Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Applying Markus and Robey's Causal Structure to Examine User Technology Acceptance Research: A New Approach

Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Applying Markus and Robey's Causal Structure to Examine User Technology Acceptance Research: A New Approach

Article excerpt


In this paper, we examine prior research on user technology acceptance from the perspective of theoretical structures based on Markus and Robey's causal structure. Prior studies usually take a technology imperative perspective, use variance theories, and emphasize the micro level of analysis. We argue that this combination is limited. This may lead to some inconsistencies and limited explanatory powers in the existing studies. We propose an alternative "emergent perspective - process theories - mixed level of analysis" approach to study technology acceptance phenomena. To demonstrate how the new approach can be used to guide research, a new research model is proposed and several propositions are derived and discussed. This study draws on several prior theories and models but reassembles them in a novel way. The paper concludes with implications for both research and practice.


Organizations that spend millions of dollars on information technologies (IT) are primarily concerned with how their investment will influence organizational and individual performance (Torkzadeh and Doll 1999). However, the expected productivity gains and organizational benefits delivered by IT cannot be realized unless IT is actually accepted and used (Hackbarth, Grover and Yi 2003). User technology acceptance thus has been a focal research topic for decades in the Information Systems (IS) discipline and is considered "one of the most mature research areas in the contemporary IS literature" (Venkatesh, Morris, Davis and Davis 2003). A significant body of research has studied it from various perspectives.

Technology acceptance model (TAM) is a representative model in this stream of research. It has experienced improvements and refinement over the last fifteen years, and is considered the most well known model (Taylor and Todd 1995a). Yet the existing research on TAM presents inconsistencies and offers relatively low explanatory powers. Researchers have started to question the generalizability of TAM (Straub, Keil and Brenner 1997; Taylor and Todd 1995b; Venkatesh and Morris 2000). Some moderating factors such as age, gender, experience (Venkatesh and Morris 2000), characteristics of technology (Van der Heijden 2004), among other factors (Sun and Zhang 2006b) have been identified to account for the inconsistent relationships.

Along with attempts to identify the reasons behind inconsistent relationships and other limitations of TAM and its variations, we suspect that there are some fundamental aspects that deserve careful exploration and examination, one of which is the underlying theoretical structure (Markus and Robey 1988). On one hand, the structure of existing TAM models has rarely been reexamined to date. Our review of prior literature shows that such theoretical structures applied in prior research may be limited. On the other hand, the structures of theories play important roles in research methodologies. The awareness of different options, discussions of their advantages and disadvantages, and explicit characterization of a theoretical structure's dimensions and categories can promote the development of "better theories" (Markus and Robey 1988). When the theoretical structure is addressed explicitly, subsequent decisions about research strategy and techniques will be better informed (Markus and Robey 1988). Given the importance of theoretical structure in generating research questions, forming research frameworks, and guiding hypotheses and findings, it is necessary to systemically examine the theoretical structures underpinning prior research on user technology acceptance.

In this research, we use the meta-theoretical framework put forward by Markus and Robey (1988) to challenge the theoretical structures of existing TAM studies and propose different approaches. In pursuing a "good theory," Markus and Robey examined the general structure of theories and proposed three dimensions of a causal structure: causal agency, logical structure, and level of analysis. …

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