Stop the finger pointing — most people are not early adopters, and that’s OK.

For whatever you may think of the Crossing the Chasm framework from Geoffrey Moore (adapted from Everett Rogers’ “diffusion of innovation” model), I’ve seen firsthand the chasm between early adopters educators (enthusiasts and visionaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists). No matter how you draw the adoption curve, we can safely assume that the vast majority of students do not have, and perhaps never will, have “early adopter” teachers, but that shouldn’t stop us from bringing innovations to schools. We just need a different approach.

In my 12 years of grant-making at Hewlett-Packard, the grant applicants are not surprisingly self-selected. It is a lot of work to respond to a detailed call for proposals, and even more work to write a convincing proposal that gets accepted. The result is that of the 1500+ projects I’ve helped to plant in 41 countries, nearly all have been driven by early adopter educators.

Early adopter (EA) educators are a fun and interesting bunch to work with — enthusiastic, optimistic, and unstoppable. They not only thrive on the “bleeding edge,” but they often “bleed” on the edge as they patiently and creatively use technology that is originally intended for other purposes. Shortcomings become “challenges,” and software bugs are “adventures.” New ideas are happily tested on students, and “failing fast” is part of the fun. It’s all about building the plane as they fly.

We need EA educators to help us all think beyond today. We need everyone else, however, to reach scale.

Early majority (EM) educators are equally fun and interesting, but their pragmatic view must not be brushed aside. After all, most EM teachers I’ve met are wonderfully thoughtful, creative, and protective of their charges. They ask great questions about the role technology should (and shouldn’t) play, and they provide important insights about how to get to scale. A few things I’ve learned from my EM educator friends:

Time is the golden currency. If it doesn’t ultimately save time, then it’s not ready for prime time. Don’t start the experiment in the classroom. Instead, follow these three steps:

1. Set up an experimental “lab” that is situated within the existing infrastructure but is not populated with students (yet), and make sure it all works as expected; then,

2. Invite teachers in to experience it as a teacher AND as a learner, without students present; fix all the things that go wrong (they will find them for you!); then finally,

3. Begin the rollout by placing it “in the wild” — a real classroom with real students; the list of things that need fixing at this point will be smaller, and the “interruption” it causes will be less painful.

Listen to the naysayers. It might sound at first like complaining or excuses, but they’re not actually complaining; they’re reminding us that teaching is a very complex, time consuming, thoughtful and stressful profession. If it takes 100 hours of PD and an owner’s manual that is hundreds of pages long to make sense, it may simply not be ready for prime time yet.

“Hand-holding” is not a negative. Confidence grows with time, but our first steps with something new can be encouraged with the help of a patient guide. Vygotsky’s idea of a “zone of proximal development” is not just for students; adult learners experience this as well. Activate the capacity of a local community of practice to support one another. Out of respect for everyone’s time and in recognition of the natural anxiety that grows when we’re confronted by something new, a kind and thoughtful coach can make a wide chasm much shorter, and convert the anxiety into a delightfully rewarding journey.

About The Author

Jim Vanides is an educator and technologist who leads the vision, strategy, and design of education technology programs for the HP Corporate Affairs team. Jim is passionate about transformative learning experiences and the dedicated educators that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1500 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, impacting hundreds of thousands of students around the world. Jim is the founding author of the HP blog, “Teaching, Learning, and Technology” (, and can be reached via Twitter @jgvanides. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for teachers on the Science of Sound offered by Montana State University. Jim holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.