Elearning Adoption in Organisations 3: Stages of Diffusion

Stages of Diffusion

According to Everett M. Rogers, peoples’ attitude to a new technology is a key element in its potential for successful diffusion, and adoption. Roger’s Innovation Decision Process theory asserts that innovation diffusion is a process that occurs over time through five stages of diffusion. His model offers guidance for the process of adoption:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Evaluation
  4. Trial
  5. Adoption / Rejection
Figure 1. A Model of Five Stages of Diffusion in the Innovation-Decision Process (Source: Diffusion of Innovations

Figure 1. A Model of Five Stages of Diffusion in the Innovation-Decision Process


In this first phase in the innovation diffusion process, individuals or organizations become aware of a new idea or technology, but lack detail about it. For example, they may be aware of its name (e.g. e-learning) or the underlying technology (network-based / digital media delivery), but not know how this manifests itself, or how it works.


At this point, individuals or organizations want to know more about the concept or technology: what it is, how it works, and its potential. We can understand this stage to be the “WIIFM” (“what’s in in for me?) stage, as the potential user investigates how it may enhance productivity and performance, or revenue generation, for example.


The next cognitive process concerns assessment; the individual or organization undertakes a thought experiment or mentally “tries out” the idea or technology. During this activity, the information acquired in the previous stages of the process is applied to their particular context.


If the innovation is deemed to have some potential, the individual or organization will try it out. Typically, this is a small-scale pilot implementation which provides specific information about how the solution aligns with the individual’s or organization’s requirements. According to Bohlen and Beal (1957),

…individuals need to test a new idea even though they have thought about it for a long time and they have gathered information concerning it.


Adoption / Rejection

The final stage in the cognitive path is adoption (or rejection). The phase is characterized by large-scale continued use of the idea or technology, and by “satisfaction with” (p.2) the idea. This does not mean that the the individual or organization that has accepted the idea will use it constantly, rather, it means that the diffused idea has been integrated into their schema or metal model as a valuable asset or resource.

Individuals or organizations will typically go through these processes at varying speeds, as Bohlen and Beal maintain

…the time span over which people adopt ideas will vary from practice to practice.


Factors range from the cost, time, and effort required to implement the concept being diffused, the return on the investment, how well it aligns with their previous experience with similar concepts, as well as the complexity of the idea or technology under consideration.

Next Time: Complexity of Practise


Bohlen, J. M., Beal, G. M. (1957) The Diffusion Process, Special Report No. 18 (Agriculture Extension Service, Iowa State College) 1: 56-77. [Internet] Available from: http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/17351/1/ar560111.pdf [Accessed 3rd February 2018]

Rogers, E. M. (2003) Diffusion of Innovations, 5th ed.. Simon & Schuster International.

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