I’ve been meaning to write about this since the residency in April, so I am glad one of my classmates brought it up…

By providing the opportunity for hands on, teachers can try it for themselves. This speaks to “Triability.”


I have encountered this term frequently of late. At the residency in Tampa last month, Dr. Ches Jones spoke about Diffusion Theory and the adoption of innovation. He was concerned with public health issues, such as the use of child safety seats (car seats), but the theories he discussed are directly applicable to our work as professional developers in the field of educational technology.

Referring to the work of Rogers (1995), Dr. Jones spoke about the five elements needed for the successful diffusion of an innovation:

“1. Relative advantage – the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes.  Like the mobile telephone, the greater the perceived relative advantage of an innovation, the more rapid its rate of adoption will be.

2. Compatibility – the degree to whichan innovation is perceived as being consistent with the existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters.  An idea that is incompatible with the ideas and norms of a social system will not be adopted as rapidly as an innovation that is compatible.  For example, the use of contraceptive methods in Moslem and Catholic countries where religious beliefs discourage use of family planning is an incompatible innovation.

3. Complexity – the  degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use.  New ideas that are simple to understand are adopted more rapidly than innovations that require the adopter to develop new skills and understanding.   

4. Trialibility – the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis.  New ideas that can be tried in smaller stages will generally be adopted more quickly than innovations that are not divisible.  People are more inclined to bite off a pilot of an idea or try a new product if it does not require a long-term investment or commitment.

5. Observability – the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others.  The easier it is for individuals to see the results of an innovation, the more likely they are to adopt it.  Solar collectors are often found in neighborhood clusters in California, with three or four located in the same block.  Other consumer innovations like home computers are relatively less observable, and thus diffuse more slowly.” (Cognatek Group)

With respect to the adoption of educational technologies by teachers, it became immediately clear to me that we suffer in many of these areas…

The medium or long term relative advantage is difficult for teachers to see when in the short term adoption is a clear relative disadvantage due to the need to learn new (and potentially difficult) things. New technologies are not only commonly incompatible with earlier technologies, but also with earlier teaching paradigms. Clearly, innovations in educational technology are often perceived by many teachers to be difficult to understand and use, whether or not this is actually true. Triability is often not available for teachers, particularly due to the lack of professional development time to learn and experiment with the innovations… and due to the lack of a “test” class to learn with; any trials a classroom teacher does are done on in what IT folks would call their “production environment,” their real students. (No one in IT would ever consider installing a new server OS on their real servers before trying it elsewhere first!) Finally, in many cases, we definitely do not have observability… if there is a stellar technology using educator down the hall, or even next door to, a very traditional educator, the use of innovative technologies can go completely unnoticed by the traditionalist… and even in the break room, it is not like technology using educators walk around with a badge or sticker (like “I voted”) announcing to the world that they are using something innovative in their classroom. If our professional development efforts in educational technology are to be successful, we will need to address each of these issues head on.

Also, I was unable to relocate the specific post this evening, but on one of the blogs I read in my daily RSS feeds (Joystiq if memory serves, though a search there turned up nothing), I read about a theory that people are becoming desensitized to traditional advertising campaigns – and even to the sort of subtle embedded advertising that happens in TV, movies, and now video games. The article suggested that trialability will become an increasingly important advertising and marketing strategy as consumers become increasingly convinced that getting their hands on and using a new product is the best way to judge its worth. I see this in educational technology as well. I increasingly refuse to purchase hardware or software for a school or district (or county office) without first being able to try a fully functioning version of it before committing to the purchase… and probably for a lengthy period of time, perhaps a month or more.


PS. I really wish the word were “triability”… this is much more elegant.


Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: The Free Press.

Cognatek Group. (2004). Module 7: KM as a Business Strategy. KM Concepts. Available

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