Elearning Adoption in Organizations 5: Rate of Adoption

People (and organizations) don’t adopt new ideas at the same time, or indeed at the same pace: rate of adoption varies considerably. Some adopt ideas when they are first introduced; others wait for varying periods of time; some never accept an idea. In The Diffusion Process, Bohlen and Beal maintain that “…the time span over which people adopt ideas will vary from practice to practice” (1957, p.4).

Rates of Adoption: The Diffusion Curve

The diffusion curve (see Table 1) illustrates the typical slow initial rate of adoption, then a substantial acceleration of uptake, followed by a levelling off of the rate of adoption. Bohlen and Beal’s research shows “significant differences” (p.4) in the individual and social characteristics of people in alignment with the time they adopt an innovation.

Table 1 Rate of Adoption over Time (after Bohlen and Beal, 1957)

Table 1 Rate of Adoption over Time (after Bohlen and Beal, 1957)

As we can see form the table, there are five categories of adopters:

  1. Innovators
  2. Early Adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Majority
  5. Nonadopters


The very first to adopt a new idea are innovators. Innovators typically have a high net worth and a large amount of risk capital. “They can afford to take some risks” (Bohlen and Beal, p.5). Innovators have prestige and respect within their society or culture (and at the macro level, within their organization). Their sphere  of influence often goes beyond social or organizational boundaries.

Innovators  typically belong to formal organizations such as user groups and professional associations  – such informal and formal associations provides them with access to more potential sources of information. Innovators also get their information from higher level research; they go directly to subject matter experts and researchers. Innovators also tend to subscribe to and regularly read specialized blogs, forums and wikis about current and potential future innovations.

Interestingly, Bohlen and Beal discovered that while their laggard peers may watch the innovators and know what they are doing, they are not often named as colleagues or influencers that they (the peers) rely on for information.

Next time: More on Characteristics of Adopters



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]

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