Everett Rogers’ (2003) influential work on the diffusion of innovations explains much that we see on how new idea and practices spread throughout populations. This excerpt from my book Efficacious Technology Management which was released under a Creative COmmons license about a year ago is one summary I use when talking about this with education leaders.
Once an innovation enters a community, and begins to diffuse, its adoption occurs as the populations accepts it, and this can be explained in a very predictable way. A small number of individuals are responsible for introducing the innovation and those that prove more efficacious, effective, and efficient tend to diffuse through organizations through five different stages. The characteristics of those who adopt an innovation at each stage have also been documented by Roger and others. Two types of lines are used to describe and quantify the diffusion of an innovation, a bell curve illustrates the number of individuals who are in each of five stages of adoption and an s-curve is used to illustrate the part of the population that has adopted the innovation (see figure 8.2).
Innovators comprise the first 2.5% of the population of the social system to begin using a new tool or practice or to accept an idea. Individuals in this group tend to be widely connected to others outside the social system or community, thus have greater exposure to new ideas and tools; in the digital world, innovators may be widely dispersed and use digital tools and social networks to maintain their networks. In addition, these individuals tend to have resources that can be dedicated to experimentation with innovations and the individuals are open to taking the risks associated with adopting ineffective or inefficient innovations that do not gain acceptance. Group is illustrated on the far left of figure 1.
Early adopters are the next 13.5% of the population to adopt an innovation. Whereas innovators tend to be highly connected outside of an organization or population (thus they are the conduits for an innovation to enter it), early adopters are more highly connected and respected within the organization or population. Innovators seek to identify those who are likely to be early adopters, as those innovations accepted by this group are likely to diffuse more quickly because these individuals exert significant social pressure on others. In addition to vetting the changes introduced by innovators, early adopters become change agents as they become a model for others to follow and they demonstrate the applicability of an innovation.
Members of the early majority are the first adopters that are considered followers as they are the first to follow the example of the early adopters. Rogers quotes Alexander Pope who wrote in 1711, “Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor the last to lay the old aside” to describe this type of user. All adopters proceed from awareness of the innovation through knowledge of the innovation to the decision to adopt it. The early majority tends to take longer than earlier adopters to become aware of an innovation, but once they have knowledge of it from credible early adopters, they tend to make the decision to adopt the innovation.
The second half of the users to adopt an innovation is divided into two groups. For statistical reasons, the late majority comprises 34% of the users and the final 16% of the adopters are the late adopters. Once the majority of the population is using an innovation, the late majority adopters yield to increasing expectations that the innovation be used as well as respond practical reasons, including economic factors and decreasing access to traditional tools, when making the decision to adopt an innovation. In many cases, these users adopt an innovation only after the remaining uncertainties over the effectiveness and acceptance of an innovation are removed.
Rogers and others have used the term laggards to describe the later adopters. This group tends to retain the traditional tools, practices, and ideas until all other options have been removed. While this group tends to be relatively closed, tending to communicate with others in the group who are later adopters also, the reasons for the later adoption of innovation be this group derive from any factors. Rogers does recognize the tendency in many organizations to blame the individuals who are the last to adopt an innovation, but he criticizes that approach as important factors related to the organization can be understood by studying the rationale given by later adopters for their delay.
Rogers, E. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed). New York: Free Press.