August 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA2

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Clients Reach Higher Levels of Cognition Through Publications

Extension, like other educational organizations, uses publications to teach clients, especially when personal contact isn't possible. How much do people learn from these publications? This experimental study looked at two Extension publications on water quality and their effect on cognition of Extension clients in Scioto County, Ohio. Cognition was defined using the Newcomb-Trefz model. Clients who read the publications showed greater cognition overall and higher levels of cognition when asked about the subject matter than those who did not read the publications.

Kristina M. Boone
Kansas State University
Department of Communications
Manhattan, Kansas
Internet address:

Keith L. Smith
Ohio State University Extension
Columbus, Ohio


Extension, like many educational organizations, uses publications to teach clients, especially when personal contact isn't possible. Studies dealing with classroom texts and publications have been conducted, but research has not focused on media used in non-formal education. No studies have focused on cognition achieved from reading Extension publications.

However, educational principles based on achievement of higher cognitive levels have been influential in Extension teaching. Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in the Cognitive Domain (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill & Krathwohl, 1956) has long guided Extension education. Yet the taxonomy has not been applied to publications directed toward adult learners in non-formal learning situations, such as those where Extension operates. Based on review of studies critical of Bloom's Taxonomy, the Newcomb-Trefz Model (Newcomb & Trefz, 1987) was developed and reduced the cognitive levels to four: remembering, processing, creating, and evaluating. The learner moves through the lower levels to achieve higher levels of cognition. The lower levels in the model are remembering, followed by processing where some higher cognition begins. The higher levels include creating and evaluating, the highest level.

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this research was to determine whether cognitive change was accomplished after agricultural Extension clients in Scioto County, Ohio, read two publications. The objective of the study was to determine differences in levels of cognition after subjects in the treatment groups read the publications. Treatment groups were compared to control groups to determine differences in resulting cognition.


This study used a Solomon Four-Group experimental design (Campbell & Stanley, 1963). The study participants were selected from an agriculture mailing list of The Ohio State University Extension, Scioto County office.

An instrument, using multiple-choice items, was written to measure level of cognition using descriptors taken from work by Newcomb and Trefz (1987). Content validity was established by a panel of experts from the Ohio Water Resources Education Project and The Ohio State University. For reliability, 17 agricultural Extension clients in Richland County, Ohio, pilot tested the instrument, resulting in a Cronbach's Alpha internal consistency reliability coefficient of .60, an acceptable reliability for research at this stage (Nunnally, 1967). An alpha level of 0.10 was set a priori. Data were gathered in July and August 1993.

The treatment was two publications describing the surface- and ground-water resources in Scioto County. These publications included learning objectives in the first paragraph of each. Members of the treatment groups were asked to read the publications and not to take the post-test until they had done so. The control groups did not read the two publications during the experiment.

Because pre-test effects were determined to be negligible using a t-test, post-test scores from the pre-test/post-test group and post-test-only group were collapsed. Thus, further comparisons were made between the control and treatment groups using t-tests.


Forty-three farmers participated in the study and averaged 25 years in farming. Most had attended some college, and the average age was 49. One participant in the pre-test/post-test control group was functionally illiterate and the instrument was read to this person.

Summing all the participants, the average percentage of correct answers was 60 percent, while the treatment group averaged 73 percent correct and the control averaged 47% correct. The percentages reflect the difficulty of the test (Table 1).

(combines treatment and control)
Table 1
Percentages of Correct Answers on All Questions
Group Percentage of Correct Answers on all Questions
Treatment 73
Control 47
All participants

Treatment groups performed significantly better than control groups in total cognition and at the cognitive levels of remembering, processing, and creating in the Newcomb-Trefz Model. At the remembering and processing levels, the treatment group scored means of 4.05 and 3.86, respectively, out of a total possible of 5.0; while the control group scored 2.43 and 1.67, respectively. At the creating and evaluating levels, the treatment group scored means of 3.18 and 2.09, respectively, out of a total possible of 4.0; while the control group scored 2.29 and 2.11, respectively. From the total possible of 18.0 from all cognitive items, the treatment groups' mean was 13.18, while the control group's was 8.48. At the cognitive level of evaluating, significant differences were not found among treatment and control groups. Differences between treatment and control groups in mean scores at the processing level were greatest, indicating that the publications operated most effectively at the processing level. Table 2 presents the post-test scores of treatment and control groups at each level of cognition and in total cognition.

Table 2
Differences Between Treatment and Control Groups in Cognition
Cognitive Group Calculated Level
mean s.d. t-values
1 Treatment 4.05 1.13 4.36*
Control 2.43 1.29
2 Treatment 3.86 0.83 8.83*
Control 1.67 0.80
3 Treatment 3.18 0.80 3.45*
Control 2.29 0.90
4 Treatment 2.09 1.02 -0.01
Control 2.11 1.18
Total Treatment 13.18 2.58 5.87*
Control 8.48 2.68
Note. Treatment n = 22, Control n = 21, *p,0.1; Cognitive levels: 1 = Remembering, 2 = Processing, 3 = Creating, 4 = Evaluating.

Programming Implications

Results of this study show that the treatment group answered significantly greater numbers of questions correctly than the control group. The treatment group scored significantly higher than the control group on the cognitive levels of remembering, processing, and creating, but no significant differences were found at the evaluating level.

This study indicates that Extension publications can contribute to learning. Optimally, publications are more effective if they are combined with interaction with an educator. However, this study indicates that the publications alone can help clients achieve higher levels of cognition. These publications also may be used to improve cognitive abilities as well as knowledge. With the terrific information resources becoming accessible to many citizens through the electronic technology, Extension must ensure that its information and media communicate with and educate clientele.

Extension will continue expanding to other audiences with subject matter and technologies that are not traditional to Extension (Prawl, Medlin & Gross, 1984). Print media, especially publications, serve as the basis for most of these new technologies, such as CD-ROM, World-Wide Web postings, and internet transmissions. While many of these technologies are not restricted to print formats, it is important to remember that most Extension clients will ask for printouts of the material, as opposed to reading it directly from the CD or the posting on the web. Thus, publications should be in the forefront of increasing cognition with clientele groups and should not be disregarded for the newer technologies that recently captured attention.

Much more research has focused on newer educational technologies than on text, but the excitement about these new technologies tends to give way. The boom of research on video instruction faded as computer-aided techniques took off, and the latter is now being replaced by the World-Wide Web. Print, however, remains the most utilized educational media with non- classroom audiences, leading one to the conclusion that its effects on learning should be studied.

To advance the level of educational quality, Extension should draw on research in the area of cognition and text and utilize elements in publications found to enhance cognition, such as graphic organizers, learning objectives, and adjunct questions (Anderson & Pearson, 1984; Duchastel, 1982; Stewart, 1989). Further, the publications using these elements should be studied with clientele groups, especially because research into text using these elements has been conducted primarily with elementary and secondary students in class room settings. Extension publications also should be written to help learners move through all the Newcomb Trefz levels, bearing in mind that cognition on the evaluating level may be difficult to attain.


Anderson, R. C., & Pearson, P. D. (1984). A schema-theoretic view of basic processes in reading comprehension. In P. D. Pearson (Ed.), Handbook of reading research (pp. 255-291). New York: Longman.

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York: McKay.

Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Skokie, IL: Rand McNally.

Duchastel, P. C. (1982). Textual display techniques. In D. Johassen (Ed.), The technology of text (Vol. 1) (pp. 167-191). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Newcomb, L. H., & Trefz, M. K. (1987). Levels of cognition of student tests and assignments in the College of Agriculture at The Ohio State University. Proceedings of the Central Region 41st Annual Research Conference in Agricultural Education (pp. 26-30). Chicago, IL

Nunnally, J. C. (1967). Psychometric theory. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Prawl, W., Medlin, R., & Gross, J. (1984). Adult and continuing education through the Cooperative Extension Service. Columbia: University of Missouri-Columbia, Extension Division.

Stewart, A. (1989, February). Structure and organization in instructional text--A cognitive perspective on practice. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Dallas, TX.