July 1983 // Volume 21 // Number 4 // Feature Articles

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Shades of Seaman Knapp

Whether our intent is "knowing that" or "knowing how" should influence the demonstration methods we select.

Kenneth E. Pigg
Extension Sociologist
Cooperative Extension
Service, College of Agriculture
University of Kentucky-Lexington

In the process of transferring technology and encouraging the adoption of innovation by farmers, Seaman Knapp used cooperative farm demonstrations implemented by farmers on their own land to teach farming technology to farm neighbors.1 In Knapp's view, "What a man hears, he may doubt; what he sees he may also doubt; but what he does, he cannot doubt."2

Since Knapp's initial efforts, the demonstration technique has taken different forms so there's now considerable variation in the methodology of the demonstration.3 These variations have been developed to meet present needs and situations, more complex than those of earlier periods, providing important flexibility, but obscuring criteria by which individual adaptations are selected.

Agents should recognize that criteria to select a particular demonstration method (or any other educational technique) involves several factors, including: type of knowledge to be transferred, degree of participation by clients, and type of impact desired.4

Types of Knowledge

Machlup says the most important types of knowledge in the transfer of innovations are "knowing that" and "knowing how."5 "Knowing that" knowledge he terms propositional knowledge. It involves factual or descriptive data. We may say we know that minimum amounts of certain nutritional elements are required for good health or that vegetables of variety X will produce more per plant than variety Y. In "knowing that," we don't require any knowledge of why related effects occur, what conditions are necessary for the propositions to hold, or how the effects are produced.

Sometimes acquiring knowledge of this type may change behavior depending on other factors such as previous knowledge held or willingness to accept risks.

On the other hand, "knowing how" involves knowledge of the ways in which desired effects are produced or certain conditions occur. We say we know how to drive a car, conduct an election of officers, or write a news release. We often know how without understanding why things work as they do, or what unintended side effects may happen as a result of our action. Acquisition of know how is usually sufficient to produce behavioral change, especially when the results produced are visible and result from self-accomplishment.

Knowledge of these two types is central to Extension's role of transferring useful information. The demonstration technique with all its variations can be very effective in transferring more complex knowledge, and its use is more likely to result in behavioral change and can be more effective in attitudinal change than some other methods.6

Agents should recognize that criteria to select a particular demonstration method (or any other educational technique) involves several factors, including: type of knowledge, degree of participation by clients, and type of impact desired.

Variety of Demonstrations

Many types of demonstrations can be identified. The small plots of grain planted along a major road with a sign that identifies the variety name and the source of the seed is one of the simplest. Another is the consumer preference test in which people are given two products of the same generic type (for example, cheese) and asked to determine which they like best.

Extension agents often use result demonstrations, such as planting several test plots with different varieties of seed, or different amounts of fertilizer or other inputs so farmers or 4-Hers could see for themselves what differences occur. Developing knowledgeable 4-H judging teams also involves "knowing that." While some behavioral change is the eventual desired effect of these demonstrations, the immediate intention is to provide knowledge of "knowing that" type. Considerably more information may be necessary before enough knowledge is accumulated to change behavior.

Improving "knowing how" knowledge usually requires more time-consuming methods and more participation by learners. Students of Extension education methods are familiar with the method demonstration in which the agent goes through all the necessary operations or tasks that must be completed before the desired result can be obtained. Many TV commercials take this form to convince the viewer to buy some new product by being shown how easy it is to use or how effective it is. Homemakers are familiar with demonstrations promoting the use of new technological appliances for food preparation; for example, the "Fantastic, Solid State, Fully Automatic, Convenient Vegie Center!"

All of these examples differ from Knapp's original design in that the change agent is demonstrating the new technology rather than the farmer, homemaker, or youth. To make the method demonstration more effective, we can provide an opportunity for audience participation so that some or all of those who first watched how the technique was done are subsequently given the chance to do it themselves. Thus, the learning of new techniques is reinforced by personal trial and group influence. We're familiar with the success of Weight Watchers or the Richard Simmons phenomenon, popular elaborations on the method demonstration technique.

Using Demonstration Methods

The following discussion shows the flexibility of the demonstration method and the importance of considering the outcome the agent wants to have when designing Extension programs.

Winkelman and Moscardi present a design using three types of demonstrations.7 Their strategy is based on a growing recognition among both physical and social scientists that farmers readily use and diffuse new technologies with only limited help if the technology is "appropriate" to their economic, biological, and physical situation.

A set of three on-farm demonstrations is proposed. The first is termed a "yes-no" trial that's designed to demonstrate the major effects and superficial interactions of those factors thought to be most important. For example, in the first year, demonstration plots for alfalfa would be established with local farmer participation to reflect local practices compared to a series of plots with significantly higher levels of inputs, such as improved seed varieties, nutrient levels, pesticide controls, and so on, representing recommended management practices. Farmers, agents, and specialists could then review the demonstrations to determine which practice seems most appropriate as an improvement over present practices.

Next, a "how-much" demonstration is assembled on a local farm. A series of these demonstrations are designed to identify the levels of various inputs or practices that might be desirable for farmers to adopt. In our alfalfa example, suppose the first-year's experience suggested farmers were most likely to change pesticide application levels and/or techniques. The "how-much" demonstrations in the second year would be used to help farmers evaluate the comparative effects of various levels of pesticide application and methods of application.

Finally, "verification" demonstrations would be established in the third year that involve the most feasible levels of pesticide application and methods on a broader range of farm situations. Once farmers reviewed the "success" of the demonstrations in applicable situations, and agreed that the new practice is useful, the agent is ready to make recommendations to other farmers, and the farmers are ready for adoption in a short time.

By concentrating on only three or four factors in the production system of local farmers, involving them in the development of the actual recommendations through the demonstration design, and encouraging on-farm test sites, the agent can have a significant impact on farmer behavior. As has been shown elsewhere, a well-planned series of such demonstrations in several important commodity areas could, within only a few years, have a marked change in production levels and farm profits for local producers.8

In the above example, the desired change isn't intended to result from only one demonstration, but from a well-designed demonstration strategy that covers several seasons, involves farmer cooperation and participation, and is focused on behavioral change as an outcome.

Improving Use

Modern agriculture differs considerably from that in Seaman Knapp's lifetime. Knapp and his first field agents taught only farming methods that had been fully tested by practical farmers.9 Today, Extension agents often try to transfer information that comes directly from research labs with little practical farm trial. This situation rarely encourages widespread adoption, and may even create problems and lead to rejection of new technologies such as occurred in some areas where Green Revolution rice was tried.10

Also, the farm population in 1900 was considerably different from today's, with fewer farmers who are more socially and economically diverse. Researchers are also discovering that the adoption-diffusion process is far more complex in its operation than was earlier believed. Different types or economic classes of farmers have different opinion leaders to whom they look as models.11


Using demonstration methods involves recognizing that demonstration isn't one method, but a variety of methods. Often the distinctions can't be clearly identified. Most of the differences can be related to the: (1) type of knowledge we want participants to acquire, (2) degree of audience participation, and (3) desired outcome. Users of demonstration methods, as is true with other methods, should keep these factors in mind during the program planning process and select methods based on these factors rather than simply repeating what has always been done.


  1. Roy V. Scott, The Reluctant Farmer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970) and John T. Wheeler, Methods in Farmer Training Through Participation and Placement (Atlanta,Georgia: Turner E. Smith, Co., 1926).
  2. Edward F. Vitzthurn and Robert J. Florell, "The Cooperative Extension Heritage," in Heritage Horizons: Extension's Commitment to People, C. Austin Vines and Marvin A. Anderson, eds. (Madison, Wisconsin: Extension Journal, Inc., 1976), pp. 2-11.
  3. Harry C. Sanders, Instruction in the Cooperative Extension Service (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, Cooperative Extension Service, 1972).
  4. Jacquelyn M. Cole, "Selecting Extension Teaching Methods," Journal of Extension, XIX (September/October, 1981), 27-31.
  5. Fritz Machlup, Knowledge: Its Creation, Distribution, and Economic Significance, Vol. I Knowledge and Knowledge Production (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980).
  6. Paul E. Breer and Edwin A. Locke, Task Experience as a Source of Attitudes (Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press, 1965).
  7. Donald Winkelman and Edgardo Moscardi, Aiming Agricultural Research at the Needs of Farmers (Mexico City: International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center [CIMMYTI, May, 1977).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Scott, The Reluctant Farmer.
  10. Andrew Pearse, Seeds of Plenty, Seed of Want (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
  11. See, for example, Hard Westermarck, "Demonstration Farmer's Role in the Adoption of Innovations," in Extension Education and Rural Development, Vol. 1, Bruce R. Crouch and Shankariah Chamala, eds. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1981), pp. 309-17.