Breaking the Mold: An Educational Perspective on Diffusion of Innovation/Ely's Conditions to Facilitate the Implementation of Educational Technology Innovations

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By Rachel Finken

"Once you have examined the climate of the organization, you must plan for how you will address each of the conditions." Ely's conditions provide a flexible framework to use as a guide in directing and analyzing the change process. The eight conditions all play a critical role in a successful implementation. But each situation and context is different, so Ely's conditions must be addressed thoughtfully and tailored to the needs of the organization. Finken’s chapter offers a summary of Ely’s conditions to facilitate the implementation of educational technology innovations, provides case studies and makes available a guide for the educational change agent. The chapter ends with a discussion on the limitations of Ely’s conditions.

Ely's Conditions to Facilitate the Implementation of Educational Technology Innovations[edit | edit source]

Summary of Ely’s conditions[edit | edit source]

Change is not something that comes easily to any organization or institution. According to Ely, certain conditions exist that will help to facilitate the adoption, implementation and institutionalization of technology in education (Ely, 1990). These conditions, regardless of order, are essential to any successful change. Although organizations may address these conditions at different times, each condition must be addressed in order for any implementation to become sustainable.

Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo[edit | edit source]

A general agreement that things could be better; that something needs to change within the organization. This could also be an awareness that problems exist and do not yet have a solution. This dissatisfaction can come from staff members, parents, administration, community leaders, etc.

Knowledge and Skills[edit | edit source]

People must have the technical skills to bring about the change. People need training and support to implement the change with fidelity. "The basic fact is that knowledge and skills must be present in order for change to occur" (Ely, 1990). A teacher must have a basic competency level of the technologies before using them with students. Without this competency, the implementation of an educational innovation may not take.

Resources[edit | edit source]

Those who are expected to change need access to resources. Support materials and access to the technology are critical for the success of an educational change. Resources could be either hardware or software, but all relevant tools must be made available.

Time[edit | edit source]

Time is essential, as teachers must have time to learn, experiment, adapt, and reflect with the innovation. This time should be paid time or contract time, either through in-service trainings, group support sessions, or planning time. Ely argues that time is vital to bringing about educational change, and paid time or company time to learn the technology will foster change. Brown (2009) argues that time and especially reflection were crucial to the innovation process. If time is not given for design thinkers to reflect and learn from the product, then mistakes will be made or a poor product will be created.

Rewards and Incentives[edit | edit source]

People will not change for the sake of change. There must be a sufficient reason for people to change. Ely argues that some kind of incentive should be offered to motivate people to implement the change. The incentive depends on the climate and culture of the organization, but it could be as simple as new teaching materials or a trip to a training session in a warm topical location to motivate teachers to change. The incentive could be formal recognition or visible notoriety for accomplishments during the implementation process. Whatever the incentive, tangible or intangible, it must be present.

Participation[edit | edit source]

Participation gives every stakeholder a voice in the implementation process. Participation means shared decision-making among all parties involved. Change should not be simply top-down mandates, but rather individuals involved should be part of (or at least feel like they were part of, even if just represented) the decision-making process. This fosters a sense of ownership and helps to ensure an implementation is done with fidelity.

Commitment[edit | edit source]

Support from all stakeholders and the administration is important to the implementation process. This means not just commitment by teachers that the technology will sit in their classrooms, but firm commitment that they will use it in their teaching. This also must be hand-in-hand with visible support from administration in order for the implementation to thrive. If the principal doesn't make it a priority or communicates a message of optional insubordination, then the implementation may fail. Why take the time to change your ways if your own principal doesn't provide the support (time or training) or communicate the need to change?

Leadership[edit | edit source]

Leaders must be committed from the very top down, executive to the project leader (superintendent to the principal or department head). The people in charge are to lead the way, provide support, troubleshoot, be a cheerleader or counselor, provide whatever is needed to make the implementation a success. The drive to change can't fall to the teacher alone, there must be shoulders with authority to carry the load.

Case Studies through the Lens of Ely's Conditions[edit | edit source]

Ely's conditions are a helpful guide to follow when it comes to implementing change in educational settings and situations outside of the classroom. The following examples are studies that have used Ely's conditions to examine educational change or to implement educational change. These studies will examine and reinforce Ely’s conditions through successful implementation of educational technological change.

Surry and Ensminger (2008) studied the perceived importance of Ely’s eight conditions through a survey questionnaire of instructional technology professionals in the educational and business world. The goal of the study was to determine which of the eight conditions were perceived to be most influential in facilitating implementation by those working in business and in education (Surry & Ensminger, 2008). The survey included two questions for each of Ely's eight conditions; one stated in a positive tone and the other a negative tone. The results of the study prioritized the perceived key conditions for both groups. The results of the study indicated that the most important conditions for IT business leaders were time, leadership and resources. According to Surry & Ensminger (2008), this shows the business group perceived that, in order for an innovation to be successfully implemented, workers need time to learn how to use the innovation, leadership from immediate supervisors and supporting resources. For educators, the study indicated that resources, participation, and skills and knowledge were closely grouped as the three most important factors in facilitating implementation for the education group. This showed the education group perceived that in order for an innovation to be successfully implemented, workers need supporting resources, a sense of ownership in the decision making process, and the skills and knowledge necessary to use the innovation effectively (Surry & Ensminger, 2008).

Although both groups of instructional technology professionals agreed that resources were important in the implementation process, the other conditions did not have to reach the same consensus. Change agents need to think about implementation in business settings and in educational settings in very different terms. Change agents should consider different implementation strategies for different groups at an innovation site (Surry & Ensminger, 2008). The authors suggest that the eight conditions could be used as a framework to determine the relative ranking of the conditions, called an "implementation profile." Once an organization's implementation profile was determined, a change agent could tailor an implementation plan to best suit their needs (Ensminger & Surry, 2008). Change agents must understand that although each of Ely's conditions should be addressed during the implementation process, this is not a one-size-fits-all framework. Each situation and context should be carefully assessed before a plan is formed. The conditions of implementation planning sheet (Table 1) could be used to assist this process.

In a follow-up study, Ensminger & Surry (2008) studied Ely's conditions and ranked them according to the impact they had on successful implementation programs. Table 1 ranks each condition in order of importance based on Ensminger and Surry's study (2008). In this study of both education and business professionals, dissatisfaction was the highest ranking condition to facilitate change, but the conditions, resources, time, participation and leadership still find their way into the top spots.

Table 1: The Eight Conditions by Importance by Rank

K-12 Higher Education Business-Industry
  Dissatisfaction   Dissatisfaction   Dissatisfaction
  Resources   Participation   Commitment
  Time   Commitment   Participation
  Commitment   Resources   Leadership
  Participation   Time   Resources
  Skills & Knowledge     Leadership   Time
  Leadership   Skills & Knowledge     Skills & Knowledge  
  Reward   Reward   Reward

Another study found that three of Ely’s conditions were supported as essential to the implementation process of educational technology integration in Malaysia. The conditions of commitment, leadership, knowledge were critical to this process (Khalid, Nawawi & Roslan, 2009). Although the authors pin-pointed these three as critical, the authors also contend that the conditions were closely related to each other. A strong positive relationship was found between presence of “leadership” and "commitment." This relationship is crucial because change will occur when there is someone who is able to provide the leadership and who is committed to initiate, organize and direct efforts to encourage and obtain commitment from the teachers in the integration of ICT in teaching and learning (Khalid, Nawawi & Roslan, 2009). According to Ely (1990), individuals who are in leadership roles are needed to encourage teachers to participate in the decision-making process. Teachers need the inspiration and continued support from people they respect to facilitate implementation of an innovation (Ely, 1999).

Beyond the studies of researchers, teachers involved in the implementation process are able to see just how important each of Ely's conditions are. One teacher documented his experiences with a district-wide technology implementation of SMART Boards using Ely's conditions as a framework for analysis. According to the author, the implementation process was not addressing all of the conditions and subsequently this teacher was dissatisfied with the results (White, 2009). According to White (2009), the top-down decision-making from the superintendent left the school with inadequate training, lack of time to learn the technology, and commitment from the administration to support the implementation.

Application of Ely's Conditions for Educational Agents[edit | edit source]

Implementation is a complex idea and task, and should not be taken lightly. It is best to consider the context and cultural values before implementation begins. Each of Ely's conditions must be addressed when in the implementation process. If the condition doesn't exist, your implementation efforts may eventually fail.

Surry & Esminger (2008) found that although all of the conditions were perceived as important by educators; resources, participation, knowledge and skills were perceived as the most important for educational change. Whereas instructional technology leaders in business perceived that time, leadership and resources were most critical in the implementation process. This difference in perceived value goes to show that although different groups place higher value on some of the conditions, this doesn't mean the other conditions should be ignored. Instead, Ely's conditions should be used as a framework to help guide change agents in their implementation process.

Each context is infused with its own cultural values, and therefore the change process is usually adapted to the norms of that environment. Knowledge of those norms is invaluable for the change agent (Ely, 1990). Because different organizations may place higher value on certain conditions, it is up to the change agent to tailor the implementation to the needs of the organization (Esminger & Surry, 2008). This planning sheet (Table 2) may be useful when considering the need and appropriateness of an innovation.

Use the table below as a guide to examine where your organization places value on the implementation process.

Table 2: Conditions of Change Planning Sheet (Edelman, 2005)

Conditions that facilitate the implementation of innovations To what extent do these conditions currently exist?
Dissatisfaction exists with things as they are.
  Low   1      2      3       4      5      High 

2. Knowledge
The people who will ultimately implement the change possess sufficient
knowledge and skills (competence) to do the job.
  Low   1      2      3       4      5      High 

3. Resources
The materials (hardware & software) that are needed to make the innovation
work are easily accessible.
  Low   1      2      3       4      5      High 

4. Time
Implementers have (paid) time to learn,adapt, integrate, reflect, practice,
and evaluate new approaches.
  Low   1      2      3       4      5      High 

5. Rewards
Incentives vary for individuals, but intrinsic or extrinsic, are available.
  Low   1      2      3       4      5      High 

6. Participation
The individuals who are expected to implement the change have a part
or say in the implementation process.
  Low   1      2      3       4      5      High 

7. Commitment
There is firm and visible evidence that there is endorsement and continuing
support for implementation
  Low   1      2      3       4      5      High 

8. Leadership
Both program/agency leadership and project managers provide
encouragement to consider new ideas; insure that training is offered;
that necessary materials are accessible; and are available for when
discouragement or failure occur.
  Low   1      2      3       4      5      High 

A Guide for the Educational Change Agent[edit | edit source]

Once you have examined the climate of the organization, you must plan for how you will address each of the conditions. Ely's conditions provide a flexible framework to use as a guide in directing and analyzing the change process. The eight conditions all play a critical role in successful implementation. But each situation and context is different, so Ely's conditions must be addressed thoughtfully and tailored to the needs of the organization.

Examine each condition through the context of your organization. Use the conditions as a framework or as guidelines for the implementation process. This section will work as a guide to help create a frame of reference for creating sustainable educational change.

What needs to change?
Without dissatisfaction with the way things are, there is no need to change. This dissatisfaction can come from any stakeholders such as: teachers, parents, communities, administrative offices, state officials, etc. As a change agent, you are responsible for gauging the dissatisfaction amongst your organization. Remember that just a few loud squeaky wheels does not mean that the majority of stakeholders are dissatisfied. Brown (2009) contends that design thinking "is helping people articulate the latent needs they may not even know they have." People may see only problems and be at a loss for solutions, or they need help clarifying the problems. It is up to the change agent to help them see how the change may create a solution. Dissatisfaction can be the initial driving force behind an educational change, but not always. So keep in mind during the implementation process that people within the organization may have specific needs to be addressed.

How does this thing work?

With every new change comes a learning curve. Teachers and leaders need to have enough training and support to make sure the educational change is sustainable. There is no magic number of training hours because every situation and person differs. What is important is that a change agent gets to know the expertise of the staff they are working with. Keep in mind that in order for a real change to occur, it is necessary to make sure the technology being provided to teachers is being used properly and isn't collecting dust. Individual teachers may need varying levels of support with the new technology. It may be an impossible task to attempt to bring every teacher up to the same level of expertise. But a change agent should try to advance the technical knowledge of every teacher or staff member. Once a knowledge or skill is established, meaning every teacher has learned enough be to comfortable (at their own level), others like early adopters may feel comfortable right away and will need support to push their use of the technology beyond that of some of their colleagues. Regardless of the learning curve, the technological skills for all people within the organization need to increase across the board at their own personal rates.

When can I get my hands on it?

In order for a technological innovation to really become institutionalized, people must be able to use it regularly. Teachers need to have regular contact with the technology to be able to obtain a level of comfort with it. If access to the technology is unreliable, then the motivation for people to adopt can quickly wane. The desire for contact with technology can be highly motivating, but support educators with access to the innovation. This could be accomplished through individual experimentation or group technology sessions where teachers get both contact and support with the technology.

When do I have time to learn this?

Time is a critical factor for educators, and educators need time to play around and learn with the new technologies. This time should be paid time or contract time. This could be a professional day or observation time to see how the innovation is being used in another classroom. Collaboration time with a curriculum partner or technology specialist could be an invaluable support. Educators need built-in time to adopt, adapt, reflect on the innovation, with reflection being one of the most important factors in the implementation process. Collaboration time could also be time to meet and discuss any issues or problems that might be holding individuals back from full adoption. Teachers may double their implementation efforts if they are able to see how well the technology is working in their colleagues' classrooms. Think of time as an investment. Without properly investing in this key component, the innovation will be poorly implemented.

What is in it for me?

Incentives are important for people to accept change. How will this innovation make my life easier? Rewards or incentives could be tangible or intangible, but however administered, a variety of incentives may be useful. What may drive one person may not drive another. Possible rewards or incentives to offer could be: monetary rewards, formal recognition, a professional development conference, time out of class to work on technology, etc. Without incentives, the only adoption may be confined to only compliance. People need some kind of motivation to make real change. Earlier adopters may only need first access to the innovation, but laggards or late adopters may need more of a push. It will be important to think about what drives the organization or staff members that you are working with to use this process thoughtfully.

Who makes the decisions?

Often times decisions or changes are top-down and few teachers or even principals have a say in how these changes roll out. In order for disruptive changes to go down easier, educators or those adopting the change must have some say in the process. If those who are directed to change are left without some kind of voice, there will be little buy in. This does not mean that teachers make the big decisions or that a consensus is required. It does mean that administrators or whomever makes the final call has input from those who will be involved in the implementation process. Teachers or administrators (or both) could have representatives that speak for them if the process is far removed from them. This helps to ensure fidelity to the implementation and can create a sense of ownership amongst the staff.

Who's on board?

Commitment to the educational change must come from all stakeholders involved in the process. Teachers must make a firm commitment to use the technology and the administration must make a firm commitment to provide support, time, resources and ultimately hold up their end of the implementation process. Leaders cannot reasonably expect their educators to fully implement the innovation if they are not willing to make sacrifices or prioritize resources to make it happen. Without commitment from administration, the teachers are getting mixed messages and may only commit enough to comply or not even attempt if there is not commitment to do so.

Who is leading the way?

A leader or change agent has a vital role to support those educators during the implementation process. This goes beyond ensuring compliance by being someone to help troubleshoot, to provide comfort when first attempts fail, to provide praise for small victories. A leader must be a cheerleader for the innovation and for those who are implementing the innovation. If you notice a pocket of teachers not adopting, provide support or training to them. If you notice a pocket of teachers using the innovation without troubles, use them, praise them and share them. Make sure people can have the resources and support they need. Hear their triumphs and concerns. Oftentimes teachers need an advocate to make simple changes in implementation that could lead to better fidelity rates and a successful implementation.

Limitations of Ely's Conditions[edit | edit source]

But even as Ely's conditions can provide a valuable guide for change agents, it is important to remember that the conditions are only a framework. Albeit an invaluable resource for any implementation process, the conditions do have their limitations. Porter (2005) argues that the condition of time is too constricting of a condition to use as part of a framework. The other conditions are more of a social construct that we measure with time. But time itself is not an important factor when it comes to implementing change and people should not be bound to a specific timeline. Everyone has a unique level of confidence, ability, experience and knowledge when it comes to technology; therefore, each will demonstrate differing levels of progressive change (Porter, 2005). Ely addresses Porter's concerns with the restrictions and perceptions of time in the implementation process. Ely (1990) suggests being flexible, with time frames as the overall goal to provide people with the necessary means of support to change. Porter contends, "Successful change is achieved through careful nurture and with patience. Those who jump on the bandwagon early are no better than those who come later as change is aimed at getting everyone involved" (2005). The condition of time has to be a flexible interpretation within the framework because the end goal of a successful implementation in not fidelity to the timeline, but to create real and lasting change.

As several of the case studies in the earlier part of the chapter mentioned, not all of Ely's conditions are perceived and ranked equally in importance. Authors Leggett and Persichitt argue that only four of the eight conditions are critical factors in implementing change. The remaining conditions do not make the driving force behind change. The authors contend that time, expertise, access, resources and support (TEARS) are needed to make change. Surry and Ensminger (2008) questioned, should change agents apply Ely's conditions as a framework and some of the conditions may not be addressed based on the needs of the organization? Is each a condition essential to the process? Ely argues that each condition needs to be addressed in order for implementation to be successful, but in practice it does not seem that each condition should be given the same amount of attention.

One key idea that Ely seems to only glaze over is the uniqueness of every situation and organization. Previously in the chapter, Ensminger and Surry (2008) found that conditions in educational and business contexts were ranked differently based on culture and needs. The culture of an organization is a critical factor in the sustainable implementation process, but Ely does not include this element in the conditions or guidelines. Ely (1990) states, "The setting in which these conditions are used is the ultimate determinant of their utility. Care should be taken to allow for cultural and personality variables." But what kind of care is necessary? If addressing the culture is a critical component of making lasting change, then it should be part of the framework. Ely also stated that the decades may rewrite the framework (1990). Is it time to rewrite Ely's conditions to include ideas about culture? Although Ely has created an excellent guide for the implementation process, it may be time to re-examine how the conditions are used in different contexts and create a framework that more specifically addresses the needs of change agents in educational and enterprise contexts.

References[edit | edit source]

Billig, S. H., Sherry, L. and Havelock, B. (2005). Challenge 98: Sustaining the work of a regional technology integration initiative. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(6) :987–1003.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: Harper.

Edelman, L. (2005). Understanding change: Diagnostic and planning tools. M.S. JFK Partners, Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Retrieved from

Ely, D. P. (1990). Conditions that facilitate the implementation of educational technology innovations. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 23(2): 298.

Ely, D. P. (1999). New perspectives on the implementation of educational technology innovations. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED427775).

Ensminger, D.C. & Surry, D.W. (2008). Relative ranking of conditions that facilitate innovation implementation in the USA. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 24(5): 611-626. Retrieved from

Khalid, Nawawi & Roslan. (2009). Example of Ely’s Conditions: A Study in Malaysia. The International Journal of Learning, 15(12): 86-93.

Leggett W.P. & Persichitt, K.A. (1998). Blood, sweat, and TEARS: 50 years of technology implementation obstacles. TechTrends, 43(3). Retrieved from

Porter, B.E. (2005). Deconstruction of Ely. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(6): 1063–1065.

Surry, D. & Ensminger, D.C. (2008). Perceived importance of conditions that facilitate implementation. University of South Alabama. Retrieved from

White, M (2009, October 14). B7: Ely's conditions of change and Webster's Smartboards. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from