Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
There is no doubt that once cases of Covid 19 decline and businesses reopen there will be changes in how we do business in the future as a result of this experience. During this pandemic Extension as an organization has recognized and implemented a variety of digital platforms to effectively deliver educational programs. The question is how will Extension integrate digital program delivery in their long-term educational strategies once this crisis is over?
It is imperative to recognize that Extension clientele’s learning preferences are changing making a blended or hybrid Extension educational course extremely appealing. The introduction of widespread high-speed Internet connectivity, mobile devices, and advances in online pedagogy has disrupted traditional models of teaching and learning (Diem, Hino, Martin, & Meisenbach, 2011). A blended or hybrid course includes regularly scheduled face-to-face classroom meetings that are integrated with significant online learning activities (Diem, Hino, Martin, & Meisenbach, 2011). “An onsite course becomes blended [hybrid] when online activities are designed to replace onsite sessions” (Stein & Graham, 2014, p. 12). A blended or hybrid tactic emphasizes active learning, broadens the learning space beyond the physical classroom, and facilitates robust interaction between instructors and learners both face-to-face and online (Diem, Hino, Martin, & Meisenbach, 2011).
A growing body of research (Bowen, Chingos, Lack, & Nygren, 2012; Griffiths, Chingos, Mulhern, & Spies, 2014; Picciano, Dziuban, & Graham, 2014) strongly supports the efficacy of blended or hybrid teaching and learning. Significantly, empirical studies comparing online, blended, and purely face-to-face teaching formats have shown that clientele performance in courses that integrated face-to-face and online instruction was better than in courses having only face-to-face interaction (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009). Increasingly, standards and best practices are being identified to guide educators in the application of hybrid approaches (McGee & Reis, 2012; Stein & Graham, 2014).
Blended or hybrid learning builds on Extension’s strengths while responding appropriately to ongoing financial pressures to economically deliver programs and the need for greater exposure (Rich et al., 2011). Blended or hybrid courses are inherently modular, shareable, and adapted to fit the variety of educational programs in today’s Extension learning landscape (Diem, Hino, Martin, & Meisenbach, 2011).
Research on adult learners has identified key differences between adult and traditional student–aged audiences (Knowles, 1980; Merriam, 2001), providing a roadmap for effective andragogy (methods or technique utilized to teach adults) in Extension programming (Strong, Harder, & Carter, 2010). In particular, adult learners have greater capacity to direct their own learning, have problem-oriented learning goals, wish to immediately apply new knowledge, and are more self-motivated than externally motivated (Knowles, 1980).
According to Larkin, Weber, Galatowitsch, Gupta, and Rager (2018), these characteristics of adult learners align well with blended or hybrid teaching methods. In this teaching format, the traditional face-to-face educational components of teaching are augmented by the utilization of self-paced online modules, YouTube videos, webinars, etc. This independent learning is focused on knowledge and comprehension (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Milman, 2012), freeing up-face to face instruction time for higher level, more active modes of learning that leverage the presence of the Extension educators and peers to facilitate application, analysis, and synthesis (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Mazur, 2009).
In terms of Bloom’s revised taxonomy (2001), this means that clientele are doing the lower levels of cognitive work (gaining knowledge and comprehension) outside of the face to face educational environment, and focusing on the higher forms of cognitive work (application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and/or creation) in face to face settings, where they have the support of their peers and Extension educators (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson, & Krathwohl, 2001).
Blended or hybrid programs lend themselves to enabling clientele time between educational events to synthesis educational material. Researchers in New Zealand reported that when time between learning experiences is provided there is a more optimum educational environment for clientele to learn (Gray, Sewell Hartnett, Wood, Kemp, Blair, Kenyon & Morris, 2016). By providing clientele time between educational online and face to face experiences, they have time to reflect on information to determine how it will be applied to their specific situation. Figures 2 provides an example of a blended or hybrid educational program that utilizes sequential learning opportunities, has an online element and provides time between learning experiences to allow clientele time to synthesize information to determine how they will apply learned concepts to their particular situation:
Figure 2. Concept Map of a Blended or Hybrid Educational Approach.
Diem, Hino, Martin, and Meisenbach (2011) argued that adopting online technology for educational program delivery to reach new audiences is vital to “the future viability of the Extension system” (“Summary and Conclusions” section, para. 1).
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recently launched a new online platform called Brightspace™ to reach clientele throughout the state of Texas. Brightspace™ is a cloud-based learning platform that accommodates clientele and Extension educators by making online and blended learning easy. Brightspace™ is superior to traditional Learning Management System in that it is easy to drag-and-drop content to develop engaging courses, and supports all mobile devices. To utilize Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s online courses click on https://agrilifelearn.tamu.edu/. An example of the course categories is below in figure 3:
Figure 3. Example of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Online course categories.
Figure 4 provides an example of a specific course that is available to be utilized in blended courses:
Figure 4. Example of a Beef Cattle Nutrition Course in Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Online course catalog.
While the literature on blended or hybrid learning in Extension is still limited, many in Extension have begun to embrace technology to reach new audiences through a variety of blended or hybrid learning programs. Some of the advantages to a blended or hybrid educational approach is a follows:
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy. New York, NY: Longman Publishing.
Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M. M., Lack, K. A., & Nygren, T. I. (2012). Interactive learning online at public universities: Evidence from randomized trials. Retrieved from http://www.sr.ithaka.org/research-publications/interactive-learning-online-public-universities-evidence-randomized-trials
Diem, K., Hino, J., Martin, D., & Meisenbach, T. (2011). Is Extension ready to adopt technology for delivering programs and reaching new audiences? Journal of Extension [online], 49(6) Article 6FEA1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2011december/a1.php
Gray, D., Sewell, A., Hartnett, M., Wood, B., Kemp, P., Blair, H., Kenyon, P., & Morris, S. (2016) Improved extension practices for sheep and beef farmers. Hill Country- Grassland Research and Practice Series # 16.
Griffiths, R., Chingos, M., Mulhern, C., & Spies, R. (2014). Interactive online learning on campus: Testing MOOCs and other platforms in hybrid formats in the University System of Maryland. New York, NY: Ithaka S+R. Retrieved from http://sr.ithaka.org/research-publications/interactive-online-learning-on-campus
Hino, J., & Kahn, C. (2016). Hybrid teaching in Extension: Learning at the crossroads. Journal of Extension, 54(4), Article 4IAW3. Available at: https://www.joe.org/joe/2016august/iw3.php
Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge Books.
Larkin, D.J., Weber, M. M., Galatowitsch, S.M., Gupta, A. S., & Rager, A. (2018). Flipping the Classroom to Train Citizen Scientists in Invasive Species Detection and Response. Journal of Extension. 56 (5), Article 5TOT1. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2018september/tt1.php.
McGee, P., & Reis, A. (2012). Blended course design: A synthesis of best practices. Online Learning Consortium, 16(4). Retrieved from http://onlinelearningconsortium.org/jaln_full_issue/volume-16-issue-4-june-2012/
Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. Retrieved from https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=evaluation+of+Evidence-Based+Practices+in+Online+LearningA+Meta-Analysis+and+Review+of+Online+Learning+Studies&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ved=0CBwQgQMwAGoVChMIqZiJsYGTyAIVkpSICh0SHQDN
Merriam, S. B. (2001). Andragogy and self-directed learning: Pillars of adult learning theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2001(89), 3–14.
Milman, N. B. (2012). The flipped classroom strategy: What is it and how can it best be used? Distance Learning, 9(3), 85.
Picciano, A. G., Dziuban, C. D., & Graham, C. R. (Eds.). (2014). Blended Learning: Research Perspectives, Vol. 2. New York, NY: Routledge.
Rich, S. R., Komar, S., Schilling, B., Tomas, S. R., Carleo, J., & Colucci, S. J. (2011). Meeting Extension programming needs with technology: A case study of agritourism webinars. Journal of Extension [online], 49(6) Article 6FEA4. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2011december/a4.php
Stein, J., & Graham, C. (2014). Essentials for Blended Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.
Strong, R., Harder, A., & Carter, H. (2010). Agricultural Extension agents’ perceptions of effective teaching strategies for adult learners in the master beef producer program. Journal of Extension, 48(3), Article 3RIB2. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2010june/rb2.php.