Navigating the Hype Cycle

A few weeks ago, a conference presenter shared Gartner’s Hype Cycle and discussed how the phases described the adoption and implementation of technologies in education. For those of you who may not be familiar, the Hype Cycle is broken down into five key phases:


Innovation Trigger: A new technology or idea is introduced. The technology is presented as the “next big thing” and is conceptualized as solving numerous problems. Significant publicity fuels awareness and the technology’s visibility.

Peak of Inflated Expectations: As awareness grows, success stories fuel increased publicity. Some schools choose to take action while others do not. Failed adoptions also begin to emerge.

Trough of Disillusionment: Interest begins to wane as adoptions and implementations fail to deliver. Some technology developers fail while others work to improve their product to deliver on early promises.

Slope of Enlightenment: The affordances of the technology begin to be better understood. Best practices and emerging research fuels new adoptions. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers.

Plateau of Productivity: More widespread and mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

If you’ve been working in education for some time, you can probably recognize this pattern for different instructional technologies and pedagogical practices over the years. Take gamification as an example. A few years ago, gamified learning environments were lauded as a major innovation in education. Gamified websites emerged that offered all sorts of educational benefits. Now, years later, those proposed benefited haven’t happened. At least not yet. Looking at the Education Hype Cycle Report produced by Gartner, they identify gamification as “climbing the slope.” Maybe research is starting to catch up to earlier promises.

But that’s the larger take away from the Hype Cycle. Early phases of the Hype Cycle are fueled mostly by techno-optimism and rhetoric promoting the technology. People see a shiny new object or instructional strategy and only see the promise and possibility. Authors and theorists write books that trumpet all sorts of benefits and opportunities. Technology companies set up stands at conferences and create ambassadors to advocate all of the (perceived) benefits.  The hype fuels more adoption.

And then the crash happens. The technology enters the Trough of Disillusionment and early adopters start to question the cost of their efforts. They may question the huge financial investment or the impact on student learning or the lost professional development. The trough is real.

But it’s during this phase that research starts to catch up. The techno-optimism is replaced by techno-pragmatism. An evidence base emerges that informs design and implementation. As more evidence and research emerges, we reach the Plateau of Productivity and can use the instructional practice or technology with efficacy.

As I think about the Hype Cycle, I’m left wondering which phase is the best time for a school to adopt a technology or an innovation. While I want schools to take risks and innovate, I also recognize that many “next big things” have disappeared after falling off of the Peak of Inflated Expectations. If you’ve worked in schools for any significant length of time, you have a story of some initiative that failed. Many of those initiatives failed because they were poorly implemented. Others should have never been considered because of the lack of evidence to support their implementation. Their adoption happened way too early in the Hype Cycle.

So, how do we better navigate the Hype Cycle? One solution is to develop a healthy skepticism of new initiatives that are proposed. I’m not advocating for anyone to avoid change or innovation but we have to be cautious when advocating for widespread adoption of technologies or initiatives whose hype is largely built upon unsubstantiated claims. Rather than just being skeptical, however, it’s also important for us to take small-scale risks and create pilot studies that can help to inform the knowledge base. It’s through our contributions that new technologies and innovations develop an evidence base to help it move beyond the hype.

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