Monday, August 28, 2006

Technology Adoption & Diffusion in Education

By V.H. Carr Jr.

A nicely written review of the literature on diffusion of innovation theory and how it applies – in its different variations – to the adoption, diffusion and integration of technology within education settings.

Some connections to critical mass, tipping points and scaling up, all of which I have been thinking and writing about recently:

• Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovation (1986)

“..the adoption of interactive communications differs from that of previous innovations. 1) A critical mass of adopters is needed to convince the “mainstream” teachers of the technology’s efficacy. 2) Regular and frequent use is necessary to ensure success of the diffusion effort. 3) Internet technology is a tool that can be applied in different ways and for different purposes and is part of a dynamic process that may involve change, modification and reinvention by individual adopters.”

• Rate of adoption theory

“Diffusion takes place over time with innovations going through a slow, gradual growth period, followed by dramatic and rapid growth, and then a gradual stabilization and finally a decline.”

So, do we wait for that “dramatic and rapid growth”, the tipping point, or can we make it happen sooner?

• Need-based diffusion strategies

The “early adopters” and “early majority” have different characteristics and different needs. In the process of designing diffusion strategies, these differences need to be taken into account. When it is time to “integrate” technology within the curriculum, for example, you can’t assume that the average teacher will behave in the same fashion as the innovators and early adopters. This has important implications in terms of scaling up and integration of technology within the curriculum.

• Need for ease of use and low risk of failure

“The early majority’s aversion to risk quite naturally translates into a need for easy of use and early success if they are to adopt and diffuse the technology. The overlap with support and training requirements is obvious.”

Can we design interventions with rapid results in mind? … A progressive approach that guarantees early successes to build on?