Elearning Adoption in Organizations 4: Complexity of Practice

As discussed in my previous post on elearning adoption in organizations, research undertaken by Bohlen and Beal (1957) indicated that complexity of practice is a significant factor in determining the value of a diffused idea or technology in organizations. They defined the following categories of complexity:

  1. Change in material and equipment
  2. Improved practice
  3. Innovation
  4. Change in enterprise
  5. Cost

1. Change in material and equipment

By most measures, changes in materials and equipment are the simplest to implement. In the e-learning context, this could include changing from one authoring platform to another (i.e. from a commercially-available to an open-source content slide editor).

2. Improved practice

This second category of complexity, improved practice involves a change in methodology. An example of this would be moving from at traditionally content development cycle to a Rapid E-Learning approach.

3. Innovation 

Elements of complexity of practice

Categories of complexity of practice

Innovation typically involves not only modifying the previous two categories, but also changes to their use. In the context of corporate training and education, an obvious example of innovation is an organization moving from an instructor-led learning and development approach to a deployment model that integrates e-learning into their resource development strategy, with the concomitant enhanced complexity of practice, technology, and infrastructure required to support such and initiative.

Initially, this may look simple – the organization is merely changing the delivery channel(s) of content. However, adoption of e-learning demands the introduction of a sophisticated set of processes which affect everything from the theory and practice used to design courseware, the skills and resources needed to develop materials, right through to the impact of the innovation on the learners within the organization.

Managing change successfully at this level requires an effective adoption strategy, to ensure the organization is guided through the Innovation Decision Process. Ultimately, such innovations will only be successful if the intended audiences – people at the micro level, and the organization itself at the macro level –  adopt it.

4. Change in Enterprise

The fourth category of complexity of practice typically involves the implementation of many innovations within an organization. Examples of a change in enterprise include adopting Agile or Lean methods, or digitalisation of business processes.

5. Cost

An important factor to consider when implementing a new set of ideas or technologies is cost. Bohlen and Beal assert that

Those practices which cost little seem to be adopted than more rapidly than those which are more expensive.


Similarly, we can say that innovations providing the greatest ROI in the shortest time are more likely to be adopted. For example, if, after an initial evaluation, followed by a pilot or trial, an e-learning initiative demonstrably enables the development of a greater number of workers than the equivalent classroom-based training course, or reduces training costs (time out of production for workers, learning resources, time- and travel expenses etc), then we can say it’s more likely that organization implementation will occur. Innovations seem to have an inflection point – “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable” (Walsh, 2007). Once this point is reached, we can say that the innovations are becoming embedded and are on their way to becoming well-used practices.

Next Time: Rate of Adoption



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.

Walsh, Bryan (2007-10-12). A green tipping point Time Magazine. [Internet] Available from: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1670871,00.html [Accessed 3rd February 2018]