Summer 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB1

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Predictors of Youth Agents' Knowledge Base


Gary W. Gerhard
Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development
Cooperative Extension
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Keith L. Smith
Associate Director
Ohio Cooperative Extension Service and
Agricultural Education
Ohio State University-Columbus

During the decades of the '70s and '80s, most Extension educators who gave leadership to 4-H youth development programs have been playing catchup. Most frequently trained in technical agriculture or home economics disciplines, some feel that what they needed to know entering the field didn't match their preparation. One 1986 survey of leading county agents indicated that:

  • The discipline of 4-H youth development is a combination of adult education skills and child/adolescent development used to empower volunteers in the experiential education process.
  • A fairly superficial level of knowledge is required by the agent in project subject matters. Most knowledge can be and is acquired on the job. More projects exist than can be mastered and agents rely on local experts, volunteers, or other university departments as ready references.
  • An emphasis away from subject-matter content occurs in youth of junior high age. Teens want opportunities to lead and help in meaningful ways and are most interested in self and peer awareness information.1

What do we currently know about where 4-H youth agents acquire their personal working knowledge base? Are there common events in agents' experiences that could help us better predict candidates' knowledge of their field? The Ohio Cooperative Extension Service decided to look at these questions among their Extension 4-H agents.2

A New Look at Old Questions

It's important to remember that the readily accessible knowledge base was investigated and not individual skill levels. Thirteen events in the academic, professional, and personal lives of the agents were studied relating to knowledge acquisition of the five domains of the 4-H Professional Research and Knowledge Base (PRK).3 The 13 were:

1. Type of academic degree.
2. Quarter hours of coursework related to 4-H PRK.
3. Degree-granting institution.
4. Gradepoint average.
5. Years as an Extension educator.
6. Years as a 4-H Extension agent.
7. County chair status.
8. Perceived influence of paid non-Extension work.
9. Perceived influence of volunteer experiences.
10. Perceived influence of personal study experiences.
11. Number of years as a 4-H member.
12. Parent of children of 4-H age.
13. Gender.

Predicting Mastery of the Knowledge Base

Only cumulative postsecondary gradepoint average was found to be a predictor of knowledge acquisition. Gradepoint average accounted, however, for only 11% of the variance in the mastery score.

The 4-H Extension agents identified previous paid non-Extension work as "somewhat" influential on their acquisition of communication education and human development knowledge. Experiences as a volunteer contributed "somewhat" to the agents' knowledge of communication, human development, and volunteerism. Personal study helped mastery in the areas of human development and education more so than any of the nonformal learning sources investigated.

Additional research is needed to further understand predictors of agent knowledge acquisition. These results indicate great variation in influences on this acquisition among 4-H youth agents.


1. G. W. Gerhard, 4-H Field Faculty Pilot Survey (Columbus: The Ohio State University, Cooperative Extension Service, 1986).

2. G. W. Gerhard, Factors Associated with Mastery of the 4-H Professional Research and Knowledge Base by Extension Agents, 4-H in Ohio (Columbus: Ohio State University, Cooperative Extension Service, 1988).

3. G. Gerhard, S. Hastings, and R. Rennekamp, The 4-H Professional Research and Knowledge Base (Washington, D.C.: Extension Service-USDA, 1988).