Early Majority: Pragmatists travel together to shift their practice

Originally posted on January 25, 2011 by Brian Beatty

The adoption of an innovative practice within a social system begins with the initial “discovery” or development of a new way to do things that adds value to an organization. The “First Adopters” fulfill the role of explorers, finding new ways to carry out the core practices of the organization. But those savvy explorers aren’t a large segment of the eventual adoption population, and the innovative practice must move on to the next group, the “Early Adopters,” who develop visionary projects and find significant value in using the innovation to meet goals, alleviate significant roadblocks to performance, in whatever way the organization values. But still, the early adopters do not make up a very large segment of the organization. The vast majority of potential adopters is grouped into the next two categories, the “Early Majority and the “Late Majority.”

Early Majority adopters are willing to assume a small amount of risk in order to achieve the gains they see some of their peers (who have been involved in visionary projects) enjoying. Members of this are largely pragmatists; they’re generally comfortable with the way they carry out their business now, and aren’t looking for new practices … but they will listen to a new idea if they can see evidence of its value in relevant ways.

A particular challenge in moving an innovation into this segment is that many pragmatic people don’t automatically trust the visionaries in the early adopter group, and may not be willing to try out a new practice without convincing evidence of it’s veracity. They are risk-averse. As a change agent, your task is to develop evidence that members of this group will readily accept. Now, that can be a very difficult task, especially if you target the entire early majority group at once. You are much more likely to have success if you segment the early majority group into smaller groups that you (and the visionaries) can more readily persuade to adopt the new practice. When you have a successful implementation with a small sub-group of the larger early adoption group, find another sub-group that will believe the evidence from the initial sub-group’s experience. And so on … In “Crossing the Chasm,” Geoffrey Moore calls this the “bowling alley” approach.

The key is to recognize that this large group of your population will not just jump at an innovative practice because someone, even someone with a high formal position, says, “this is a good idea and we should try it.” This group waits until they see evidence that the innovation is likely to work for them, and they hear that message from people whom they trust.

Applying this to HyFlex courses, identify the people in the early majority group in your organization. On most campuses, this will be a mix of faculty, administrators and students. However, I would argue that faculty are the most influential segment you should address. Most faculty are comfortable with their teaching and their students’ learning, and see no great need to change their practice in a [potentially] disruptive way. So why try HyFlex? Remember, members of this group are pragmatists – they need to see the value and believe that it can be successful for them, too. So find cases of HyFlex working in situations that are similar to their own, and where the value realized would be appreciated as well.

For example, if a program wants an online program without giving up a successful face to face program, then show them evidence of a program that was able to do both at once using HyFlex. If a program wants to alleviate scheduling bottlenecks for students, show them evidence of how HyFlex participation options would allow students to enroll in two or more courses that are scheduled to meet at the same time, and participate in each course (in varying modes, of course) each week. If the great need is for more review materials for students so they can perform better on learning assessments, show them how HyFlex delivery can lead to archives of face to face interactions (discussions) and online discussions which can be rich sources of content for later review at a time and place most convenient to students.

As you think about the various groups of potential adopters in your context, I hope you are realizing on of the “big ideas” of being a change agent: The message to various groups of people should vary in it’s content, timing, and channel(s) of communication. Pragmatists respond to different claims, supported by different evidence, and carrying a lesser amount of risk than do visionaries. Next, I’ll describe the last major adoption group that you’ll want to address, the “Late Majority” or conservatives.

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