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.
When confronted with a challenge in our Extension educational teaching, wouldn’t it be helpful if we could turn to a set of guiding principles based on evidence or long-term successful experience? Fortunately, the ﬁeld of Extension education has utilized a useful body of theory that can inform practice. In this next few post the application of adult learning theory (andragogy), social constructivism, experiential learning, communities of practice and the application of these theories to the vocation of Extension education will be discussed.
The primary idea of constructivism (i.e. cognitive constructivism) is that Extension clientele construct their own knowledge based on what they already know, and make decisions about when and how to modify their knowledge. There are some important implications of adopting a constructivist perspective in Extension education. The following are four guiding principles when adopting a constructivist perspective in Extension education:
Full development of the ZPD depends upon full social interaction (Figure 1). Vygotsky (1978) contends that the range of cognitive skills that can be developed with expert guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained alone.
Figure 1. ZPD zone in Extension context (Vygotsky, 1978).
The concept of ‘scaffolding’ is closely related to the ZPD and was developed by other sociocultural theorists applying Vygotsky’s ZPD to educational contexts (Wood et al. 1976). Scaffolding is a process through which an Extension educator or more competent peer clientele provides assistance to the clientele in their ZPD as necessary and then gradually reduces the help as the clientele becomes more competent. Effective teaching is therefore about identifying the clientele’s current state (prior knowledge) and offering opportunities and challenges that are slightly ahead of the clientele’s development, i.e. on challenging tasks they could not solve alone. The ‘scaffolding’ concept is frequently applied when Extension educators work with Master Gardeners to gain new knowledge. As the Master Gardener increases their mastery of the subject matter the support from the Extension educator is reduced. The more able clientele (or the experts) model appropriate problem-solving behaviors, present new approaches to the problem and encourage the novice clientele to take on some parts of the task. As novices develop the abilities required, they should receive less assistance and solve more of the problem independently. Simultaneously, of course, they will encounter yet more challenging tasks on which they will continue to receive assistance and support.
The following are some ‘take home messages’ related to social constructivism:
Vygotsky LS. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wood D, Bruner J, & Ross G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 1976;17:89–100.