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 Chovid 19 pandemic cases 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 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.
Blended educational events provide the opportunity for Extension educators to mix the best of face to face meetings and digital online educational opportunities to create a new learning environment for their clientele (Stein & Graham, 2014). Research suggests that blended courses can have a positive impact on efficiency, convenience, and learning outcomes (Stein & Graham, 2014). By moving more of the learning situated in online environments, blended courses 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 assist learners to venture beyond the traditional boundaries of the classroom (Stein & Graham, 2014).
To consistently achieve benefits from blended methods, Extension educators should go beyond a simple “digital facelift” (Stein & Graham, 2014). Instead, Extension educators should purposefully create transformative blends through an intentional program design process (Stein & Graham, 2014). This program design will include the following:
When planning program delivery methods, Extension Educators should consider the following questions (Seevers & Graham, 2012):
Research on adult learners has identified key differences between adult and traditional student–aged audiences (Knowles, 1980; Merriam, 2001), providing a roadmap for effective andragogy (methods or technique utilized to teach adults) in Extension programming (Strong, Harder, & Carter, 2010). In particular, adult learners have a greater capacity to direct their own learning, have problem-oriented learning goals, wish to immediately apply new knowledge, and are more self-motivated than externally motivated (Knowles, 1980).
According to Larkin, Weber, Galatowitsch, Gupta, and Rager (2018), these characteristics of adult learners align well with blended learning teaching methods. One example of utilizing blended learning methods is providing online content prior to face-to-face meetings via self-paced online modules, YouTube videos, and webinars, etc. This independent learning is focused on knowledge and comprehension (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Milman, 2012), freeing up face to face instruction time for higher level, more active modes of learning that leverages the presence of the Extension educators and peers to facilitate application, analysis, and synthesis (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Mazur, 2009).
When done right, blended courses allow for increased access and convenience without giving up—and sometimes even enhancing—the things that many Extension clientele associate with a satisfying, effective learning experience such as building relationships with the Extension educators and other clientele (Stein & Graham, 2014). While still requiring some onsite attendance, blended learning provides more flexibility and freedom than purely face to face educational experiences by moving a significant amount of onsite class sessions online (Stein & Graham, 2014). The simple use of technology to facilitate learning activities provides added flexibility because now clientele can participate in the course when it’s most convenient. Smartphones and tablets can support online interactions during commutes or whenever clientele have spare time (Stein & Graham, 2014).
Hino and Kahn (2016) piloted a training program at Oregon State University for Extension educators to explore blended teaching effectiveness. These researchers conducted a force field analysis with the study group to determine the group members’ perceptions of the opportunities and challenges associated with blended teaching in an Extension educational environment (Hino & Kahn, 2016). Force Field Analysis was developed by Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist, in 1946. The basic concept behind Force Field Analysis is that situations are maintained by an equilibrium between forces that drive change and others that resist change. For change to happen, the driving forces must be strengthened or the resisting forces must be weakened. Listed below are the “Forces for Blended Teaching” as a result of Force Field Analysis (Hino & Kahn, 2016):
This Force Field Analysis revealed the following “Forces against Blended Teaching” (Hino & Kahn, 2016):
Researchers in New Zealand reported that when time between learning experiences is provided there is a more 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 1, a concept map illustrates how a blended teaching method could be implemented with a series of three face-to-face educational meetings:
Figure 1. Concept map of a Beef Cattle Nutrition Blended Learning Experience.
In terms of Bloom’s revised taxonomy (2001), this means that clientele are doing the lower levels of cognitive work (gaining knowledge and comprehension) outside of the face to face educational environment, and focusing on the higher forms of cognitive work (application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and/or creation) in face to face settings, where they have the support of their peers and Extension educators (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson, & Krathwohl, 2001).
In addition, Stein & Graham (2014) proposed the following reasons for why blended educational approaches are as effective as, or more effective than, traditional face to face educational events:
When thinking about utilizing a blended educational approach, consider how the effectiveness of an educational series might be augmented. Traditionally, we would schedule a series of face to face educational meetings over the course of several weeks or even months. When utilizing a blended approach, the Extension educator might record presentations using a platform such as YouTube™, conduct a webinar or have clientele take online units, allowing more time for clientele engagement with Extension educators during face to face sessions. This enables clientele to achieve the lower levels of cognitive work (gaining knowledge and comprehension) outside of the face to face educational environment. Face to face sessions allows clientele to focus on the higher forms of cognitive work (application, analysis, synthesis, and/or evaluation), where they have the support of their peers and Extension educators. In addition, Researchers in New Zealand reported that when time between learning experiences is provided the learning experience is much more robust (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.
While the literature on blended or hybrid learning in Extension is still limited, many in Extension have begun to embrace technology to reach new audiences through a variety of blended or hybrid learning programs. Some of the advantages to a blended or hybrid educational approach is a follows:
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy. New York, NY: Longman Publishing.
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.
Hino, J., & Kahn, C. (2016). Hybrid Teaching in Extension: Learning at the Crossroads. Journal of Extension, 54 (4), Article # 4IAW3. Available at https://www.joe.org/joe/2016august/pdf/JOE_v54_4iw3.pdf
Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge Books.
Larkin, D.J., Weber, M. M., Galatowitsch, S.M., Gupta, A. S., & Rager, A. (2018). Flipping the Classroom to Train Citizen Scientists in Invasive Species Detection and Response. Journal of