Democrats and Revolutionaries (in a technological sense)

Due to popular demand (okay, Scott Leslie asked me to expand on it in a comment), I thought I’d say some more about the notion of democrats and revolutionaries with regards to VLEs. It’s set out in chapter 2 of my VLE book, but here’s a summary.  I borrowed the idea of technology following a normal distribution curve as it moves in to the mainstream from Wolfgang Greller, (although it all comes from Rogers), particularly the idea that at a certain point institutional responses kick in, such as staff development.

Either side of this institutional tipping point are two distinct groups of academics – the democrats and the revolutionaries. These groups want different things from their technologies. The democrats don’t really care how it works, who makes it, what its architecture is and so on – they just want it to work. To them the important characteristics are robustness, ease of use and reliability. Now the revolutionaries are a bit different, they like to know about the technology, to tinker with it, to get it to do what they want. They look for things such as flexibility, adaptability, and a certain amount of technological flair. They like cool stuff, but are happy for it to be a bit flaky.

Now the interesting thing from a centralised VLE perspective is that these two groups are forced to coexist in the same virtual space. This is why those introducing an institutional VLE often have the feeling of not meeting everyone’s needs. There exists along the institutional tipping point a creative tension between these two groups, which can be beneficial to both parties. The democrats make the revolutionaries more aware of issues such as rigour and usability and the revolutionaries introduce new technologies and ways of working.

As an aside I think, rather like those sea creatures that survive along deep sea volcanic vents, I have pretty much made my career straddling the line between these two groups.


  1. Scott Leslie says:

    Martin, thanks a lot, this helps. I am fascinated by these kind of dynamics and trying to grasp them better. Cheers, Scott

  2. AJ Cann says:

    From your description, I’d say I was a fence-sitter (vent sitter) too. :-)

  3. Martin says:

    yes, it’s a reasonable place to be, but the interesting thing is that it means you shouldn’t become too much of an expert, and thus move in to the revolutionaries camp – otherwise you’d lose the ability to see how technology needs to work for your democrat self.

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