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.
As the Covid19 pandemic cases soon begin to decrease and Texans begin to realize a “new normal” it is imperative that Extension educators embrace new methods in order to meet our clientele’s rapidly changing educational needs. Our Director, Dr. Jeff Hyde has stated that our goal is to impact every Texan. In order to accomplish this goal it will imperative to incorporate digital program delivery routinely in our Extension educational portfolio.
Digital engagement in Extension is a systematic process of applying modern technology to improve the quality of Extension education. It involves execution of the learning and teaching process in an organized way and helps with the application of modern educational teaching techniques. Digital enagagement encompasses methods like E-learning, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Multimedia learning, Online Education, Digital Educational Collaboration, Cyber-learning, Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) etc. These Educational Technologies have transformed Extension education enabling Extension to reach new audiences, reach larger audiences and providing clientele more flexible learning opportunities. Until recently, the conventional roles of Extension educators was that of the sole educator and face to face educational meetings being the predominant source of transferring knowledge to the clientele; but today, Extension educators have a range of media to supplement their educational efforts which assist in reaching new audiences and increase efficiency simultaneously.
When implementing any form of digital engagement it is important to have a conceptual framework to assist in you as the Extension educator and the clientele to realize the learning goals of the lessons offered. Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia and Jones (2010) developed a conceptual framework that identified three key components describing digital engagement: (a) whether the activity served as a replacement for or an enhancement to conventional face-to-face instruction, (b) the type of learning experience (pedagogical approach), and (c) whether communication was primarily synchronous or asynchronous.
One of the most basic characteristics for classifying digital engagement activities is its objective—whether the activity serves as a replacement for face-to-face instruction or as an enhancement of the face-to-face learning experience (i.e., online learning activities that are part of a course given face-to-face or blended learning activity) (Means et al., 2010). This distinction is important because the two types of applications have different objectives (Means et al., 2010). A replacement application that is equivalent to conventional instruction in terms of learning outcomes is considered a success if it provides learning online without sacrificing clientele achievement in realizing learning objectives. If clientele outcomes are the same whether a course is taken online or face-to-face, then online instruction can be cost effective in settings where too few participants are situated in a particular geographic locale to warrant a face-to- face educational meeting (clientele in specialized courses). In contrast, online enhancement or blended learning activities that produce learning outcomes that are only equivalent to (not better than) those resulting from face-to-face instruction alone would be considered a waste of time and resources because the addition does not improve clientele outcomes (Means et al., 2010).
A second important dimension is the type of learning experience, which depends on who (or what) determines the way clientele acquire knowledge (Means et al., 2010). Learning experiences can be classified in terms of the amount of control that the clientele has over the content and nature of the learning activity. In traditional didactic or expository learning experiences, content is transmitted to the clientele by a lecture, written material, or other Extension educational methodologies. Such conventional instruction is often contrasted with active learning in which the clientele has control of what and how they learn (Means et al., 2010). Another category of learning experiences stresses collaborative or interactive learning in which the nature of the learning content is emergent as learners interact with one another and with an Extension educator (Means et al., 2010). Digital engagement can support any of these three types of learning experience (Means et al., 2010):
The aspect of learning-experience type is closely linked to the concept of learner control explored by Zhang (2005). Typically, in expository instruction, the technology delivers the content (Means et al., 2010). In active learning, the technology allows clientele to control digital artifacts to explore information or address problems (Means et al., 2010). In interactive learning, technology mediates human interaction either synchronously or asynchronously; learning emerges through interactions with other clientele and the technology (Means et al., 2010).
The learner-control category of interactive learning experiences is related to the so-called “fifth generation” of distance learning, which stresses a flexible combination of independent and group learning activities (Means et al., 2010). Some Extension scholars are now using terms such as “distributed learning” or “learning communities” to refer to organized mixtures of face-to-face and virtual interactions among a cohort of clientele led by one or more Extension educator over an extended period of time (Means et al., 2010). Finally, a third characteristic commonly used to categorize online learning activities is the extent to which the activity is synchronous, with instruction occurring in real time whether in a physical or a virtual place, or asynchronous, with a time lag between the presentation of instructional stimuli and clientele responses. Table 1 illustrates the three dimensions in the framework of online learning offerings (Means et al., 2010). The descriptive columns in the table illustrate uses of online learning comprising dimensions of each possible combination of the learning experience, synchronicity, and objective (an alternative or a supplement to face-to-face instruction) (Means et al., 2010).
Table 1. Conceptual Framework for Online Learning (Means et al., 2010).
Many other features also apply to online learning in Extension, including the type of setting (classroom, home, field etc.), the nature of the content (both the subject area and the type of learning such as fact, concept, procedure or strategy), and the technology involved (e.g., audio/video streaming, podcasting, chat, simulations, videoconferencing, shared graphical whiteboard, screen sharing) (Means et al., 2010).
The aspects in the framework in Table1 were derived from a meta-analyses in distance learning (Means et al., 2010). Bernard et al. (2004) found advantages for asynchronous over synchronous distance education (Means et al., 2010). In examining a different set of studies, Zhao et al. (2005) found that studies of distance-learning applications that combined synchronous and asynchronous communication tended to report more positive effects than did studies of distance learning applications with just one of these interaction types (Means et al., 2010). Zhao et al. also found (a) advantages for blended learning over purely online learning experiences and (b) advantages for courses with more Extension educator involvement compared with more “canned” applications that provide expository learning experiences (Means et al., 2010). Thus, the three dimensions in Table 1 capture some of the most important kinds of variation in digital engagement and together provide a manageable framework for differentiating among the broad array of online activities in practice today.
Bernard, R. M., P. C. Abrami, Y. Lou, E. Borokhovski, A. Wade, L. Wozney, P.A. Wallet, M. Fiset, and B. Huang. (2004). How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research 74 (3):379–439
Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M.,& Jones, K. (2010). 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://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf.
Zhang, D. 2005. Interactive multimedia-based e-learning: A study of effectiveness. American Journal of Distance Education 19 (3):149–62.
Zhao, Y., J. Lei, B. Yan, C. Lai, and H. S. Tan. (2005). What makes the difference? A practical analysis of research on the effectiveness of distance education. Teachers College Record 107 (8):183684.