June 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW3

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Looking for More Than New Knowledge

Programs contribute to participants in other ways than just providing new knowledge. This article suggests some of the other contributions that should be looked for when programs are evaluated.

Sara M. Steele
Professor and Program Development Specialist
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Internet address: smsteele@facstaff.wisc.edu

Most of us are familiar with the Evaluation Hierarchy which includes learning gains or KASA (Knowledge, Attitude, Skill and Aspiration) (Bennett, 1975). However, many times knowledge gain is examined only in terms of the amount of new knowledge acquired by program participants. This definition of knowledge change comes straight out of formal education (kindergarten-college) where it is assumed the young person knows nothing about the subject and the expert or teacher knows everything. That is often not the case with adults.

We short change the potential value of our programs when we look at knowledge change only in terms of the number of people acquiring new knowledge. Adults who know something about a topic are most likely to voluntarily come to a session. In these days of easy access to multiple information sources and increased educational levels, adults are picking up bits and pieces of both practical and technical information from a variety of sources. They are seldom starting from base zero.

It is important, therefore, to give participants an opportunity to indicate other changes in knowledge that occur, at least in part, as a result of participating in an Extension program. Here is a partial list of other knowledge gains which may give ideas about other kinds of results programs may be stimulating.

  • Expanded my understanding of the topic.
  • Gained greater insight into what I already knew.
  • Clarified some things that I had heard.
  • Refocused my attention on the topic.
  • Helped me put together pieces of information I had heard.
  • Helped me better understand why I believed something.
  • Reinforced something I had learned from experience.
  • Challenged me to rethink something.
  • Helped me develop an answer to a problem.
  • Provided interest in learning more about the subject.
  • Stimulated me to think about the topic/problem in a new way.
  • Provided ammunition to use in an argument.
  • Triggered ideas based on the information.
  • Provided confidence in what I already knew.
  • Helped me apply something I knew to a new situation.
  • Encouraged me to act on what I already knew.
  • Provided confidence to tell someone else what I believed.
  • Helped me understand myself better.

When you begin to think about how hearing information one already knows might be useful, you will come up with other possibilities. Some of these alternative outcomes can be especially useful in attempting to determine the value of Extension public policy and issue programming.

The most frequently indicated gains are often surprising. For example, a video program aimed at "top" farmers badly underestimated its audience. Only 17 out of 75 farmers said they gained new information, but 44 said they were challenged to think about some aspect of their feeding program. The other items in the list and the number of farmers checking the items were: 43, reinforcement for what I already knew; 36, better understanding of something I already knew or was doing; 19, new ideas that I will try; 3, an answer to a question or solution to a problem; and 2, nothing much that seemed valuable to me (Steele, 1991a).

In another instance, 72 participants in a program for parents of teens responded to a program evaluation which included a check list of gains they might have received from the program. The choices and numbers indicating each gain were as follows: 48, better understanding; 44, new ideas; 42, reinforcement and reassurance that we are on right course; 41, feeling of support from meeting with other parents; 34, desire to change or try something suggested; 29, more awareness of local resources; 23, new questions; 26, awareness of symptoms of problems; 4, help with a specific problem (Steele, 1991b).

The short list that you actually use in an evaluation should be tailored to your audience and to the topic. Giving people an opportunity to identify gains including, but in addition to, new information is important both to the participant and to you. It helps program participants feel more satisfied with their participation and better understand the kinds of help they get from Extension. It helps you have a greater understanding of how you are helping your clientele.


Bennett, C. (1975). Up the hierarchy. Journal of Extension, 13, 7-12.

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives handbook II: Cognitive domain. New York: McKay.

Steele, S. M. (1991a). Dairy producers' reactions to dairy live. Madison: Department of Continuing and Vocational Education, University of Wisconsin.

Steele, S. M. (1991b). Preliminary findings from parenting teens satellite programs. Madison: Department of Continuing and Vocational Education, University of Wisconsin.