Early adopters versus the majority: Characteristics and implications for academic development and institutional change





early adopters, technology-enhanced learning, e-learning, teaching innovation, academic development


The diffusion of innovation curve has become common parlance when considering the adoption of technology-enhanced learning in higher education. Innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards indicate the different rates of technology adoption. This study explored the views and experiences of staff at one research-led institution within one of four colleges, to determine whether there were differences between the characteristics and digital academic practices of teachers, based on their self-identification as one of the five types in a questionnaire. Subsequently, two focus groups allowed comparisons between early adopters and early majority.

The questionnaire found differences in terms of using a VLE to foster deep thinking through discussion, teachers’ digital practices and attributes, previous engagement with developmental TEL opportunities, perceived level of support from management, and perceived usefulness of CPD events. Focus groups revealed qualitative differences in terms of the amount of time participants invested in learning new technologies, sources of TEL support, preference for different types of academic development, and how they engaged with exemplars in their own or other disciplines.

In addition to recommendations for different types of academic development for different groups, the study highlighted the importance of early adopters in leading digital practice. Institutions need to recognise and support the unique contribution made by early adopters. They contribute to the resilience, agility and digital capabilities of an institution in responding to rapid changes, such as the Covid19 pandemic, in terms of supporting and leading other staff, and prompting the institution to expand its digital education infrastructure.


Author Biographies

Vicki Harcus Morgan Dale, Dr, University of Glasgow

Dr Vicki Dale (BSc, MSc, MEd, PhD, CMALT, SFHEA) is a Senior Academic and Digital Development Adviser who champions academic development for active blended learning. Her current areas of educational enquiry and practice are focused on active and blended learning design, and her role as an academic developer focuses on the effective use of technology-enhanced learning and teaching. Vicki sits on the organising committee for the Association for Learning Technology Scotland group.

Michael McEwan, Dr, University of Glasgow

Dr Michael McEwan (BSc, MEd, PhD, SFHEA) is Head of Subject for Academic and Digital Development at the University of Glasgow. His background is originally in applied mathematics and theoretical physics but he now leads the PGCert Academic Practice and associated MEd AP at the University of Glasgow where he supports the professional development of new teachers in higher education. 


Jason Bohan, Dr, University of Aberdeen

Dr Jason Bohan (SFHEA, CPsychol, AFBPsS) has been the Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, since August 2018, where he is responsible for the education of over 1,000 psychology students. Previously he was employed as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Glasgow, where amongst his many roles, he was responsible for the provision of the personal tutoring system for students in the College of Science and Engineering. 


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