Relative Advantage?

It is interesting that the term “relative advantage” is not strictly an educational one. As our text states, the term coined by Everett Rogers, it refers to the perception by “potential adopters of an innovation of the degree to which the new method or resource has advantages over the old one”.

Directly from Rogers’ book, it is made even clearer as stating the innovation is perceived as “being better than the idea it supersedes”.  Rogers said the degree of this is expressed as “economic profitability, social prestige, or other benefits (212).

Even deeper, the nature of the innovation determines what type of relative advantage it will have.

For educators, it is quite important to look at the relative advantage of using current technologies before implementation. An example of not looking at this could be the Los Angeles Unified School District’s mass scale iPad implementation did not look at where the iPad, while a good technology, might not work (teacher training was one issue, software did not match the ability to work with certain differentiated instruction and/or problem based learning approaches, not to mention a few others).

However, as an Advanced Placement teacher, the awkward walk between teaching to the test and providing meaning and enriching college preparatory education (and also scaling back lecture-based learning) is one area where relative advantage of new technology can help.

By forwarding students to doing background online (I have had several students mention to me that they like Webquests and how much more they learn), not only is class time reserved for deeper group discussion and clarification, but students can actively build their information store with a variety of approaches versus a limited lecture, no matter how good it might be.

I could go on and on about academic advantages, but as I learned in my evaluation course, it is very important for educators to be sure that the implementation is indeed “better than the idea it supersedes”. For example, in my class, although it is easy to edit papers using Schoology, my students have expressed that they appreciate the personal touch (pen and ink on paper) on major papers because it seems like I spent more time on it (that used to be the case when I was getting used to digital editing). Oh, on that note, if the new technology continues to take more time than a previous one, it probably is not a relative advantage (our grade program for the school is an example of technology that does not give educators an advantage).

Also, will students use it (This falls in the realm of social prestige)? With the exception of our stronger students (and even that can be a stretch), if it is not “cool”, then there will most likely be a reluctance to use it.  Schoology is already making adjustments to their LMS so it is not as Facebook like as it used to be, especially in light of the recent drop in use among teens of the social media approach by adding Google Drive, Evernote, Khan Academy, and Dropbox and focusing on the tool rather than the simplicity of it.

One final relative advantage thought is how well the technology is used. I was the first to use Schoology at my current school, but that “first” may have spelled a problem for other teachers when they implemented it later. There was an expectation made on how it would be used, and thus what was an advantage for me turned into an issue with some of my colleagues who were either not ready or trained. Thus, for some teachers, the use of Schoology did not supersede what they had been using simply because we had not given them enough tools to make it so.

In essence, educators need to be sure and test for relative advantage. Think business. Think efficiency. Think advantage…for your students.

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (6th ed.).

Pearson Education Inc.Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.


2 thoughts on “Relative Advantage?

  1. Cary,
    Thanks for taking a bit of a different spin on this than I did. You’re right about a lot, but I really connected with your idea that if it’s not easier, it’s probably not worth it and that some technology loses its novelty and becomes just another “uncool” thing to do in the class. I also appreciated your personal experiences (which I skipped entirely somehow!).

  2. Cary,

    Great points. I agree that we do need to evaluate technology before implementing just for changes sake. We do need to examine if something is going to be better suited to the objective. I believe when we evaluate this we need to look at a more long term approach. It is really easy to dismiss something because it will initially cost more money or take more time. By looking at things over a longer time line we can accurately assess if it is work doing.


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