Early Adopters: Providing initiative and support for the first value-driven implementations

Originally posted on January 18, 2011 by Brian Beatty

In my previous post I described the role of “First Adopters” – the techies – in the diffusion of innovation process applied to HyFlex teaching and learning. Their role is to find new ways to help students learn and faculty teach, with or without technology, without much regard to risk of failure.

If an innovation is going to continue on the adoption lifecycle it must move on to the next group, the “Early Adopters.” Early adopters look to first adopters for ideas, technologies, and practices that are likely to work in helping them overcome problems and/or take advantage of new opportunities. They are willing to accept a significant amount of risk of failure if the promise of value is correspondingly high. In “The Chasm Companion” this group is called “Visionaries,” and rightfully so. It takes a certain amount of vision for a future that is different (better) than today to take a chance on an unproven practice.

First adopters can only take a new practice so far; they typically do not have the opportunity or authority to try it out in any significant way. Visionaries, on the other hand, are able to initiate (sponsor) and implement an innovation that makes a difference in some part of the organization that they have influence within. Visionaries want change with a specific purpose in mind, while techies are more interested in change because it is new. How much risk will a visionary accept? That varies according to the amount of return expected. Visionaries typically keep a “big picture” perspective, and that often leads to radical shifts in practice to meet significant challenges.

In the case of HyFlex, faculty members or members of the administration may play the role of early adopters, or visionaries. An individual faculty member may recognize the need for his or her own students to have more flexible attendance options, and consult with the academic technology staff on ways to redesign a course to allow for more student options. Often new technologies or teaching practices are part of the solution, and the techies on the AT staff are the ones who make them available (and troubleshoot problems when they inevitably arise!).

Mid-level managers, such as program or department chairs, may see the opportunity to expand a program’s reach using distance learning methods, but may not have the people, technology, or time resources needed to create and support a fully online, fully staffed program. HyFlex courses can be an effective bridge to an online program, so management may create incentives and an innovative climate to encourage and support the HyFlex innovation.

High-level management may see the need to increase graduation rates or overall student success, and HyFlex courses may be a vehicle to do that. Offering substantial archived materials (content, discussions, activities), options for attendance that accommodate busy lives, and more student control over learning process, HyFlex courses might contribute to increased student success: higher graduation rates and shorter time to graduation.

If your role is that of a change agent, look for visionaries in your organization. Analyze their organizational pain and opportunities for gain and consider the possible advantages of HyFlex delivery. Visionary projects are often highly contextualized, so take the time to co-develop a solution that meets their specific needs and realizes maximum value for them. You’ll need these people and their success stories to move forward into the next large adoption group, the “Early Majority.”

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