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.
Newsletters have been used as a commonly accepted method of information dissemination in Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for decades. Recently, there has been a trend toward electronic delivery of newsletters. More recently, authors of electronic newsletters have begun evaluating them on educational components and outcomes (Brotherson, & Bouwhuis, 2007; Coffin, 2007; Futris, Bloir, & Tsai, 2005; Garton, Hicks, Leatherman, Miltenberger, Mulkeen, Nelson-Mitchell, & Winland, 2003; Zimmer, Shriner, & Scheer, 2006).
Numerous approaches to educational communication exist (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Land-grant institutions are tasked with serving the public with science-based education (Robinson, 2013). This presents a challenge for Extension educators to take research-based and evidence-based information from the university and AgriLife Research and disseminating it throughout the state (Robinson, 2013). As Extension educators it is paramount to to find the best way to communicate with our clientele (Robinson, 2013). Researchers have continued to expand their knowledge about adult education and have found that there are four requirements to adult learning: stimulation, meaning, order, and strategy (King & Rockwell, 1988). Leaving out any of these requirements can lead to a reduction in educational effectiveness for adults (King & Rockwell, 1988).
In a study conducted by Martinson et al. (2010) horse owners desired brief information that was timely and research-based. Participants were mainly between the ages of 30 and 60 (83%), and most (86%) were women. Approximately 37% of respondents said they wished the newsletter was longer than two pages and included more articles. More than 70% of participants indicated reading the entire newsletter and 82% reported that they frequently referred back to the newsletter. This Newsletter recipients did note that they preferred receiving educational materials through workshops, website information, on-line courses, printed materials or factsheets.
A study conducted by Thompson et al. (2015) indicated that changing technologies have changed preferences for modes of communication (Jacobson, 2003; Seitsinger et al., 2008; Thompson, 2008). The modes of communication measured included email and written communication. The study revealed that participants preferred email (12.6%) and printed (1.2%). Most research would support using digital tools for communication, as it allows immediate access to information (Timmerman & Kruepke, 2006). Findings from this study also revealed that a combination of modes helped participants gather information in multiple ways (Timmerman & Kruepke, 2006).
In 2017 the University of Idaho Extension conducted a study to evaluate the Cattlemen’s Corner newsletter (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
The overall objective of this survey was to determine its value to our audience (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Specific survey objectives included (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020):
The number of recipients for this newsletter was 785. Since 65 of these were businesses, they were excluded from the survey, leaving the final number at 720 individuals (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
A mailed survey was used to assess the effectiveness and impact (Ball, Jensen,& Dyas, 2020). Also, an online option through SurveyMonkey® was offered for those who preferred to respond electronically (Ball, Jensen,& Dyas, 2020). All 720 recipients of the newsletter received the survey through mail and were informed of the online response option (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). A return envelope was provided with the mailed survey (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Both the mailing and the return addresses were addressed to the UI Owyhee County Extension office in order for the surveys to be anonymous (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). If the recipient decided to complete the online version of the survey, they could copy the link into their search engine, which would then take them directly to the survey (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
The survey consisted of nineteen questions, including nine multiple choice questions, six Likert scales, three open-ended, and one fill-in-the-blank question (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). These different formats allowed respondents to express their opinions and ultimately provided opportunity for in-depth feedback (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Two weeks after the original surveys were sent, a reminder postcard was mailed to all participants (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). The postcard thanked those who had already participated, reminded those who hadn’t and provided a URL for the online survey (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
The researchers reported that of the 720 survey recipients, 116 that responded to the survey, for a response rate of 16% (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Ten participants (9%) responded online, with the remaining 91% using the U.S. Postal Service for their survey responses (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
The first two survey questions were demographic in nature, focusing on respondents’ age and agricultural background (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). More than 60% (n = 78) of participants identified as ranchers (Figure 1) (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Question two indicated the age of respondents. The majority of respondents were 50 to 80 years of age (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
Figure 1. Primary interest in agriculture.
The data for the topics that were found most useful in the newsletter are reported in Figure 2 (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). The survey participants were able to circle all that applied and gave the results a more detailed perception on how the reader felt about the information in the newsletter (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Overall pasture management was identified as the most useful topic to readers (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Over 71% (n = 75) of respondents selected this topic. Numerous survey participants selected multiple answers which resulted in a high percentage in toxic plants and feeding/mineral supplementation (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
Figure 2. Useful Newsletter Topics.
More than 90% (n = 170) of respondents indicate that newsletter information was current and/or reminder/refresher and is reported in Figure 3 (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Outdated information was rarely chosen by participants (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
Figure 3. Usefulness of Newsletter Information.
Greater than 90% (n = 105) of respondents indicated that the newsletter should be continued as shown in Figure 4 (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Those that did not want the newsletter to be continued asked to be removed from the newsletter mailing list for reasons that concerned retirement or a reduced interest in the agriculture industry (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
Figure 4. Continuation of Newsletter.
When ask to report their knowledge of online access to the newsletter less than 30% (n = 29) of participants knew that it was available online (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Results of this question are shown in Figure 5 (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). This clearly showed that most of the readers did not know that the newsletter was available online. The directions for this question stated that if circling the answer “no” to skip question 7 (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
Figure 5. Online Newsletter.
The limited number of readers that did know the newsletter was available online had normally never accessed it (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). The results show again that most readers had never accessed the online version as displayed in in Figure 6 (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
Figure 6. Respondents who have accessed the newsletter online.
Advancements in technology has grown exponentially during the last decade and now the majority of people have access to the internet and receive emails daily (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). The participants were asked if they would prefer receiving an online/digital edition of the newsletter rather than a paper copy knowing it could change the way the newsletter is produced (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). The results shown in Figure 7 confirm that most would still prefer receiving the paper edition (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). These results, combined with information from question 2, showed that the newsletters older audience would rather read a printed copy versus the younger generations who are now relying more on technology (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
Figure 7. Online/Digital Version.
Over 60% (n = 70) of participants selected “helps keep track of new knowledge”, and “highlights research important to my operation” as their most important reasons for reading the newsletter (Figure 8) (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). The instructions for this question stated “please select one answer that is most important to you” (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Numerous participants did not read the instructions and they showed a trend of circling both B “helps keep track of new knowledge” and D “highlights research important to my operation” (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Very few chose the other answers (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020).
Figure 8. Newsletter Best Attributes.
This research reported in the portion of inquiry covered in this blog the following (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020):
In the next installment of the Next Step to Success blog we will continue to evaluate this study to determine the effectiveness of newsletters in the Extension educator’s portfolio of educational methods.
Ball, S., Jensen, S., & Dyas, E. (2020). Effectiveness of Regional Beef Newsletter. Journal of NACAA. 13 (1)
Jacobson, L. (2003). Phila. Parents to receive marks for “home support” of students. Education Week, 23, 4.
King, J. W., & Rockwell, S. K. (1988). Communicating with the adult learner. Journal of Extension, 26(1), 1-2.
Martinson, K., Wieland, E. G., & Bartholomay, T. (2010). Evaluation of an electronic horse owner newsletter. Journal of Extension, 48(2), 1-11.
Robinson, P. (2013). Effectively Communicating Science to Extension Audiences. Journal of Extension, 51(2), n2.
Seitsinger, A. M., Felner, R. D., Brand, S., & Burns, A. (2008). A large-scale examination of the nature and efficacy of teachers’ practices to engage parents: Assessment, parental contact and student-level impact. Journal of School Psycholgy, 46, 477-505. doi: 10.1016/j/jsp.2007.11.001
Thompson, B. (2008). Characteristics of parent-teacher email communication. Communication Education, 57, 201-203. doi: 10.1080/0363452070
Thompson, B. C., Mazer, J. P., & Grady, E. F. (2015). The changing nature of parent-teacher communication: mode selection in the smartphone era. Communication Education, 64(2), 187-207. doi: 10.1080/03634523.2015.1014382
Timmerman, C. E., & Kruepke, K. A., (2006). Computer-assisted instruction, media richness, and college student performance. Communication Education, 55, 73-104. doi: f10.1080/03634520500489666