This special bonus issue of From Now On will also appear as Chapter 14 in the collection of previously published essays and articles that will become available in September of 1999 in Jamie McKenzie's new book, How Teachers Learn Technology Best

This material is © 1999 Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. It may be e-mailed to individuals but not posted electronically in any form. It may also be duplicated in hard copy format for use by schools and universities within a not-for-profit context. Previously published in the May, 1999 issue of eSchool News.


Reaching the Reluctant Teacher


Sally Jane sits at her desk peering past rows of empty student desks toward three silent computers grouped at the back of her classroom. It is the third week of school, but these computers have yet to be turned on.

Sally Jane is a technology reluctant. Although she has been teaching as long as computers have been known to schools, she has resisted their use while concentrating instead upon good teaching. Her students love her. She is demanding, sometimes inspiring, and is known within her community for improving student performance, but Sally Jane has not yet seen much value in two decades of technology promises and products. She is reluctant to fix her class if it isn't broken.


Even as schools are busily filling classrooms with computers, a large percentage of teachers remain reluctant and skeptical. Unfortunately, much of the technology professional development of the past two decades was designed by technology enthusiasts with little empathy for reluctants. They have failed to convert reluctance into enthusiasm. They have failed to address the very real concerns of reluctants.

This chapter argues that technology reluctants have special needs, interests and learning styles that must be addressed with respect and ingenuity if we expect to see such teachers embrace the new technologies being placed in their classrooms.

Little has been done to prepare reluctant technology users for the networked computers flooding into their rooms.

We have evidence (Becker, 1999) that as many as seventy per cent of the teachers in American schools fall into the "reluctant" or "late adopter" categories when it comes to computers and other new technologies. Some fall into these categories because they have been given little support, few opportunities and marginal equipment. Others, like Sally Jane, may knowingly resist.

A 1995 report from the Office of Technology Assessment, Making the Connection, ( ) estimated that less than a quarter of our teachers had managed to integrate these tools into regular classroom programs.

In addition, the annual Technology in Education 1998 Report from Market Data Retrieval reports that Internet access has increased dramatically while just seven percent of schools claim that the majority of their teachers are at an Advanced skill level (able to integrate technology use into the curriculum). (

The CEO Forum School Technology and Readiness Report (Year Two) states that "Only 20% of teachers report feeling very well prepared to integrate educational technology into classroom instruction."

The characteristics of late adopters are profoundly different from those of early adopters.

Late adopters are teachers who have not yet embraced new technologies and have not yet blended these tools into their daily classroom learning activities. The term originated in the technology marketplace outside of schools as a way to differentiate between early and late buyers of new technologies.

Crossing the Chasm (Moore, 1991) describes the huge "gap" or "chasm" between these two groups and suggests that many technology companies failed to survive because they assumed that technology adoption (and sales) would be a smooth progression from early enthusiasts into highly profitable later markets and customers. The assumption that late adopters follow the lead of early adopters has proven to be wrong-minded and dangerous, according to Moore. Crossing the chasm between these groups, states Moore, requires a mammoth campaign that includes special attention to the vastly different needs, perspectives and demands of the late adopters. What works for pioneers does not work for the later group.

This insight has virtually escaped the notice of the educational world. And networking has virtually removed the notion of teachers as customers with choices. They awaken one day with computers in their rooms without having requested them.

Late adopters want proof of results before they buy.

One of the most important differences Moore identifies between the two groups is the expectation of late adopters that new technologies must make a very big difference in outcomes and performance. They have little tolerance for change and are unwilling to shift time tested behaviors unless there is compelling evidence that the investment of time and effort will pay big dividends.

Late adopters want a complete, finished product before they buy.

They also expect a complete package, a total solution that is user friendly, complete and well supported. They are, in Moore's terms, pragmatists. They are conservative and distrustful of change for change sake. They have their eye on the bottom line. They have no patience for half-baked ideas, unproven technologies and untested schemes.

Ignoring the chasm is a recipe for failure.

Even though Moore's work was based on corporate customers, his observations speak directly to the widening chasm within the educational world as schools rush to network and place computers in every classroom regardless of teacher "buy-in."

Too many districts put the network "cart" ahead of the learning "horse," as wiring, cabling and hardware purchases race far ahead of program development and human resource development.

Schools have bought half a product - infrastructure without compelling curriculum value. They have hooked up to the Internet as if it were some magnificent "digital library" instead of an "information yard-sale."

Ignoring legitimate curriculum questions while skimping on professional development investments is dangerous. The two are interwoven. Unless we clarify how these networks might improve the reading, writing and reasoning of students, we will face large numbers of teachers questioning the value of the new "toys."

Strategies to Reach Late Adopters and Reluctant Technology Users

Schools must pay particular attention to the needs and interests of reluctant technology users. This group will require a sustained three year commitment of 15-60 hours annually of adult learning experiences tailored to special attitudes and preferences.

Guidelines for reaching the reluctant . . .

1. Clarify the bottom line: gains in student performance.

Most reluctants have trouble relating to the inflated rhetoric of technology enthusiasts. They want to know that their work will result in higher test scores and better performance as measured by increasingly demanding state tests. They want to hear about the "bottom line." And yet no one is providing evidence of such gains. To win the reluctants, we must show measurable results. They are not won over by talk of multimedia or fanciful virtual bike trips across Africa.

2. Deliver a complete package.

Most learning opportunities associated with networks require a high degree of inventiveness. Conservative teachers are looking for excellent packages that have been tested, refined and perfected. They don't have time to "mess around." We need to offer more than cables and computers. Strong learning models such as WebQuest ( ) are persuasive when introducing reluctant teachers to networks.

3. Eliminate risk and surprise.

Generally speaking, reluctants do not enjoy surprises, disappointments and adventures, especially when they happen during class time. They may sign up for white water rafting outside of school, but they would never select it as a model of instruction. We must supply them with experiences requiring little risk.

4. Speak their language.

Many technology proponents speak a language guaranteed to alienate the reluctants. They act as if everything from the past (like lecturing) is bad while any new, technology-rich experience (like surfing) is good. They use terms like "constructivist learning" and "student centered classrooms." Reluctants view this rhetoric with great suspicion. They pride themselves on demanding serious, rigorous learning from students, steering clear of fads and fashions.

5. Offer continual support.

Ongoing support is more important than classes and training. The emotional dimensions of this challenge keep many reluctants from stepping into the technology game. They see networks crashing. They need the technology to work reliably, and they want someone by their side when anything goes wrong.

6. Emphasize teams.

Some of the most impressive gains take place when teachers elect to work in small groups of mixed abilities and styles. The reluctant may be won over by the impressive discoveries realized while exploring with a group of peers, some of whom are more comfortable with mice.

7. Find out what turns them on.

The most change occurs when someone "buys in." They are most apt to "buy in" when their personal passions and interests are at stake. "What's in it for me?" In all too many districts no one ever asks. There is too little time spent figuring out what turns people on to learning new tools. Wise districts periodically ask teachers of all types what issues are most important to them and how they prefer to learn. Example: "Technology in my Life Survey" -

8. Provide rewards and incentives.

"What's in it for me?" Too little attention is paid to motivation. How can a district spend $ 20,000,000 on computers while begrudging teachers basic incentives to learn and use the new technologies? In too many places teachers are expected to donate their own afternoons, evenings and weekends to the learning of new tools. This is serious work deserving full compensation and plenty of recognition.

9. Don't rely on pioneers alone to plan for reluctants.

Pioneers rarely sympathize with reluctants or understand their issues. Pioneers have different needs and far more tolerance for frustration. They rarely understand reluctants or how they learn. They find it difficult to design professional development for reluctants that works.

Online References

Technology in Education 1998 Report from Market Data Retrieval

The CEO Forum School Technology and Readiness Report (Year Two)