Late Majority: Conservatives are finally convinced of the need to change

Originally posted on February 4, 2011 by Brian Beatty

The second, and last, majority group in most social organizations to adopt an innovation is called the “Late Majority.” You’ve probably heard the term “better late than never,” and that perfectly describes this group’s adoption timing.

Late majority adopters are often the more conservative people in the organization, at least when it comes to the innovation being considered. Members of this group are often heavily invested in the status quo practice and are very reluctant to change. They may be extremely risk averse, too. Conservatives don’t generally trust the early adopters, and may only slightly more trust the pragmatists in the early majority.

“Why should I change? What I’ve been doing [for the past many years] has worked and still works. I don’t want to do things differently. It may be good for others, but I’d prefer to keep doing things the same way, thank you very much!”

Does it matter than a new practice is showing advantages and adding value to the organization in other areas? Probably not initially, but as the pressure to change increases (for valid reasons), members of this group may be persuaded to give up their staunch opposition and “get with the program.” Conservatives often begin to consider change when the pain, or disadvantage(s) of not changing becomes more severe and impacts their performance in ways that they care about. If there is no acknowledged and meaningful reason to change, they won’t. Your challenge as a change agent is to acknowledge their resistance to change (often due to fear of the unknown), continuously communicate the real advantages to change (assuming there are meaningful advantages), and highlight the negative consequences of not changing – maintaining the status quo. When the risk of staying put becomes more of a threat to them than the risk of changing practice, they’ll begin to change.

Clearly, not every innovation makes it into or through this group of people. Reaching this group can take a lot of time and energy. And if the innovation doesn’t add enough agreed-upon value, or remaining the same doesn’t entail meaningful loss (felt organizational pain), then this group will probably never change. If that’s ok in your organization, don’t waste your time convincing this group. A few may trickle into the new practice as they begin to trust and desire the advantages their peers in the early majority are realizing.

How does this apply to implementing a HyFlex course design in a program? Institutions that have been serving students with traditional classroom-based courses are probably well staffed with conservatives when it comes to course delivery modes. At San Francisco State, where I currently teach, I’ve met many. As I’ve shared the HyFlex “innovation” at faculty meetings, gatherings of department chairs, and in other conversations, there is almost always a large subset of hearers that reply with, “I’d never teach that way – I like seeing all of my students each week in class so I can be sure they’re learning.” They often also add, “I like teaching in front of real people, not to a computer!”

My response is typically to reassure them that I am not suggesting that the HyFlex delivery is right for all situations (students, content, program, and especially faculty), and that if there is some clear need for the flexibility that HyFlex offers, then it should be considered. The people I really want to spend time helping with HyFlex implementation plans, at this stage, are the “visionaries” who see a real opportunity for relieving pain: helping students learn better, graduating students faster by reducing course scheduling bottlenecks, providing online attendance options to accommodate travel or other schedule conflicts, or achieving meaningful gain: marketing courses or programs to an extended group of potential students, building gradually to an online delivery, teaching and learning competency.

In the realm of course design and practice, many conservatives don’t really trust the idea of HyFlex – yet! Our challenge is to build a value proposition that they can’t ignore anymore. Shrinking budgets and growing student demand for scheduling options may raise the felt pain to levels even conservatives cannot endure.

So far I’ve discussed the first adopters, early adopters, early and late majorities. There is on more group left, the “Laggards” who are the most risk averse and last to adopt. But that’s a topic for next week.

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