Year

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Education

Abstract

This study examined the diffusion of an innovation, a learning management system for distance and flexible learning (DFL) in a regional university – the University of the South Pacific (USP). It set out to address the following questions:

1. How does diffusion of an innovation occur in a regional university?

2. What elements of diffusion have significant influence? What are the key processes in the diffusion of a learning management system? What key stakeholders are involved in the diffusion of a learning management system?

3. What aspects of the regional setting impact diffusion?

Grounded in the work of Rogers (2003), diffusion is how an idea that is perceived as new by an individual, organisation or adopting unit is communicated through certain channels among members of a social system over a period of time. Understanding the nature of diffusion of innovations in the context of a social system with varying ICT infrastructures, challenging geography, diverse cultures, environmental and political settings presented a unique opportunity for inquiry. A pragmatic approach saw a primarily qualitative based case study involving interviews and questionnaires supported by document analysis over multiple sites.

This study showed that innovation for DFL, in this regional university was dynamic, both deliberate and unplanned. There was no clear formula for introducing innovations for learning and teaching in a broader institutional sense, nor was there an innovation plan. This impacted on the diffusion process, which was crucial to spreading awareness and use of the learning innovation. The central decision making unit of the university tended to be ‘originator’ and ‘communicator’ of an innovation. In this study, innovations such as the learning management system were the result of a single unit’s innovativeness. This unit was the early adopter of the innovation due to the innovations’ relevance to that unit. The decision to adopt for the entire University was made by the authoritative decision making unit.

Diffusion in this regional context was adversely affected by geography, infrastructure and resource differentials. It was not so much the type of innovation and the time it took for awareness and use in the region, but more the effectiveness of the individual campuses operating and driven by the central campus. This study also highlighted staff members’ level of awareness and use of innovations such as the learning management system was closely related to the nature of their work, despite the location and or the individual’s confidence of computer/technology use.

Further, this study found that centralized decision making regarding the innovation was not viewed favourably by the regional campuses, as communication from the central campus was viewed as monopolistic and lacking inclusivity. However, it appears that in light of the geographical characteristics of the university, key innovative decisions were best suited to authoritative decision-making processes.

As well, it was evident that the further geographical distance from the central campus, the slower the diffusion process. A general agreement was that the central campus was perceived as being better developed and more progressive in terms of infrastructure resulting in inequitable diffusion.

This study makes a contribution to diffusion research by addressing the gap in application of theory to underdeveloped regional (SIDS) contexts, while gaining a greater understanding of staff involvement in the process of diffusion. As well, the study provides a thorough account of the unique regional context while informing literature related to technology adoption, implementation and sustainability of learning innovations in dispersed learning environments.

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