Saturday, 26 February 2011

What have I learnt this week?

In H807 this week the concept of innovation in e-learning has continued to be the main theme.

Applying Rogers' ideal types

We examined Rogers' (2003) model which puts forward five categories to represent the speed with which people take up an innovation. Rogers describes people as 'innovators', 'early adopters', 'early majority', 'late majority' and 'laggards'.  Contributions to the tutor group forum on this topic were really interesting, and people related a range of experiences from their personal and professional lives to illustrate points. Most contributors could recognise some or all of Rogers' categories in themselves or in people they worked with.

A couple of really relevant points emerged for me from the discussions on the forum. Firstly, on reflection, I had perhaps been a little quick to criticise 'laggards' who are reluctant to adopt new technologies. Of course there are often very good reasons why people don't embrace new technologies, so it is important to acknowledge people's circumstances and to recognise that their point of view may be perfectly valid. However, this leads on to my second point, which is that the extent to which one is 'obliged' to adopt a particular innovation must vary depending on whether the decision is a purely personal one or one which is based on the collective decision of a team. At a personal level for example, one can decide whether or not to use Facebook to interact with friends and family. If I decide not to use it, I don't think that makes me a laggard. If I don't personally see any value to be gained from using Facebook then that is my choice. However, in professional situations, decisions are often taken collectively. A course team may decide that a particular technology is to be used to support the delivery of a course. Once that decision is made then there is an implied responsibility on the members of that team to adopt the technology. Obviously, if team members need support then support must be provided, but in my view it will undermine the potential success of an innovation if team members behave as laggards.

Will an innovation fly?

For the H807 course material Pettit (2011) adapted Rogers model to an alternative framework which set out five criteria for assessing e-learning innovations. The five criteria were relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. We were asked to briefly consider these criteria in the context of a personal experience with a technology. I chose my experience of trying to set up discussion forums in connection with my own modules.

Following my experience on H800 in 2010 I was enthusiastic about the use of discussion forums. I felt that there could be genuine advantages for my own students to use discussion boards, in particular to provide a means by which the experience of part time students could be shared by full time students. (Relative advantage). I had observed the benefits through my own experience. (Observability). I didn't think the use of the technology was particularly difficult, since most students were familiar with various forms of online messaging. (Complexity). However, the initiative wasa complete flop, and I wonder whether students simply didn't feel that idea was compatible with their own expectations of the course (Compatibility). If they signed up for a face-to-face course, then maybe they simply didn't see the value of the forums. Perhaps I should have experimented with a small scale trial before introducing it fully. (Trialability).

Early adopters or early majority – who is the key?

This section considered the so-called 'chasm theory' developed by Geoffrey Moore. This theory suggests that there is a chasm between the initial adoption of an innovation and its widespread adoption in the mainstream market. If this chasm is not bridged then the innovation is destined to remain stuck in a small-scale market. (Tanahashi, 2005).

When I read Rodgers' theory I initially felt that he had it about right, with the gradual progression from early adopters to early majority. However, having thought about Moore's Chasm theory, I do think he makes a valid point. I think there is a significant gap between an innovation being taken up by a few dedicated enthusiasts and its wider adoption by the early majority. At my own university, whenever an innovation or a new e-learning initiative is being promoted, there will tend to be a seminar or a presentation specifically for a small number of key people in each school. Similarly, when views are being sought about possible future directions it will generally be the same people who are consulted. I think this is akin to Rogers' idea that marketing needs to focus on the early adopters. Rogers maintained that the early adopters would act as local missionaries to speed the diffusion process. However, the reality is that there is a huge step from getting those early adopters on board to getting more widespread adoption amongst the early majority.

What counts as innovation?

For the final activity of the week we were required to consider a set of criteria developed by Kaye & Hawkridge (2003) to decide on which case studies to include in a book about innovations in business education. In the tutor group forum we were asked to indicate the criteria which we thought were appropriate for selecting e-learning projects. The key thing which emerged for me was the wide range of perspectives from which people approach an exercise like this. I think this is a reflection of the fantastic diversity of professional backgrounds and experiences which students bring to the the H807 course. Rather than analyse the responses in detail, I thought it would be fun to take the key words from each of the contributions and put them into a word cloud. Here's the result:

Wordle: Criteria for assessing innovations

Putting all this in the context of my week at work

Alongside my studies on H807 it has been a really busy week at work. We are currently undertaking a five-yearly review of the Construction Studies Undergraduate Programme, which requires some pretty difficult decisions to be taken about whether to retain certain courses, and how to design the structure and content of the programme to respond to the current context. This week I have been working on one of the key documents in this process – the critical review document. This is supposed to identify the key issues which will need to be addressed in the review. After hours of discussions amongst the team over the past few months this week was all about getting it into the document in and clearly highlighting the relevant issues and supporting evidence. I've worked pretty much all day, every day on it and have ended up with a bit of a monster – over 21,000 words in 60 pages, plus seven appendices!

Ironically, a lot of the agonising which has taken place in the discussions about the review have concerned new ways of working – in other words, innovations. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that higher education faces an incredibly challenging environment over the next few years. I think we are going to have to be much more responsive in our attitudes to students and in the way we deliver our courses. Not everybody is going to be happy with the new ways of working, and some of the ideas we have are potentially risky, but I really feel that we are going to have to be proactive if our courses are to survive.


Kaye, R. and Hawkridge, D. (eds) (2003) Learning and Teaching for Business: Case Studies of Successful Innovation, London and Sterling, Kogan Page.

Pettit, J., (2011) "Activity 2 – Will an innovation 'fly'?" in H807: Week 3: Who innovates, who follows? [Online course materials] Available from (Accessed 26th February 2011)

Rogers, E.M. (2003) Diffusion of Innovations (5th edn), New York, Simon and Schuster.

Tanahashi, H. (2005) The Innovator Theory [online], Tokyo, Mitsue-Links


  1. Nice work on the wordle, Tony. thanks Gabriele

  2. I'm happy to see that my contributions "fab" and "lovely" made it to the director's cut!

    I'm also finding your Personal Commentaries at the end of your case study reports very helpful - thanks!