Why has podcasting as a learning technology has not mainstreamed within UK HEIs? Maybe it is because the central teams have ignored word of mouth marketing !

From my perspective, Collis et al., (2001) 4E’s model is the starting point when developing a framework to understand and stimulate the adoption of a learning technology by an individual lecturer within their teaching, learning and assessment models. The 4E’s model can be applied for predictive, comparative and interventionist approaches. Analysis suggest the two most important factors with the model are; the environmental context and the level of personal engagement. Where a key variable for personal engagement is “I can picture myself trying to engage my colleagues or fellow students to try out a new … application for their learning related tasks”.

On reflection, I’d suggest e-Learning Teams have tended to place a greater emphasis on influencing the environmental context compared to the level of personal engagement of the individual lecturer.

The fact we have not coordinated developments around the personal engagement factor raises two questions;

  • how can an e-learning team more effectively influence levels of personal engagement with TEL?
  • does this neglect partially explain the slow adoption rates (institutionalisation) of well established learning technologies, such as podcasting?

I’d predict, if we had a conversation with a marketing consultant around facilitating large scale adoption of new ideas and behaviours, they’d focus on the need to stimulate the spread of opinions through networks by targeting opinion leaders and the application of word of mouth marketing. For instance, “a wave of influence can be triggered by addressing only a few influential persons in the network”. This implies social contacts, social interactions, and interpersonal communication are important influences on the adoption of new behaviours. The basis of word of mouth marketing is the general assumption people are talkers (both opinion leaders and opinion formers) as we talk to satisfy distinct needs. Sernovitz (2009) suggests there are three reasons why people talk;

  • they like you and your stuff. In our case, the e-Learning Team, and the innovation
  • it makes them feel good
  • it helps them feel connected as a group. In our case, learning community

Therefore, opinion leaders provide an essential peer education function within an organisation as they seek to engage colleagues to try out new approaches.

The importance of word of mouth marketing within the effective adoption of learning technologies can be integrated within Beetham’s model of learning activity design. This model is commonly used in developmental session with Course Teams. The model suggests practitioners have several issues to consider when designing an activity to engage and develop learners. A named factor is, other people (peers, tutors, facilitators, mentors and instructors). It would be reasonable to include the concept of “opinion leaders and influencers” within this factor.

Applying the 4E’s Model, with the focus on personal engagement (and word of mouth marketing) it enables us to question, “why have effective learning technologies, such as podcasting, not reached critical mass with institutions?” The slow adoption of podcasting with teaching and assessment is surprising given it is well established, it is becoming an increasingly easier task, and there is established evidence of it being educationally effective.

Valente & David () would suggest the reason for low adoption is due to the long time lag as the innovation percolates through networks before it reaches opinion leaders who are in the position to set the agenda for change. In other words, within our lecturer community the word of mouth marketing around the innovation is not effective. Therefore, our existing communication and dissemination strategies are not getting people talking.

Given we accept the importance of word of mouth marketing as a key influence on the personal engagement vector in the 4 E’s Model, the questions must be, how does it work?

A simplified model is illustrated in Figure 1. Where person (T) will receive information from a number of sources, including opinion leaders, opinion formers, educational media, mass media as well as personal sources. They in turn will act as opinion leaders for others.

Figure 1: The role of opinion leaders and word of mouth marketing to change behaviour












Source: Adapted from Fill (), pg 41

The key observation (and lesson we must learn) is this network does not adhere to a typical institution’s (hierarchical) organisational structure. So, if our communication and dissemination strategy is primarily based on the organisational structure, is top down, relatively linear set of information channels it is unlikely to foster the degree of personal engagement of a lecturer around specific innovations. It would be suggested this approach is common across a number of UK HEIs, and it is easy to manage and monitor.

So back to the question raised at the beginning. This analysis supports the proposition at the start where we have neglect to invest and maintain mechanisms to foster more effective word of mouth marketing within our institutions, and this has contributed to a slower adoption of learning technologies.

A future post will explore what we (e-Learning Teams) can do to foster the degree of personal engagement within a lecturer.

References / Footnotes

Beetham, H., (2007) An approach to learning activity design, in Rethinking Pedagogy in a Digital Age, Beetham, H & Sharpe, R (eds), Routledge, pp 1-10

Collis, B., Peters, O and Pals, N., (2001) A model for predicting the educational use of information and communication technologies” Instructional Science, Vol 29, No 2 (March 2001), pp 95-125

Collis, B., and Moonen, J., (2002) Flexible Learning in a Digital World, The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, Vol 17, No 3, pp 217-230

Kaiser, C., Krockel, J., and Bodendorf, F., (2012) Simulating the spread of opinions in online social networks when targeting opinion leaders, Inf Syst e-Bus Management, Vol 11 pp 597-621

Sernovitz, A., (2009) Word of Mouth Marketing: How smart companies get people talking

Valente, T., & Davis, R., (1999) Accelerating the diffusion of innovations using opinion leaders, ANNALS, AAPSS No 566 (November 1999) pp 55-67


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