Educational innovation: Early adopters vs. digging in deep (Day 18 of Learning road trip)

Day 18 began with breakfast at Zingermans in Ann Arbor with Barry Fishman, a professor of education at U. Michigan.  (Barry’s work focuses on technologies in education, especially science education.)  The discussion ranged widely, but a central topic was the uptake of innovations.   (I had originally gotten in touch with Barry when I was thinking about how my PBL courses influence students’ learning and exploring who in the “learning sciences” arena examines and theorizes about this.)

On uptake of innovations Barry pointed me back to Everett Rogers’ classic work on diffusion of innovations (which I had not been excited by when I looked into it during the summer).   Rogers posits a bell curve, in which there are a small number of innovators and a few more early adopters, but most people are in a middle group, early and late majority, leaving a small tail of laggards.  In marketing, Geoffrey Moore points to the gap (or “chasm”) between the early adopters and the early majority.  The early majority are, as Barry explained to me, prepared to adopt innovations, but they need them to be integrated with their own practical day-to-day concerns and specific situations.  (In contrast, innovators and early adopters take up innovations because they like to try new things.)  In light of this, Barry is interested less in “scaling up” after a pilot study of a new learning technology as much as “digging in deep.”  That is, spend time in a school working with all-comers, not only those teachers eager to try out new technologies.  Digging in deep requires attention to the school as an organization and to the demands placed on teachers.  The early majority needs those who come bearing innovations to recognize the other demands, such as boosting students’ test scores, that shape teachers’ work.  The current label for educational research that combines innovations with examination of school organization is “design-based implementation research.” (See recent article by Penuel et al.,”Organizing Research and Development at the Intersection of Learning, Implementation, and Design,” Educational Researcher 40:331–337.)

The conversation with Barry nudged me to reflect on how much I wanted to bridge the gap and dig in deep in particular settings. If the answer is “not very much,” then I should not fret too much when I introduce people to innovations that they don’t subsequently do much with.

(back to Start of road trip; forward to Day 19)


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

One Response to Educational innovation: Early adopters vs. digging in deep (Day 18 of Learning road trip)

  1. Pingback: Cultivating Collaborators (Day 19 of Learning road trip) « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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