Why some teachers will never love technology (and that’s O.K.)

April 24, 2012

Are there teachers in your school who drive you bonkers because they are so out of touch with current ways of doing things or resistant to trying new things? Turns out, that is perfectly normal.

Everett Rogers “Diffusion of Innovation” theory examines how and why technology and new ideas are adopted through a social system or culture. It has been widely adopted since its original publicaiton in 1962. Rogers explores the notion of how innovations are adopted in depth. I won’t go into every detail in this post, but here are some highlights:

Rogers proposes that four main criteria influence the spread of a new idea:

Innovation – This is a new idea, practice or object, such as a new software or a piece of technology. In education, this might also mean a new methodology, a new piece of classroom hardware such as a Smartboard or a new computer program to be used in the classroom.

Communication channels – This is the way that the message about the innovation travels from one person to another.  Examples would include word-of-mouth conversations, tweets or presentations at a conference.

Time – This is the length of time that a person or group needs to adopt the new technology. The “rate of adoption” is the relative speed required by members of a social group to accept and implement the new technology. According to Rogers, individuals adopt new technologies at different rates.

Social system – A group of inter-related people who engage in joint problem solving to achieve a common goal. A social system may be as large as a country, or as small as a family. Most individuals are members of more than one social system simultaneously. Your school or non-profit organization is its own social system.

Individuals within a social system can be divided into categories that describe the rate at which they adopt an innovation:

Innovators (about 2.5% of a given social system)

These are the first people to adopt a new innovation. They are risk takers and are often the youngest in the group. The are likely to be from a higher social class.

Positive traits: They are often highly social and willing to interact with other innovators.

Negative traits: Their high tolerance for risk means they may adopt technologies that may ultimately fail. They often exhibit little discretion in adopting new technologies and are easily seduced by what they perceive to be “cool”.

In a learning organization: Teacher-Innovators may dismiss their colleagues who are Laggards as being “dinosaurs” or “out of touch”. They may be more impulsive and likely to adopt new technology because it is “cool” and not necessarily because it has deep pedagogical value.

Their wisdom may be deepened by making a point to see what else the Late Majority and Laggards can offer to both students and the school in ways that do not necessarily involve technology. Asking questions such as, “What wisdom do my less techie colleagues have that I do not have?” and “How are their teaching methods effective, too?” can help Innovators understand what the Late Majority and Laggards offer as teaching professionals.

Early Adopters (about 13.5% of a social system)

Right behind the Innovators, this group has a high degree of opinion leadership. They often have higher social status and advanced education.

Positive traits: More social than late adopters. More judicious in their choices to adopt new innovation. They understand that choosing new technologies wisely will help them maintain their position of influence and leadership.

Negative traits: More political than Innovators and may use their influence or social status to impose new technologies on those who are not receptive to them. May quietly scorn Laggards while openly trying to persuade them to adopt new systems.

In a learning organization: Early Adopter Educators are those likely to be in decision-making positions regarding the adoption of new technologies in a school. Their job may require them to “roll out” new systems and develop training for others in their organization.

Their wisdom may be deepened by understanding that there is more to professional practice than innovation. They too, may benefit from identifying and celebrating the positive contributions of the Late Majority and Laggards.

Early Majority (about 34% of a social system)

These individuals are generally slower to adopt new technologies, and will do so after the Innovators and Early Adopters.

Postive traits: Above-average social status and often have close contact with Early Adopters.

Negative traits: Seldom hold positions of opinion leadership, in terms of innovation.

In a learning organization: While they may not dismiss new technologies immediately, these are the folks who will likely require training to adopt new technologies. They are likely to accept that they need to adopt new ways of doing things and are willing to go along with whatever they are told to do. They may not get overly excited about innovation, but they are also unlikely to rock the boat and protest.

This group may hold a great deal of untapped wisdom and insight, but be less willing to speak up, due to their relative lack of authority. They may have great questions burning inside them that could provide excellent points of reflection, but may not ask them. If they do ask them, their questions may be dismissed by those with more influence. An organization may benefit from giving individuals in this group more “air time” and sincerely considering their contributions to disucssions and conversations about how a proposed new technology may or may not work.

Late Majority (about 34% of a social system)

These people are slower to adopt new technologies, and often do so after the average memeber of a social group.

Postive traits: More vocal than the Early Majority and may ask questions such as, “Why are we doing this?” or “What value does this new innovation bring?”

Negative traits: Skeptical, often have a lower social status and lower financial reserves. They have very little influence. They may have social contact with the Early and Late Majority and Laggards, but may struggle to identify with the Innovators or Early Adopters.

In a learning organization: Late Majority Teachers may frustrate the Innovators or Early Adopters and be seen as “nay-sayers” or “difficult” because they are less reluctant to jump on board with a new system. They are likely to question every new technology or innovation that comes into the school and demand that their colleagues and leaders rationalize the implementation with proven research about its effectiveness.

Rather than seeing these folks as troublemakers, there can be great value in listening to their questions and sincerely considering their point of view. They provide a valuable balance to those who may charge ahead with new innovations without thinking through the long-term implications. Others can learn to deal with them more productively by seeing the balance and perspective that they bring to an organization.

By requiring them to conform, individuals in this group are more likely to become entrenched in their opinions against new technologies or systems. The more you ask these folks to change, the more resistant they are likely to become.

School leaders may be able to develop deeper social relationships and trust with this group by not insisting that they adopt every new technology. Understand the value that they bring to students and to the organization by identifying and celebrating what they do effectively by just being who they are.

Laggards (about 16% of a social system)

These folks are the last to adopt an innovation. They are likely to be more advanced in age relative to others in a social system and have lower social status in the group.

Postive traits: Upholders of tradition and due to their relative age, they may have a deep understanding of the history of what has worked and why.

Negative traits: These individuals are the most likely to resist change. They have little to no influence or opinion leadership when it comes to getting others to adopt new ways (mostly because they are the last to adopt the new technology themselves.) By the time the Laggards have adopted a new way of doing things, the rest of the group has already moved on to something new.

In a learning organization: These are the teachers and staff members who are most likely to get left behind when it comes to adopting new tech. They may lament the loss of “old ways” or technologies that are no longer used such as chalk boards or AB Dick Machines.

They may frustrate the Innovators and Early Adopters and been seen as totally out of touch with current teaching methods and technologies. What they may have to offer is historical persective and a “deep wisdom” gained not over years, but over decades.

Given the chance to share their wisdom and expertise, they have much to teach younger and sometimes more impulsive people who are in earlier stages of their careers.

A gentle and appreciative approach often works well with these people. Show them in a sincere way that that what they have to offer matters. Listen to them and make a point to include their voice in your discussions about what works and why.

Diffusion of Innovation Curve

Here’s a visual representation of the adopter categories, which is commonly referred to as the “Diffusion of Innovation curve”. It was originally published by Rogers in 1962.

Reflective Questions for School Leaders and other Educators

If you look at your department, school or non-profit organization as a “social system”, as defined by Rogers, can you identify which of your colleagues might fit into the different categories? More importantly, do you see the value in seeking the input and wisdom of all of your colleagues and what they contribute?

Now think about your organization ten years ago… The teachers may have changed, but did the same culture of having some teachers who were “all gung ho” about doing things in a new way and others who thought “the old way is just fine, thank you very much” still exist?

Ten years from now, at a time when we can not even imagine what technology might look like in schools, will you still have folks who zoom ahead of the pack and others who  like a more traditional approach? Better yet, if you are an innovator today, could you ever see yourself as a Laggard twenty years down the road?

There is value in having convesations with everyone across the continuum.


This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the original publication of Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. Our world has progressed tremendously in that time.

What has not changed, however, is the idea that different people adopt technologies at different rates.

Our job as educators and leaders is to value the contributions made by all of our colleagues across the profession. Ultimately, our job is to help our students learn. There are many ways to do that. Some methods include the latest innovations and other methods do not.

As Rogers showed us fifty years ago, not everyone can (or should) adopt every new technology immediately. Having the balance brings value to our organizations and our professional practice.

If the answer to the question “Am I doing the best I can as a teacher today?” is yes, then we are doing the right thing as teachers, as leaders and as mentors to our students.


Orr, G. (2003, March 18). Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers (1995) (Book review).   Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://www.stanford.edu/class/symbsys205/Diffusion%20of%20Innovations.htm

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.


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Update – June 2018 – This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

School Bus Wi-Fi: The wheels of young minds go round and round

March 3, 2012

Students from Prairie Rose School Division in Alberta have been chosen to participate in a new educational technology project designed to make long bus rides to and from school more productive.

CJCY reports that the initiative will involve more than 300 students on up to 30 school buses that are being equipped with Wi-Fi technology to keep the kids connected during their travels. The project involves students at South Central High School, who will begin to get school bus wi-fi starting in early April, as well as K-12 students at New Brigden and Foremost schools who will get their wi-fi starting in the fall.

Students will be able to use their own mobile devices or a school supplied netbook. Teachers are also being trained on what kind of materials are appropriate for mobile learning.

Read the original article: Prairie Rose School division was chosen to participate in a pilot project that would see Wi-Fi technology installed in school buses

Other articles on this topic:

Edmonton Journal – http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/alberta/could+ease+school+boredom/6247552/story.html


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Get ConnectED Canada

January 19, 2012

This year’s ConnectED Canada conference is being held at the Calgary Science School, May 25-27, 2012.

I’m thrilled to have the chance to work as part of the team for this year’s conference.

This event is a total “re-think” of educational conferences. The organizers describe it like this:

ConnectED Canada will be a yearly educational event that brings together teachers, administrators, students, parents and other stakeholders with the purpose of sharing innovative practices and building a national collaborative network.

Rather than traditional conferences which are usual held at hotels of off-site conference centres, ConnectED Canada will be held in different schools across the country each year . The purpose of hosting the event in a school is to allow participants to experience living examples of innovative practices and classrooms. Hosting it in a school also allows for a student voice to be included – a key element of ConnectED Canada.

Additionally, as opposed to more presentation-driven professional conferences, ConnectED Canada will be built around conversations and discussions. The event will provide time and space for educators, students and parents to discuss various topics, share current practices and ideas and built relationships that will extend beyond the three days.

Join us in Calgary, May 25-27!


Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

“Let Them Build It and It Will Be Amazing”

April 8, 2011

In over 20 years in the education sector, I’ve managed and collaborated with others to develop courses and programs in a variety of ways. Each has their merits. Using the wrong approach can be disastrous.

I was recently hired by a major organization to undertake the development of a new program for them. I thought about how to go about doing this and, because I don’t know them very well, I said, “Look, there are 3 ways we can do this. Here are the options:”

Traditional Approach

Tried and true. Teacher-centered. Deliver as much solid content as possible, to as many people as possible, in the shortest amount of time. Mostly one-way (trainer-to-participant) communication.

This approach is the easiest and in some ways, the most fun (at least for the developer). I develop my goals, objectives and outcomes, build content and deliver it. If I’ve done my job right, someone else can step right in and deliver the content. In the professional training and speaking world, this is called “canned content”. You literally open up the package of materials and feed it to the participants. Or to use another analogy, the program developer is the architect, construction company and interior designer. Once you have finished the job, you invite people in.

I can churn out a job like this on a fairly tight timeline. Because of my own tendency towards perfectionism, no one gets invited to see my work before I’m happy with it. And I’ve been doing this a long time, so I know how to produce quality and do it quickly.

Interactive Approach

This approach allows for increased learner interactivity. Feed them content, and keep them engaged. Allows time at regular intervals for discussion and interaction, rather than “saving all the questions until the end”.

The Interactive Approach, although sometimes cloaked as “learner-centered”, it is really still a “teacher-centered” approach, but does allow participants to ask more questions and permits some lively discussion. The teacher or trainer is very much in control of what happens, how it happens and when it happens. And it’s expected that he or she will maintain control throughout the process.

The teacher needs to know how to keep the discussion on track, cut off those who aren’t moving in the appropriate direction or who take up too much time and generally be an authority figure who guides the process, while building in some flexibility. The program developer is the architect, construction company and may invite others to give input on the final touches, but really, what they say doesn’t change much.

Designing a course like this is much like building a traditional course, except that you build in allowances for interactivity. Over the past 10 years, most of the projects I’ve been involved with have involved this type of project. It allows the client to pay lip service to the notion of learner involvement, without any fundamental changes to how they’ve always done things.

Participatory Capacity-Building Approach

Innovative. Edgy. Highly collaborative and creative. Teacher is replaced by a facilitator who is OK relinquishing some control to participants as they drive the learning process forward.

The Participatory Capacity-Building Approach is likely to be somewhat uncomfortable for participants, since they will be challenged to try new ways of doing things (e.g. using new technologies that they’re not entirely comfortable with). Participants are challenged to be co-creators of new knowledge, as they engage in peer-to-peer-teaching-and-learning. Saying it is an “active learning process” is an understatement.

Essentially, you construct a solid frame. Then you give the learners the tools to build around it, adding to the design, rolling up their sleeves and getting in on the design and doing some of the labour. They then add the final touches. The final product is their work (likely with a few mistakes here and there). In the end, they own it… and they know it. It ends up being a place to call home because they’ve made it themselves.

From a course developer’s point of view, it is highly challenging. The frame you build needs to be rock solid. It needs to make sense to the participants. They must agree to participate, or nothing is built. You have know what tools to give them and show them how to use them (safely) in a short period of time. You must give them guidance on how to protect themselves from distractions and overcome obstacles (such as fear, anxiety and perfectionism). You have to let them know that perfection is not the goal – creation is. You have to let them fail (just a little) and allow them to get up and try again. It requires a facilitator who is comfortable being uncomfortable, who inspires creativity and doesn’t cling to control.

I’ve used this approach with my own classes and internal project staff, but less so with external clients. It’s an uncomfortable place for many organizations. I once thought this approach would be great for a certain client, but when I designed a participatory course for them, they freaked. They said, “We don’t want to build capacity! We just want the frickin’ content!”

I learned my lesson. Since then, I’ve always presented the options. Most clients don’t go for the third option… Too radical… Too uncomfortable.  That is, until recently. A new, highly forward-thinking client, has just said, “Our people do good work. Give us the tools and show us how to build it. I don’t know what we’ll create, but I know it’ll be amazing.”

A leader who believes so deeply in the potential of their people is inspiring and exhilarating to work with.

Let them collaborate (Latin for “work together”).

Let them create something new.

Provide opportunities for them to build their capacity.

Watch them build something amazing.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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