Spring 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 1 // Forum // 1FRM1

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Is Extension Changing Its Mission


Randy R. Weigel
Extension Specialist
Human Development and Family Life
Iowa State University-Ames

Could Extension be changing its mission from an institution that facilitates learning by clients to one that only disseminates information? By looking at "innovative" Extension delivery methods, we can judge if, in fact, Extension is changing its mission.

Extension has expanded its delivery methods through the use of the latest technology. Innovative delivery efforts include satellite/television link-up, computer-assisted learning, distance learning, and dial-access information service. In addition, many traditional learning methods are receiving increased use, especially home-study courses, specialaudience newsletters, and research-backed publications. These delivery methods pose two potential problems: first, they can reduce the direct interaction between teacher and student and second, they tend to maximize educational information and minimize the processing of learning experiences by students.

This isn't to say that these delivery methods can't facilitate learning. However, they require conscious effort by the educator to ensure that we don't confuse facilitating education with providing information.

In facilitating education, we include the opportunity for learners to process the educational information and make sense of the learning experience. In providing information, on the other hand, we only deliver information to the learner. Boyle, in Planning Better Programs, calls this informational programming: "The continuing educator has decided to provide answers and is confident that he or she can provide the right ones."1 We need to be careful that Extension professionals don't become caught up in the development and use of new delivery methods to provide information and forget their role of helping adults in their learning efforts.

How can delivery methods be used to facilitate learning in addition to providing information? The following three points may serve to answer this question.

Provide Continuity in Learning. Since contacts with adults may be brief, we need to use this limited opportunity to place the educational message into the learner's overall learning process. For example, if a computer program on wellness is developed, the learner should have the chance to consider prior health and lifestyle, or how this program fits into life goals. And, most importantly, we can provide ideas on how inquiry can continue through readings, discussion, and classes. In this way, information is provided, but learning is also encouraged to continue. Anyprogram, regardless of its format, should encourage the learner to continue learning after the program is finished.

Give Opportunity for Processing Material. In any type of delivery method, opportunity for reflection or integration of the material should be included. I've been especially concerned that this opportunity for integration is often missing in many group learning settings. For example, one advertises a "workshop" on a particular topic, but it actually becomes a two-hour lecture with several Extension speakers and no opportunity for learner involvement.

Study Personal Styles of Learning. Extension people are continually engaged in learning. What things facilitate your learning? What hinders your learning? By studying our own learning, we might get a better picture of what works and doesn't work so we can adjust the learning experiences and the delivery methods we use with clientele.

In conclusion, it's much easier and faster to simply provide information than to take the time and effort needed to facilitate learning. Yet, to truly be seen as adult educators and serve the mission of "helping people to help themselves," we must take the time and effort.


  1. Patrick G. Boyle, Planning Better Programs (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981), p. 12.