Bridging the Education Chasm

I blogged yesterday about the role we early adopters need to play in bringing social media to the masses. Got some very thoughtful comments back from a lot of folks. In particular, Colin Warren of Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, made a follow-on post at his blog, in which he referenced Geoffrey Moore’s book Cross the Chasm, and also a related article by Alex Iskold who suggested that maybe early adopters are currently being diverted by so many new technologies that they can’t keep up, and that they keep abandoning good technology to try something new. Boy, that struck a bell!

Iskold’s article “Rethinking Crossing the Chasm” discusses the difficulty companies have in bridging the gap between early adopters and the mainstream markets of early and late majorities. In a nutshell, early adopters love new stuff but make up too small a percentage of the population to ever be profitable. Iskold discusses the success that Apple had with the iPod, but also noted that there is real difficulty in getting a particular technology widely adopted. He stated:

The problem is that compared to a few years ago, the speed with which new technologies are coming to the market has increased dramatically. All these technologies are aimed at the early adopters. And they love it and they try it. But the question is what happens when your early adopters run off to play with a new great thing before you have a chance to take your technology mainstream?

For example, some people who used to blog regularly, blog less now because they discovered Twittering (microblogging). Or, early adopters who have discovered Second Life might not have as much time to spend on MySpace anymore. These are not even necessarily competitive technologies, they are complimentary, but the fact is that they all compete for peoples’ time and attention.

His main point (and my point last night) – “The early adopters are the pillars needed to cross the chasm; without them the whole scheme falls apart. You can’t make a leap and bring on board the masses if the very foundation you are standing on, the early adopters, leave to do other things.”

The true innovators (Rogers’ 2.5 percent) are the ones that need to keep moving ahead, forging a path for the rest of us. But there is a danger if too many early adopters do not become evangelists for Web 2.0 and stick with helping bridge the gap. This month’s MIT Technology Review (one of my favorite magazines/ezines) has several articles on the future of Web 2.0 – and they do not paint a bright picture. Interestingly, the cover photo shows Leah Culver, cofounder of Pownce, blowing a big bubble (which bursts when you get into the articles). Jason Pontin, the editor, compares the current euphoria over Web 2.0 to the craze of the Nineties, and noted that both have the same structural weaknesses – no clearly understood business that is floating on investors’ capital. Check out the whole issue, but pay attention to “Social Networking is Not a Business (…But It Might Be Soon)” by Bryant Urstadt.

Urstadt also points to the attention deficit of the early adopters and the issues Web 2.0 companies have in making a profit. He noted that most Web 2.0 apps are seen as portals – and portals are (in his words) “walled gardens” where inexperienced web users congregate for a while, but then grow restless and leave for another spot in the Web 2.0 stream.

Many of us have been extolling the educational value of using Web 2.0 in classroom settings. We do not need this bubble to burst! If we are to be successful, we have to bridge the gap with the majority of our fellow faculty. I therefore like what Jeff Nugent said in his comment to my post yesterday:

We have had several conversations about the “long nose of adoption” and the role this seems to play as an innovation makes its way through different levels of adoption…or not. … I think there has also been trend over the last year or so for folks in the edtech camp to hunt and gather the latest tools, to be the first at the site and to announce it and pass it along. I think this has been a fun and fascinating time, but it may have come to define too much of the work we engage in.

…the excitement and interest that innovators and early adopters share in the early stages of using the innovation is not often shared by the early and late majority bands. These adopter groups tend to come to the table for different reasons. This creates an adoption dilemma for those of us involved in the work of sharing the potential educational benefit of an innovation. The language of the innovator is often a second or foreign language for the early and late majority. It seems to me that the real challenge in supporting the diffusion of an innovation lies in our ability to engage in some translation that can serve to support broader adoption.”

I think Jeff is on target. My question to you readers is this – What are the reasons mainstream faculty SHOULD come to the table? What language should we use to translate our excitement into their needs? I look forward to your thoughts.

{Photo Credit: Trenchfoot}

3 thoughts on “Bridging the Education Chasm

  1. Kia ora Britt!

    Thanks for this post. I also enjoyed lurking on your previous post 🙂

    It is curious how things are panning out. With the now burgeoning varieties of Web 2.0s, the need seems to be moving towards some way of getting the majority walking in step, so to speak. As long as there is enthusiasm for novelty in application (that’s what innovators & early adopters seem to enjoy) there is going to be difficulties with establishing general unity of approach and the spreading of the word. There has been a similar difficulty in recent years with so-called connectivity and for reasons not too different.

    Teachers are individuals, often particularly individualistic. They’re all innovators (not necessarily in e-tech) in their own way, with a lot of energy for that innovation. This makes them an extremely fertile lot.

    The only way found, so far, to have universal growth is to plant the whole field with one type of seed and wait for the crop. Provided there are not too many weeds, the crop may be worth harvesting.

    Way back in the early 80s, the New Zealand Dept of Ed gave a directive to schools to buy whatever computers were available according to their budgets. This generated a lot of enthusiasm but the effect was a rapid deadlock when it came to sharing what innovators had adopted. It took almost 10 years for this to be recognised and remedied. This was done by standardising equipment in schools, before networking and sharing could be seen as a possibility. The net effect was loss of time and money.

    I think we have a similar situation here, with similar causes bringing about similar effects.

    There are 2 main themes that your posts and their comments brought to my mind:

    unity of approach – and that means some unity of software type used (or at least unity in connectivity) – a standardisation of sorts, if you like

    spreading the word – and that has to be rapid enough to make a significant impact initially – it involves a raft of ed and training issues.

    Ka kite

  2. Britt,

    This year I taught faculty members Web 2.0 tools in hopes that the fire would catch on and they would become excited and begin using these tools with their students. But before I began teaching the tools, I assessed what tools would be useful and not just cool to use. I settled on Google Docs,, Ning, Skype, and Voicethread.

    I taught these “Lunch Time Tech” sessions to anyone who wanted to attend. I had about 12 faithful teachers/students who were really fascinated with the tools. But I asked them at the end of each session, So What? I wanted them to ask themselves what is was useful for.

    I managed to ignite at least four persons desires to learn more. I must say, the collaborative tools were much more useful and palatable for the teachers. The jury is still out on Voicethread and Skype (though I do need to do more with these).

    To answer your essential question, we must show teachers that they can use these tools to make their work time more efficient and less cumbersome. We must use the language of “add and delete”, not simply just “add”. The last thing a teacher wants is more to learn and do… we should show them tools that will enable them to add it to their toolbox and at the same time, delete something old fashioned and less efficient. It works for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *