Leveraging the Power of Teacher Innovators & Early Adopters

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Teacher-led pilot programs to assess new education technology practices can be an effective way to scaffold risk and entice more reluctant educators to try new teaching methods.

In our Seattle Pacific University Digital Education Leadership program, we continue to explore ISTE Coaching standard 4, indicator B:

Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.” (ISTE, 2011).

In this post I would like to explore how teacher-led pilot programs can serve to minimize risk in adopting new technologies or practices, provide authentic opportunities to test new tools in the classroom, and act as a proving ground for teachers who are late adopters of technology.

Innovation Adoption Lifecycle

According to E.M. Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation theory (LaMorte, 2019), new ideas and products gain momentum following an adoption lifecycle shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Phases of Innovation, based on Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Theory (LaMorte, 2019)

People generally fall into one of five categories when faced with adopting something new. Innovators are risk takers and developers of new ideas. Early adopters are open to change and are often leaders within their organization. Those in the early majority adopt new ideas or practices before the majority, but still need to see something in use before committing. “Late majority” adopters are skeptical of new ideas or practices but are willing to go along once the early majority is onboard. Finally, late adopters are what Rogers referred to as “laggards.” They strongly resist change, succumbing only to organizational or social pressure (LaMorte, 2019).

Categories Can Prove Fluid

The following video by Edmentum describes how the Diffusion of Innovation theory applies to educators and points out that the characterization can be fluid. Once a teacher becomes more comfortable with a subject or technology, they might move from the late majority or late adopter categories into the early majority. Identifying where educators fall on the continuum helps administrators and teacher-leaders direct innovation adoption.

How to Find Your Early Adopters – Edmentum (2018)

Leveraging Innovators & Early Adopters

To start a pilot program to evaluate an ed tech tool or practice, districts can identify innovators and early adopters by asking principals or through an online communication asking for pilot program volunteers. Establishing this group of educators is useful for a single pilot program but also creates a valuable long-term resource for district administrators and the teachers themselves.

Ideally, pilot program findings scale so they impact more than a single classroom or school. It is important that the teachers running the pilot communicate with school or district-level ed tech administrators and curriculum developers.  This Ed Tech Pilot Goals Worksheet from Digital Promise is a nice example of tying local goals to an organization’s vision and strategies.

Keys to Successful Pilot Programs

Learning Assembly is a national network of regional non-profit organizations that help districts design and implement pilot programs (Getting Smart, 2017). Getting Smart, an Education media and consulting firm created a series of podcasts with Learning Assembly on how to launch a successful ed tech pilot program. Teachers, administrators, and Learning Assembly partners who participated in pilot programs describe elements required for successfully evaluation:

  • Identify a goal and establish how the goal relates to your organization’s vision
  • Follow a framework for selection (here is an example: LEAP Learning Framework)
  • Spend the time upfront to train teachers participating in the pilot program
  • Take the time to do it right – pilot programs usually take at least a year
  • Choose participants who can be flexible (what works in one classroom and school may not work in another) and maintain a positive mindset

Even Innovators and Early Adopters Need Professional Development

Numerous people interviewed in the Getting Smart podcasts stressed the need for teachers leading the pilot program to be given the time (including stipends) for collaboration and training, particularly in the beginning but also throughout the program. They also said that access to the developers of the tool throughout the pilot program was necessary and helpful.

Listen to the Later Adopters Too

Though teacher innovators and early adopters may be the best group to lead a pilot program, that doesn’t mean that the needs of later adopters should be ignored. A product being tested could work seamlessly in innovator and early adopter classrooms but fall flat in a late majority or late adopter’s class. It is important the teachers running the pilot gather data from these classrooms as well and do it as early as possible in the pilot when multiple tools might be under consideration. Understanding what the roadblocks are for later adopters may direct which tool to pilot and ultimately whether it is chosen for a school. This Edutopia article, Reluctant Adopters and Technology Initiatives is a good source of ideas for reaching later adopters.

The benefits of well-trained teacher-leaders volunteering to evaluate a product or process are immense. By the end of a pilot program they are invested experts, and their opinions hold weight with their colleagues and administrators. If the tool is chosen by the organization, more reluctant teachers can be paired with these teachers, as suggested in the Edmentum video and Edutopia article above. 


Digital Promise Ed Tech Pilot Goals Worksheet

Learning Assembly Pilot Tool Kit

LEAP Learning Framework


Cullen, T. (2018, Jul. 20) Reluctant Adopters and Technology Initiatives. Edutopia.org  https://www.edutopia.org/article/reluctant-adopters-and-technology-initiatives

Designing pilot programs for schools and districts (2017, Jun. 21). Getting Smart.com. Retrieved from: https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/06/designing-pilot-programs-schools-districts/#

ISTE Standards for coaches (2011). ISTE. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

LaMorte, W.W. (2019). Behavioral change models. Boston University School of Public Health. Retrieved from: http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPH-Modules/SB/BehavioralChangeTheories/BehavioralChangeTheories4.html

Mace, N. (n.d.). Professional development vs. piloting new initiatives. Share to Learn.com.

Skauge, T. (2018, Dec. 12). How to find your early adopters of edtech. Edmentum.com. Retrieved from: https://blog.edmentum.com/talking-ed-how-find-your-early-adopters-edtech

3 thoughts on “Leveraging the Power of Teacher Innovators & Early Adopters”

  1. I like the point you mentioned in your post that once a teacher becomes more comfortable with a subject or technology, they might move from the late majority or late adopter categories into the early majority. For a pilot program, spending more time upfront to train teachers participating in it and take the time to do it right is an important factor for success. Teachers who participate in the pilot program can build a positive attitude and spread a positive mindset to others. And also it is important to listen to the later adopters’ voices to understand their needs and ideas which is good for a pilot program implementation.

  2. Great post! Innovators and early adopters are so critical to technology adoption. I thought such folks would be easy to identify in my department of instruction and that the set of people would be rather static across different technology needs. This has not been the case. My peers seem to have specific areas of teaching that are more critical to their needs than others. For example, some focus more on classroom teaching techniques, others focus on assessment tools, and others focus on student agency. In all cases, the instructors seem willing to take on the innovator or early adopter role for their areas of interest, but less so for things not in their area of interest. As you point out, the goal is to find the right set of people for the technology being piloted. No small task!

  3. Great blog Bridget, You focus on listening to all, regardless of where they choose to ‘jump on the innovation train” I found the Ed Tech Pilot Goals Worksheet to be a tool I know I will use and reference in the future. In order for the innovation to become a reality, we must ensure that the proper practitioners are selected to participate while following through as leaders. You do a wonderful job of bringing awareness to how much work a pilot program can and will be.

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