According to Rogers (2003), the rate at which an innovation is adopted by a group is affected by four factors. First, the users must become aware of the innovation and perceive the ideas, tools, or practices as different from those currently in use. In the world dominated by rapid advances in information and other technology, it is easy to assume innovations must be based on things that did not exist previously. Rogers confirms anything that is unfamiliar can be an innovation. How an innovation is perceived is determined by its relative advantage, compatibility with existing practices, complexity, and demonstrability. In general, innovations that diffuse are those that help one improve performance in a meaningful and efficient way, that are easy to use, and that users can try on a limited basis and the results can be shared with others.
Many educators are familiar with seeming cyclic nature of educational reforms and pedagogies advocates claim are innovative. This can lead cynical curmudgeonly teachers—a group which occasionally includes the author when faced with leaders whose credibility, competent, and sensibility is dubious—to remind others “we used to do this years ago.”
Second, diffusion of innovation requires communication, and that communication can occur through various types of channels. Mass media, a channel marked by a single person or group communicating the same message to a large audience, and it can be an effective method for introducing innovations to a community. Increasingly, social media and professional learning networks that are maintained and cultivated with digital tools are replacing mass media as a method of communicating innovations. This is one reason those with greater networks have greater political power in organizations that seek to be innovative. The diffusion of innovation typically involves interpersonal communication between dyads or small groups within the social system.
Third, innovations occur within a social system or community comprising members who seek to accomplish a particular goal. Some innovations are designed to accomplish essential aspects of the social system; these can be implemented by authoritarian fit. Others are designed to affect optional aspects of the social system, and these are adopted largely though social influences. Within the social system, there will be leaders whose opinions and perceptions matter to others and there are various types of decisions that are made. Venktash et al. (2003) noted social influences are a factor directly associated with the decision to use technology, thus individuals perceived to be influential are of particular important when leaders seek to diffuse technological innovations. Social systems, we know, comprise structural, human resource, political, and symbolic frames, and how an innovation affects each frame contributes to rate it diffuses and the extent to which it diffuses.
Fourth, the diffusion of innovations is characterized by time. The rate at which individuals within the social system adopt an innovation defines four groups that are considered in the next section. The time necessary for an individual to adopt an innovation depends on the delays between learning of an innovation until the decision is made to adopt it and then to actually implement it. In some situations, individuals may be locked-in to other methods because of investments in time, money, or other resources; or for political or symbolic reasons.
Rogers and others have observed that some innovations are discontinued after they enter a social system. Reasons for discontinuation vary, but replacement by another innovation is common; innovation researchers recognize that an innovative tool, practice, or idea will become traditional practices, which is later replaced by a different innovation. (In education, these innovations often return after a generation of disuse. My grandfather and I used to talk about innovative new science teaching methods that I was using. We found many similarities between those he adopted during his career in the classroom and those I was adopting. We both were active in our professions and had spent summers attending workshops to learn “the innovative new teaching methods.”)
Users may discontinue using an innovation when they become disenchanted with it, especially when they do not produce the outcomes promised by advocates. Cuban (1986) noted this was a reason teachers discontinued to use radio, television, and movies as they emerged in the 20th century. Disenchantment can also rise when innovations prove to be unsafe or when other unforeseen and unintended consequences threaten the effectiveness of the innovation.
Cuban, L. (1986). Teachers and machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920. New York: Teachers College Press.
Rogers, E. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed). New York: Free Press.
Venkatesh, V., Morris, M., Davis, G., & Davis, F. (2003). User Acceptance of Information Technology: Toward a Unified View. MIS Quarterly, 27(3), 425–478.