Knowledge Area BEPs: Technology Transfer-Diffusion of Innovation Theory


Based on a compilation of research studies, Everett Rogers (2003) proposes that the spread of a new idea is influenced by the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and a social system. Adopters of any new innovation or idea can be categorized as innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Willingness and ability to adopt an innovation depends on adopter awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption. People could fall into different categories for different innovations.

Caveats: Individuals adapt technology to their own needs, so the innovation may actually change in nature from the early adopters to the majority of users. Disruptive technologies (e.g. a new technology) may radically change the diffusion patterns for established technology. Reinforcing patterns (e.g. standardization) may lock certain technologies in place.

Rogers’ theory also proposes stages of adoption including: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation. Understanding of this process has been greatly enhanced by current research providing detail about factors that influence changes in behavior. (See Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005; Fishbein & Cappella, 2006.) The following paragraph captures this thinking, at least from one point of view.


Diffusion of Innovations takes a radically different approach to most other theories of change. Instead of focusing on persuading individuals to change, it sees change as being primarily about the evolution or “reinvention” of products and behaviours [sic] so they become better fits for the needs of individuals and groups. In Diffusion of Innovations it is not people who change, but the innovations themselves. (Robinson, 2009)

Robinson goes on to provide an excellent checklist of factors that have been found to influence adoption (many of which are derived from Rogers’s work). These include: relative advantage; compatibility with existing values and practices; simplicity and ease of use; trial-ability; and observable results. Robinson also includes factors such as the importance of peer-to-peer conversations and understanding your target audience.

Research by Berry and Keller (2003) provides more detail about who might be “influential” in encouraging adoption of an innovation. Educators may choose to focus efforts on people within their target audience who are in one or more of the following groups:

  • People who are experienced in life.
  • People who are more likely to be well educated
  • People with an active orientation toward life. They attend meetings, write to politicians, serve on committees and as officers of an organization, write and talk about their opinions, participate in groups trying to influence public policy
  • People who are connected. They have ties to a larger number of groups than average.
  • People with impact or who have influence. Others look to them for advice and opinion.
  • People with active minds. They like to learn through people and experiences.
  • People who are trendsetters. They are interested in, experiment with, and use new techniques, tools, and brands.


Recommendations are drawn from this and other resources:

Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. 2005. The influence of attitudes on behavior. In D. Albarracín, B. T. Johnson, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), The handbook of attitudes (pp. 173-221). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Berry, J. & E. Keller. 2003. The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy. New York: Free Press.

Fishbein, M. & Cappella, J. N. 2006. The Role of Theory in Developing Effective Health Communications. Journal of Communication 56 (2006): S1–17.

Gladwell, M. 2000. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Back Bay Books.

Robinson, L. 2009. A Summary of Diffusion of Innovations. Accessed August 2012 at

Rogers, E. M. 2003. Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.