Customer-related Decisions
Working with Early Adopters vs. the General Market
How should I think about aligning my product to the right customer?
When courseware providers pilot their products in classrooms, they typically identify instructors with natural enthusiasm for technological improvements. These “early adopter” instructors are up for the challenge of changing work patterns if they believe new courseware will bring value to their classroom.

However, all faculty have a workflow for instruction; a redesign can only occur if the benefits are obvious and outweigh the costs of switching. “General market” instructors tend to prefer material that is tried and true; they are less interested in risking time and effort on new technology that may, at least initially, create more work than they bargained for.

Writing Faculty at the University of Mississippi

The tension therefore lies between developing a solution that suits the early adopters and then adapting the product or message in order to reach general market instructors. You must be intentional about the sequencing and staging of design considerations and decisions—staying mindful of how, when and why general market instructors will start to use your product. While most issues that impede courseware adoption fall outside a provider’s control, the strategic application of change management tactics can help you navigate this tension as you seek out instructors to adopt your courseware. First, consider these aspects of each instructor’s culture:


Take stock of where your instructors fall on the spectrum of early adopters to general market. How can you leverage this diversity of attitudes to build a learning community that encourages innovation and adoption of courseware?

  • Motivation. An instructor’s interest in your courseware may stem from varying reasons that will ultimately impact whether and how they use the product. Motivations might include a desire to eliminate course level achievement gaps; administrative pressure regarding course completion rates; desire for more learning data based on student achievement; or awareness of peer instructors employing digital tools in their classrooms.
  • Abilities. Instructors abilities and knowledge fall on a pedagogical and technological spectrum. It’s important to gauge awareness and skill with digital products in order to meet instructors’ varied needs.
  • Context. Instructors operate in an ecosystem of technology, stakeholders, and institutional dynamics that affects relationships with providers. Consider whether the Learning Management System is an end-all-be-all at their institution, for example. Are instructors motivated to employ digital learning? What is the impact if adoption requires more IT support or training than an instructor has time for?

“The disconnect between institutional strategy and supports for execution is exemplified in the case of courseware adoption: 35 percent of faculty respondents agreed that they are encouraged to use courseware, yet only 21 percent believe that they are trained to use it effectively and only 9 percent are incentivized to do so.”

Tyton Partners, Time for Class Report, 2017

  • Existing practice. For general market instructors, courseware represents a shift in practice from traditional textbook adoption and implementation processes.
  • Demand. A common tech trope assumes that users can’t identify what they want because they don’t know what’s possible. But treating existing demand as irrelevant risks building a solution in search of a problem. Consider conducting a segmentation of the market to ensure that the design and delivery of your tools will meet specific segment needs.
  • Sentiment. Some people fear that technology will replace their professions. Instructors need to understand and be encouraged in their role as human mentors whenever a digital learning tool or platform is deployed. Communicate a clear value proposition that makes the benefits obvious and easily demonstrable.
  • Challenges. Many general market instructors just want their lives to be easier. Think about how your product can reduce the cognitive load for instructors and provide value to them.

Once you have a strategic profile of your product’s potential early adopters, develop tactics for winning over the general market instructors. As for early adopters, you can incentivize these instructors to champion and scale the use of your solution. Lean into them for feedback about the product during iterative development. Create challenges and rewards for maximum or creative uses of your product in the implementation.

Best Practices
Working with Early Adopters vs. the General Market

Message appropriately. If a salesperson gives an instructor an unrealistic impression that courseware adoption will require minimal effort, then the first hurdle that instructor faces may set them against spending further time and effort on the product.

Ease customer pain points. Show prospective users how your product specifically addresses their top barriers.

Extend value for instructors. To reduce resistance, show instructors how to use the product to do things they want to do but usually lack the time for.

Streamline onboarding. When it comes to effective onboarding, less is more. Find quick, simple and light-touch ways to bring instructors up to speed.

Leverage instructor peers. Staff members who’ve learned about the product can help train others and be a trusted source of information.

Engage instructors in the learning. Develop processes for instructors to easily access demo accounts to understand the content and platform.

Show similar implementations. Instructors find it more compelling to see courseware in action in their specific discipline or at a similar institution.

Map content scope and sequence to curriculum. Show general market instructors how their instructional methods can be delivered using your solution.

Provide professional development in the platform. Make training easily accessible.

Leverage instructional designers. Identify team members who speak the language and can help them augment their practice with tools like adaptive courseware.

Provide student preview capability. Support instructors who want more insight into and control over their students’ experiences.

Case Study
The Cerego Challenge

Cerego launched the “Cerego Challenge” to encourage early adopter instructors to play with the courseware. Instructors were asked to use the platform to complete several lessons, at the end of which they received a reward. (Cerego has given out $25 gift cards and even Amazon Echos.) The founder of Cerego, Andrew Smith Lewis, remarked that the tactic effectively drove adoptions, onboarding and pilot programs. In its first summer, 66 instructors signed up for the Cerego Challenge, 58 began it and 42 completed it. Ultimately, 20 participants moved toward full adoption of the courseware––an impressive one-third conversion rate.