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.
Many Extension educators with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service use newsletters to disseminate research-based information that is intended to help clientele live fuller, more productive lives. But how do we know whether these newsletters are effective?
As Extension educators, it is vital 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 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 Survey Monkey® 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).
Out of all of the multiple-choice questions, the question pertaining to potential changes that could be made to the newsletter was skipped the most often (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). This could be due to the participants not agreeing with answers or they did not want the newsletter to change (Ball, Jensen, & Dyas, 2020). Sixty participants answered this question and the results showed that they wanted the newsletter to be published more frequently which is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Changes to the Newsletter.
Questions 11 through 16 were on a scale of 0-100. The following results for each of these show how the participants selected their likelihood that information applied to them. In Figure 2 the information applied to the reader often.
Figure 2. Applied Information.
Figure 3 answer selections report that most of the respondents felt that the information was moderately important followed closely behind very important. Normally the information that is in the newsletter is to educate the readers which could lead to the results in Figure 4.
Figure 3. Importance of Newsletter.
This newsletter provides information related to different production practices. It was reported that the newsletter is being moderately to very useful is shown in Figure 4. This indicates that Extension should continue to include articles that discuss production practices in each installment as well as provide calendar dates for upcoming activities.
Figure 4. Usefulness of Newsletter in Production Practices.
Figure 5 represents participants answers that the newsletter is being mostly read which could contribute to the level of knowledge gained by the reader.
Figure 5. Frequency that the Newsletter is being Read.
Participants who responded to the survey rated the newsletter very good as represented in Figure 6. Many participants stated that they currently like the newsletter the way it is or they do have high regards for the newsletter in terms of providing useful information.
Figure 6. Overall rating of Newsletter by Readers.
Participants in this study indicated that they found the information in the newsletter to be often valuable. This could correlate with frequency they read which is in Figure 5. If readers find the information valuable, they will be more likely to continue to read and do so more frequently.
The last two blog articles is a compilation of the results of a single study conducted in Idaho of at June 2017 Regional Cattlemen’s Corner Beef Newsletter. This study provides a snapshot regarding how Extension clientele interpret the value the educational benefit of this newsletter.
Results indicated that the newsletter should continue to be published and frequency of publication could be increased. In addition, an overwhelming majority of readers still prefer a paper copy of the newsletter. The findings also showed that many readers had never accessed the online version of the newsletter.
Considering that many participants’ primary interest was in ranching, many of answers were about cattle. One suggestion that was made is they would like more detailed pasture management articles to be included in newsletter. They also noted they had learned about vaccine handling. The information in the newsletter was found to be current information or a reminder, and it often applied to their beef cattle operation. There were very few people who said the information was outdated or not useful to them. Many of the readers read the newsletter on a regular basis.
In the next installment of the Next Step to Success blog we will discuss elements of an effective email newsletter.
Ball, S., Jensen, S., & Dyas, E. (2020). Effectiveness of Regional Beef Newsletter. Journal of NACAA. 13 (1)
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Robinson, P. (2013). Effectively Communicating Science to Extension Audiences. Journal of Extension, 51(2), n2.
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