In Diffusion of Innovations, Rogers (1995) described how new ideas spread through communities. According to Rogers, there are identifiable characteristics that predict whether and how quickly an innovation will spread through a community.
- Relative advantage – people are more likely to adopt an innovation if they perceive it as having some advantage over their current situation
- Compatability – people are more likely to adopt an innovation that fits with their cultural norms, attitudes, and beliefs
- Complexity – people are more likely to adopt innovations that are easy for them to understand and use
- Trialability – people are more likely to adopt an innovation if they can test it before committing to its adoption
- Observability – people are more likely to adopt an innovation if they see others adopt it successfully.
An innovation that has these five characteristics still needs to be communicated to members of the community in order to be adopted. Thus, Rogers identified communication channels as an important element of the diffusion process. With respect to adopting innovation, Rogers believed personal communication between people was more important than mass media communication. Because innovations are not adopted instantly, time is also an important element of Rogers’ model. Finally, innovations are communicated over time through a social system.
While innovations diffuse through communities, these communities are made up of individuals making their own decisions about whether to adopt the innovation. Rogers identified five stages in the decision process, as follows:
- The knowledge stage, where the individual learns of the existence of the innovation and gathers information about it.
- The persuasion stage, where the individual actively seeks out knowledge that will help in the decision process
- The decision stage, where the individual adopts or rejects the innovation
- The implementation stage, where the individual uses the innovation and evaluates its benefits
- The confirmation stage, where the individual continues to seek information to confirm that the adoption decision was beneficial.
While these stages are believed to apply to all individuals, of course people vary in their receptivity to new ideas and how much time and information they need to make an adoption decision. Rogers identified the following categories of adopters:
- Innovators – risk-tolerant people who like to seek out new ideas
- Early adopters – opinion leaders in the community who are receptive to trying new ideas and have the social position to influence others
- Early majority – people who are deliberate in their adoption decisions but tend to adopt more quickly than average
- Late majority – risk-averse people who need to see an innovation being used successfully by others before they adopt it
- Laggards – the last to adopt an innovation, often only adopting it after a new innovation has already begun to replace it.
Watch the following two videos for a greater understanding of how these groups of adopters operate over time within communication channels in a social structure to spread an innovative idea throughout a community:
- Part 1
- Part 2
While Diffusion of Innovation Theory has played an important role in educational technology research and in the planning of educational technology products, it has, like any theory, been subject to critique. For a critical look at the concept of laggards, see http://www.management.ac.nz/ejrot/cmsconference/2005/proceedings/technology/Klein.pdf