The first people in your organization to adopt an innovative practice like HyFlex would fall into the “First Adopter” (or “Innovator”) category of Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations conceptual model. In the world of technology, we might call these people “Techies.” (You may want to read Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore for a good translation of Rogers’ work into the high-technology field, which has strong ties to the use of technology in education.)
Techies are usually willing to try any new technology, teaching practice, or both (in this case) because it is interesting to them. They may not have any specific goal in mind or severe problem to solve. They are interested primarily in doing new things, in being on the cutting edge of a field, being “first to market” to use a business cliche.
Risk is often not much of a consideration for first adopters. They’ll accept huge risk of something not working out, because they have experienced many failures over time with their new ventures. “Nothing risked, nothing gained” might be a common mantra in this group. They don’t typically have much formal power in an organization, but even so, they play a crucial role in the diffusion of innovation process. They act as the eyes and ears – the inputs or open doors – for new practices that might become valuable to the organization over time.
A growing organization needs first adopters to find and bring in new technologies and teaching practices so that they can be tried out and evaluated for potential (or even immediate) value. Without first adopters, change doesn’t happen nearly as quickly, because people in the other adoption groups have more to lose and are more risk-averse.
In my organization, the first adopters are a mix of academic and information technology staff and a few faculty members. The first adopters are involved in EDUCAUSE and other academic technology – focused organizations in order to bring in new ideas to our larger organization and (perhaps) provide an initial assessment of value. If they find a good idea or tool, one of their primary roles is to hand it off to someone in the next adoption group – the Early Adopters. If the innovative tool or practice stays within the First Adopter family, it goes nowhere within the larger organization and adds no value.
More on that in my next post.