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.
This time of year there are many Extension educators developing an Extension educational plan. There is no doubt that program design influences the success or failure of an Extension educational program. Purposeful program design is an outline of the educational program from its inception until the program is concluded. In this context, a program refers to multiple learning experiences over time—educational events and resources presented and delivered in a purposeful, sequential manner and intended to produce a change in the target audience (Ripley, Cummings, Lockett, Pope, Wright, Payne, Kieth & Murphrey, 2011). A purposeful program design enables the Extension educator to “layer” educational content where one learning experience builds on the other.
When executing the PIE Program Change Model, Extension educators should focus on the transformative domain that requires high levels of both process and content, with the goal being to change behavior, have clientele adopt best practices or new technology (Franz & Townson, 2008). For example, the work of an Extension educator who develops, delivers, and evaluates a comprehensive beef cattle nutrition program for county beef cattle producers to achieve long-term impact would be considered transformative education. Such programs can be evaluated through the use of quasi-experimental or true experimental designs involving follow-up studies and pre- and posttests used for assessing, for example, percentage increase in producers adopting best practices or adoption of technology (Radhakrishna, Chaudhary, & Tobin, 2019). Transformative education theory provides the theoretical framework to design programs that result in clientele change at a higher level. Figure 1 illustrates an Extension educational model for transformational education.
Figure 1. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Extension Educational Continuum.
Transformational education builds upon Extension’s long history of providing quality educational experiences for clientele. Teaching specific disciplines and transferring research-based information or content has been and remains the hallmark of Extension since its inception. AgriLife Extension historically emphasized a variety of approaches to traditional information transfer. However, since the 1980s, AgriLife Extension programs have not focused just on discipline or information-oriented needs but shifted its focus to issue-based needs that require a more multidisciplinary approach. Extension has a competitive advantage in deploying transformational Extension education because there are many options for clientele to access educational information from competing educational enterprises, agriculture manufacturing companies, private consultants, the internet, health care providers, or other outreach educational sources. Extension is operating in a very competitive environment (Blewett, Keim, Leser, & Jones, 2008). However, AgriLife Extension is uniquely positioned with an extensive educational network of county Extension agents and specialists. If transformational education is an approach that can deliver the most value to communities, it is essential to design educational programs more consistently to lay the foundation for transformational learning and action in communities.
When purposefully designing transformative educational programs it is imperative that Extension educators take a deliberate approach to designing programs that includes connecting program design, objectives and evaluation during the plan phase of the PIE Program Change Model. Figure 2 illustrates how program objectives is linked to educational design/teaching points, evaluation methods and outcome indicators.
Figure 2. Linking Program Objectives with Program Design/Teaching Points, Evaluation Method and Outcome Indicators.
There are a number of educational approaches that can be incorporated in an Extension educational Program that can assist in moving clientele along the Extension educational continuum from knowledge gained to adoption of practice/technology or change in behavior. Zoom delivered Extension courses provide the opportunity for Extension educators to mix the best of face-to face and online to create a new learning environment for our clientele (Stein & Graham, 2014). Research suggests that these type courses can have a positive impact on efficiency, convenience, and learning outcomes (Stein & Graham, 2014). By moving more of the learning to online environments, Extension education courses can add flexibility to clientele’s schedules, provide learning benefit through automated and asynchronous online tools, and can tap into the modern, social media sites to help learners venture beyond the traditional confines of the Extension workshop or seminar (Stein & Graham, 2014).
An Extension educator could utilize Ranch TV videos and online courses to provide foundational knowledge, where more time can be spent in Zoom sessions on more complex subject matter. This enables clientele to achieve the lower levels of cognitive work (gaining knowledge and comprehension) outside of the face-to-face (Zoom) educational environment and focusing on the higher forms of cognitive work (application, analysis, synthesis, and/or evaluation) during the Zoom sessions. This optimizes the probability of clientele adopting a practice or technology.
Researchers in New Zealand reported that when time between learning experiences is provided there is an optimum educational environment for clientele to learn (Gray, Sewell Hartnett, Wood, Kemp, Blair, Kenyon & Morris, 2016). By providing clientele time between educational experiences, they have time to reflect and synthesize information to determine how it will be applied to their specific situation.
In Figure 3, a concept map illustrates how a Beef Cattle Nutrition Program could be designed with a series of three Zoom conferences:
Figure 3. Concept map that illustrates a purposeful educational design utilizing incorporating a series of three Zoom educational meetings.
Note: The above Extension program design provides time between educational experiences to enable clientele time to reflect and synthesize information to determine how it will be applied to their specific situation.
The challenge for agriculture over the next few decades will be meeting the world’s increasing demand for food and fiber in a sustainable manner. In Cow Country County, more than 90,000 head of beef cattle are produced with an economic impact of more than $85,000,000 annually. One of the keys to profitable beef cattle production is the nutrition management of the cow herd. The proper nutrition of beef cattle is a key component of a successful production system. Feed usually accounts for the single largest input cost associated with beef cattle production. Nutrition influences numerous aspects of a beef cattle production system including reproduction efficiency, calving intervals, and calf vigor at birth.
A production practice inventory survey was administered to program participants (clientele who registered for the course) before the program was initiated. It was determined that less than 15% of participants utilized body condition scoring to distinguish differences in nutritional needs of beef cows in the herd. Research indicates that there is a correlation between the body condition of a cow and her reproductive performance. The percentage of open cows, calving interval, and calf vigor at birth are all closely related to the body condition of cows, both at calving and during the breeding season. All these factors play an important role in the economics of a beef cow-calf operation and help determine the percentage of viable calves each year. Monitoring body condition using the Body Condition Score System is an important managerial tool for assessing production efficiency.
The production practice survey administered to program participants also indicated that only 20% of the participating cattle producers understood the nutrient needs of beef cows prior to the breeding season or during the calving season. It also indicated that less than 15% utilized soil testing to analyze nutrient needs in pastures and that the average calving percentage was 82% for participant’s herds.
The objectives of this program will be the following:
It should be emphasized that time between learning experiences is imperative to providing an optimum educational environment for clientele (Gray, Sewell Hartnett, Wood, Kemp, Blair, Kenyon & Morris, 2016). By providing clientele time between educational experiences, they have time to reflect and synthesize information, while determining how it will be applied to their specific situation.
Blewett, T., Keim, A., Leser, J., & Jones, J. (2008). Designing a transformational education model for the engaged university. Journal of Extension. Retrieved from https://www.joe.org/joe/2008june/comm1.php
Franz, N., & Townson, L. (2008). The nature of complex organizations: The case of Cooperative Extension. In M. T. Braverman, M. Engle, M. E. Arnold, & R. A. Rennekamp (Eds.), Program evaluation in a complex organizational system: Lessons from Cooperative Extension (pp. 5–14). New Directions for Evaluation, 120. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. doi:10.1002/ev.272
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.
Radhakrishna, R., Chaudhary, A.,& Tobin, D. (2019).Linking Extension Program Design with Evaluation Design for Improved Evaluation. Journal of Extension, 57(4), Article 4TOT1. Available at: https://www.joe.org/joe/2019august/tt1.php
Ripley, J., Cummings, S, Lockett, L., Pope, P., Wright, M., Payne, M., Kieth, L., & Murphrey, T. (2011). Creating Excellent Programs. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Publication. E-345. Retrieved from http://agrilifecdn.tamu.edu/od/files/2010/03/E345.pdf
Seevers, B., & Graham, D. (2012). Education through Cooperative Extension. (3rd ed.). Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Bookstore.
Stein, J., & Graham, C. (2014). Essentials for Blended Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.