Why “modeller-broker” orientation is inherently limited – bridging the gap

The modeller-broker orientation

Here at CQU there is a mindset amongst a surprisingly large number of folk that align closely with a quote from Land (2001)

I think we work much more effectively by working with departments we know are active, then try to get some examples out to other people. They see that it works and then we try to bring them on board.

Land (2001) calls this the “modeller-broker” approach and describes it as

‘Trojan horse’ approach of working alongside colleagues to demonstrate good practice or innovation. ‘Do as I do’ rather than ‘do as I say’

Why is it limited?

My argument is not that there is no value in this approach. There is some value. My argument is that this approach, by itself, is not sufficient to engage a significant number of folk. It quickly degenerates into “preaching to the converted”.


Land places this orientation into the diffusion of innovations literature. I’ve been a fan of diffusion theory as a tool to generate some insight, some guidance in this problem of engaging widespread adoption of elearning for quite sometime. I’ve written about it recently.

In that previous writing I’ve talked about observability as being one of the five perceived characteristics of an innovation that are likely to encourage adoption. It’s actually one of the least likely of the five to positively influence adoption decisions. There are also a large range of other factors which diffusion theory identifies.

Compatibility with previous practice and the level homophily (similarity in beliefs) between innovators and later adopters are two important ones.

The difference beween early adopters and the mainstream

Geoghegan (1998) identified the following differences between the early adopters and the mainstream.

Early adopters


Favour revolutionary change Favour evolutionary change
Visionary Pragmatic
Project oriented Process oriented
Risk takers Risk averse
Willing to experiment Want proven applications
Generally self-sufficient May need significant support
Horizontally connected Vertically connected

Geoghegan (1994) developed the above in the early 90s to answer the following observations

Despite massive technology expenditures over the last decade or so, the widespread availability of substantial computing power at increasingly reasonable prices, and a growing “comfort level” with this technology among college and university faculty, information technology is not being integrated into the teaching and learning process nearly as much as people have regularly predicted since it arrived on the educational scene three or four decades ago. There are many isolated pockets of successful technology implementations. But it is an unfortunate fact that these individual successes, as important and as encouraging as they might be, have been slow to propagate beyond their initiators; and they have by no means brought about the technologically inspired revolution in teaching and learning so long anticipated by instructional technology advocates.

It’s over 10 years later and I don’t think much has changed. There is almost certainly a great deal more adoption of technology. But it is little more than “horseless carriage” stuff. The performance of previous practice with a different type of tool/medium.

The chasm

Geoghegan (1994), drawing on the work of Moore (1991), proposes that there is a “chasm” between the enthusiasts and the pragmatists.

Geoghegan (1994) argues that these two groups bring entirely different criteria for deciding whether or not to adopt an innovation. They need different approaches to “market” the innovation.

Why the gap hasn’t been bridged?

Geoghegan identifies four reasons why the gap hasn’t been bridged

  1. Ignorance of the gap.
    This is demonstrated in the “modeller-broker” orientation. There is not recognition that the two groups are entirely different. That simply modelling the new innovation is not going to be sufficient for the pragmatists.
  2. The “technologists’ alliance.
    It is argued that the faculty enthusiasts, university instructional technology support organisations and the IT vendors form a community that, while successful in developing innovations, is a failure in engaging with the pragmatists. The language, concerns and interests of this alliance is completely different to that of the pragmatists. There was a “one size fits all” approach that was not working. This alliance tends to focus on disruptive innovations at the expense of the incremental advances favoured by the mainstream.
  3. Alienation of the mainstream.
    The focus on “disruptiveness” of enthusiasts can alienate and anger the mainstream. The enthusiasts are able to operate in a support vacuum which pragamatists can’t and consequently there are problems when enthusiasts move on. The type of disruptive change favoured by the enthusiast tend to produce disruptive side-effects that magnify the overall cost of adoption.
  4. No compelling reason to adopt.
    In order to interest the mainstream, as with anyone, it is necessary/desirable to have a compelling value that can be expressed in terms attractive to the desired audience. For the pragmatists, this means an application that offers value substantially in excess of the costs of adoption.

Bridging the gap

Geoghegan (1994) offers four factors in bridging the gap

  1. Recognition.
    Simply recognise the gap, recognise that the pragmatists are different to the enthusiasts. Recognise their needs and include them in the process.
  2. Vertical orientation.
    The support for pragmatists should place more emphasis on peer support and sharing rather than on the assistance of enthusiasts from a narrow range of technically oriented disciplines. The support staff with experience and credibility in a broad range of discipline areas that combine moderate technical knowledge with a solid understanding of the culture of the disciplines involved.
  3. Compelling value.
    Whatever innovation should clearly demonstrate, in terms important to the pragmatist, that it can perform an important, existing task better than current practice or can address a previously, unavailable and important problem. The side effects and risk of failure should be minimal and ease of use should be high.
  4. Institutional commitment.
    Demonstrated through appropriately visible and worded commitments, appropriately targetted and resources awards for using IT and an effective support division or resources.

Why bother?

So why did I spend all this time on the above? Well mostly because I believe that the above fits very nicely and supports my views about ateleological development of e-learning. Which just happens to be the topic of my PhD.

I think an ateleological process for implementation organisational e-learning within a university engages with the above problems, it offers a way to bridge the gap.


William Geoghegan (1994). Whatever happened to instructional technology?, Paper presented at the 22nd Annual Conference of the International Business Schools Computing Association, Baltimore, MD

Land, R. (2001). “Agency, context and change in academic development.�? The International Journal for Academic Development. 6(1): 4-20

2 thoughts on “Why “modeller-broker” orientation is inherently limited – bridging the gap

  1. Kathleen Gray

    Hi David.

    I agree with your views about the inherent limitations of the modeller-broker – it seems such a ‘nice’ way to do things, but can lacks the leaderly dimension where it’s most needed.

    I wonder how valid it is to base your argument on Geohagen? Much has happened with web technology, in society and in education, since he made the statements that you quote. I think a lot has changed in the past 10 years, actually.

    And “performance of previous practice with a different type of tool” is not exactly apt, I think – technology does bring cultural changes, some of which we want – if what we seek is transformation, maybe it can be rendered in ‘small pieces, loosely joined’?

    I noted that G’s statements mingle / confound different aspects of adoption:
    not being integrated into the teaching and learning process nearly as much – quantity
    have been slow to propagate – speed
    have by no means brought about the technologically inspired revolution in teaching and learning – innovation

    This brought to my mind the LMS Global Consortium’s efforts to get beyond the ‘how we made it work at our place’ discourse about e-learning. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with their emphasis on “impact” (in my view a loaded term, but at least capturing some measure of reflection on effort and learning from experience) – their criteria for annual awards for ‘learning impact’ try to distinguish among:
    organisational learning

    Click to access li2007reportExecutive.pdf

    I’d be interested on your thoughts about how your own usage of these terms maps onto theirs, which one could say is an industry standard of usage…

    Is the desire to have ‘learning impact’ consonant with supporting / doing the development of elearning a-teleologically do you think?

    Would you characterise the LMSGC’s stance toward the development of elearning as totally teleological or a mix of tele and a-tele?


  2. Pingback: What can history tell us about e-learning and its future? « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s