopted the laptop and the training as an integral part of their professional life. We “cracked” the 16% laggard barrier and, after 10 months, only have about 6% left that would still be considered laggards using Rogers’ definition.

    I have been lurking here for quite some time and couldn’t resist commenting after seeing a reference to Rogers! It is practical and actionable when used to help an organization through complex change.

  4. Thanks everyone who has commented so far! Here are two other reactions to this post:


  5. Restless Change Agent

    Scott has declared this to be Change Week over at Dangerously Irrelevant. He plans to post a variety of ideas and reflections on that topic and how it affects education.
    Change and education? Not exactly two words that go together well.
    He has a litt…

  6. The 5 stages that you refer to map very well to the theory of change. The five phases in change are: awareness, interest, preparation, action, and maintenance. People move fairly predictably through these stages (http://k12edubuzz.com/the-change-process/). I think that one of our challenges in leading innovation in schools is to help move the laggards along. Sometimes I think we should focus more energy on the middle of the curve and let the laggards be rocks (http://k12edubuzz.com/speed-boats-and-tug-boats/).


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