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.
Extension is operating in some extremely chaotic times as we have had to shift from face to face programming to remote program delivery or distance education due to current the public health crisis. In this installment of Next Step to Success we are going to discuss using technology to reach clientele.
The internet has brought the ability to learn material or gain skills in almost any discipline in the palm of clientele’s hands. As technology improves and is now available to more of Extension’s target audiences, it is paramount that Extension focuses on engaging clientele with new and creative methods. According to the 2019 Pew Research Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet, 90% of American adults utilize the internet (Pew Research Center, 2019). There is an increasing interest in self-directed learning (Freeman, Adams, & Cummins, 2016). Freeman, Adams, and Cummins (2016) identified a number of key trends that have and will accelerate the adoption of technology. Some of these trends are as follows (Freeman et al., 2016):
Moving traditional Extension face-to-face programming to an online format is a method Extension educators can utilize technology to reduce outreach expenses and reach audiences who may not have previously interacted with Extension. In taking this approach, Extension educators must be responsive to the needs and preferences of online learners and offer high quality, relevant content. In order to position Extension to be responsive to clientele’s online needs it is imperative to understand the technology trends that will shape the educational environment of the future.
One area that has influenced the Extension educational landscape is the extensive adoption of smartphones. Advances in telecommunication technology have been significant in recent years. These improvements have led to a level of connectivity never seen before (Statista Survey a, 2019). The number of smartphone users in the United States has risen steadily over the last several years (Statista Surveya, 2019. The United States is one of the leading countries in the world with respect to adoption of smartphone technology (Statista Surveya, 2019).
The first official smartphones were introduced in the market in the early 1990s (Statista Surveya, 2019). Initially a smartphone was classified by its ability to offer features like e-mail capability, internet access, QUERTY keyboards, personal digital assistant functions and perhaps a built-in camera (Statista Surveya, 2019). As of today, smartphones have progressed even more and we typically classify smartphones as having a high definition touchscreen, various apps, navigation tools and high-speed internet on the go (Statista Surveya, 2019).
Figure 1 shows the number of smartphone users in the U.S. from 2010 to 2019. For 2019, the number of smartphone users in the United States is 265.9 million (Statista Surveya, 2019).
Figure 1. Number of smartphones users in United States from 2010 to 2019 (Statista Surveya, 2019).
Almost 72% of Americans own a smartphone in 2019, more than a threefold increase since 2010 (eMarketer, 2018). Figure 2 reports the smartphone diffusion as share of the population in the United States from 2010 to 2019. In 2019, 71.4 percent of the U.S. population used a smartphone (eMarketer, 2018).
Figure 2. Smartphone diffusion rate as share of population in United States from 2010 to 2019 (eMarketer, 2018).
Online learning has presented Extension with the opportunity to utilize various internet-based platforms to interact with clientele. Figure 3 provides the share of learners who indicated they wanted fully self-directed and independent learning in the United States in 2019, by generation (Linkedin, 2019). This Linkendin survey (2019) found that 43 percent of Gen Z and 42 percent of Millennials indicated they wanted self-directed and independent learning (Linkedin, 2019).
Figure 3. Share of learners who want fully self-directed & independent learning in U.S. in 2019 by generation (Linkedin, 2019).
An emerging trend that could have implications for Extension education is the adoption rate of smartwatches and the utilization of fitness apps in the United States. Figure 4 illustrates the rate of adoption of smartwatches in the United States from 2013 to 2018 (Statista Surveyb, 2019).
Figure 4. Rate of adoption of smartwatches in the United States from 2013 to 2018 (Statista Surveyb, 2019).
Figure 5 illustrates smartwatch owners daily use functions in the United States in 2017 (Statista Surveyb, 2019).
Figure 5. Owner’s daily use of smartwatch function in the United States.in 2017 (Statista Surveyb, 2019)
Figure 6 provides the share of Americans who used fitness apps in 2018, by income level (Statista Surveyb, 2019).
Figure 6. Share of Americans who used fitness apps in 2019, by income level (Statista Surveyb, 2019).
As smartphones and tablets become more capable and user interfaces more instinctive, traditional methods of learning are less restrictive in terms of all clientele needing to be assembled in a classroom or brick and mortar fixed structure (Freeman et al., 2016). Clientele increasingly expect to be connected to the internet wherever they go, and the majority of them use a mobile device to do so (Freeman et al., 2016). According to Pew Research Center, 71.4% of Americans own smartphones, and are increasingly using them as their primary venue to online learning (Freeman et al., 2016). Extension programs across the US are adopting apps and modifying websites, educational materials, resources, and tools so they are optimized for mobile use (Freeman et al., 2016). These devices have the potential to facilitate almost any educational experience wherever there is internet access, even outdoors during field days or tours, allowing clientele to organize video meetings with peers, use specialized software and tools, and collaborate on shared documents or projects in the cloud (Freeman et al., 2016). A study conducted by the Harvard Business School reported that access to mobile apps and resources assisted agriculture and professionals in related fields to make more informed choices about equipment and processes (Freeman et al., 2016).
With more Americans embracing the concept of independent, self-directed learning it is imperative that Extension educators have online learning in their portfolio of educational methods. Online learning refers to both formal and informal educational opportunities that take place through the web. Today, it is uncommon for learning institutions and programs to not have a web presence, and increasingly people expect for that to include learning modules and resources so that new knowledge and skills can be acquired on the go (Freeman et al., 2016). The advent of online learning is enabling Extension programs reach more people than ever before (Freeman et al., 2016). Extension educators are becoming more comfortable assessing various levels of integration of online material in their existing programs, and many believe that online learning can be an effective catalyst for thoughtful discussion on all pedagogical practices (Freeman et al., 2016). For example, online learning, when coupled with immersive technologies like virtual reality, has potential to facilitate simulations that help participants better understand and respond appropriately to real life environments and situations (Freeman et al., 2016). Recently, Nicholas Free, an animal science senior at Texas A&M University created a cattle handling simulation that could potential assist others build and expand their cattle-working skills. Free created an interactive simulation game to focus on the best techniques to handle cattle.
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Freeman, A., Adams S., & Cummins, M. (2016). NMC Technology Outlook for Cooperative Extension 2016-2021: A Horizon Project Sector Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
LinkedIn. (February 27, 2019). Share of learners who want fully self-directed and independent learning in the United States in 2019, by generation [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/988933/workplace-learning-independent-learning-united-states-generation/
eMarketer. (May 29, 2018). Smartphone penetration rate as share of the population in the United States from 2010 to 2021 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/201183/forecast-of-smartphone-penetration-in-the-us/
Pew Research Center. (April 10, 2019). Percentage of U.S. adults who use Facebook as of February 2019, by age group [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved October 11, 2019, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/246221/share-of-us-internet-users-who-use-facebook-by-age-group/
Statista Surveya. (February 19, 2019). Number of smartphone users in the United States from 2010 to 2023 (in millions)* [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/201182/forecast-of-smartphone-users-in-the-us/
Statista Survey b (Global Consumer Survey). (June 30, 2018). Share of internet users who regularly visit Instagram in the United States in 2018, by age [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved October 11, 2019, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/477696/page-visits-of-instagram-within-the-last-month-usa/