We often speak of using technology in terms of adoption. But, this over-simplifies the experience to nothing more than purchasing a device and plugging it in. For example, how often do we hear of schools that boast of their use of technology by buying an iPad for every student, only to hear that the devices sit on the shelves all day? Rather than focus on technology adoption, we ought to work towards technology integration, which is a much more holistic paradigm. Integration is a way of thinking; it implies the development of a culture. It implies that the technology becomes an extension of us – a place that connects our mind with our work. The technology then becomes a tool we habitually turn to when we wish to improve our productivity and learning.
Research has shown that, while there is no silver bullet to technology integration, there are key factors that make it more likely to successfully occur (Inan & Lowther, 2009). In particular, in my experience as a technical support engineer at NetDocuments, I've observed three key factors that lead to a successful technology integration: a shared vision, deliberate evaluation, and effective training and support.
A Shared Vision
Our beliefs regarding technology are a key factor in its successful integration. Whether it is a top-down or bottom-up integration, stakeholders need to catch the vision of the technology and the role it will play in meeting one's goals. Everyone – at least most users – need to be on board. This vision will help drive and shape the culture surrounding the technology, and this culture will shape its use and effectiveness. In creating a vision, we must recognize the need for the technology and then find the right technology that will fill that need or meet our goals. Our vision helps to guide exactly how technology should or can be used.
Renowned psychologist, Bob Mager, put it this way: "If you're not sure where you're going, you're liable to end up someplace else. If you don't know where you're going, the best-made maps won't help you get there." (Mager, 1997).
Having a vision requires us to recognize the potential a technology has for enhancing our productivity and learning. Technology has the power to transform the world we live in. It can transform an organization. It can transform people.
Deliberate and Methodical Evaluation
A vision naturally leads us to my next point. Make sure you know what kind of technology you'll be using and why you'll be using it. In legal jargon, this is called due diligence and it is where a lot of organizations go wrong. Aside from considering obvious factors such as cost and resources, it's important to know your technology. What are the requirements? Does it have the features I am looking for? While our vision provides a higher view of our desired outcomes, our evaluation or analysis requires us to be more specific when articulating our goals.
New technology is produced every day, and existing technology is constantly changing. Don't be too hasty in selecting your technology. Know where it came from, and what direction it is heading in. Make sure it is in line with your vision, and that you have a plan for how it is to be used, rather than just dumping it on an employee's desk. Don't attempt to integrate a technology just because it is the latest fad, or for the sake of making some kind of political or fashion statement. We must be pragmatic and deliberate in the technologies we select, and in the kind of culture we create as a result of our evaluation if we want to produce desired outcomes.
Effective Training and Support
In addition to the culture of use generated by our vision and evaluation, there needs to be a culture or community of support - both technical support from trainers and IT personnel, as well as social support from coworkers and managers. This culture or community of support is the most significant factor in successful technology integration. Yes, it is true that technology can be useful and powerful. But the truth is that people need help in learning how to use it.
This is where our beliefs really shape the success of an integration. Most people believe technology can help them, but they don't always feel confident in using it or they don't know how to use it at all.
So, while having a vision of the technology is an essential first step, simply believing in the importance of technology is not enough - we have to help people use it. It has been said that "motivating someone to do something without teaching them how to do it only creates frustration and guilt." So it is with technology. Attempting technology integration without support and training only makes the technology frustrating and boring for those who should be using it. Hopefully, the product is intuitive and easy to use, but even with the most intuitive technology, at least some support is always needed.
Having a vision of technology informs how and why it should be used. The understanding of how it should be used influences the culture that will facilitate the use of the technology. This vision and culture will then help us meet our goals – whether it's to increase productivity, improve performance, or enhance learning.
Inan, Felthi A., & Lowther, Deborah L. (2009). Factors affecting technology integration in K-12 classrooms: a path model. Education Technology Research & Development 58:137–154.
Mager, Robert F. (1997). Preparing Instructional Objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction, Third Edition. Atlanta, GA: The Center for Effective Performance.
Russell Duncan is the lead technical writer for NetDocuments Support. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in instructional technology and psychology at Utah State University.