February 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB1

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Characteristics of Florida Extension Professionals that Influence the Teaching - Learning Process

The traits that Extension professionals and clients bring into the instructional environment impacts instructional outcomes. This study identified learning styles, value systems, and demographic characteristics of 56 Extension professionals in north Florida. The Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT), Values Analysis Profile (VAP), and a researcher-developed questionnaire were used to collect data. The GEFT data revealed that most Extension professionals have global perceptions, need structured learning environments, and are naturally social. In terms of values, all subjects were classified as synthesizers, who tend to be over-demanding of themselves and what they can reasonably accomplish. Implications for program delivery and professional development were forwarded.

Matt Baker
Internet address: mtb@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu

Tracy Hoover
Associate Professors

Rick Rudd
Assistant Professor

Department of Agricultural Education and Communication
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida


In formal education programs, the background and demographic characteristics that both learners and the educator bring into the classroom influence the teaching and learning process (Dunkin & Biddle, 1974). Conventional wisdom holds that the same would be true in nonformal education programs.

Only a limited amount of research on learning styles has been conducted with professionals employed in cooperative Extension. Rollins and Yoder (1993) utilizing the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (LSI) with Extension professionals in Pennsylvania found differences between areas of assignment. Seevers (1995) utilized the Principles of Adult Learning Scale (PALS) instrument with Extension professionals in Ohio and found that respondents had a more teacher-centered behavior pattern than the norm.

Values are defined as the "standards (or principles) by which choices are made which lead to actions" (Performax Systems International, 1985, p.VI-1). O'Connor (Performax Systems International, 1985) proposed that culture is a key variable in one's values, and stated that "cultural variables include our ethnic or tribal group, geographical location, socio-economic status, community residence, and national citizenship" (p.V.-7). Although the influence of value systems upon the teaching- learning process is unclear, conflicts between the value systems of the Extension professional conducting an educational program and those of clients could negatively influence client retention of knowledge. This study focused upon the identification of learning styles, value systems, and demographic characteristics of Extension professionals.


The target population for this descriptive study consisted of 56 Extension professionals employed in a 17 county region in north Florida. The counties ranged from primarily rural to a predominately urban area (Jacksonville). Three instruments were used to collect data for the study. Learning styles were measured by the Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT) (Witkin, Oltman, Raskin, & Karp, 1971). The GEFT classifies learners into two categories. Field dependent learners score lower than the national mean (11.4), and field independent learners score higher than the national mean.

Field dependent learners have global perceptions, are sensitive to their social environments, have highly developed social skills, favor a spectator approach to learning, and need structured learning environments. Field independent learners are relatively uninfluenced by their surrounding field, are perceptive of discrete parts, are good at analytical thought, and often provide their own structure to facilitate learning.

Values were measured by the Values Analysis Profile (VAP) (Performax Systems International, 1985). The VAP consists of 40 statements measured on a Likert-type scale. It classifies subjects into four categories. First, "traditionalists" are accepting of authority, traditional in terms of customs and practices, are loyal group members, and respective of social orders, believe in formal personal and work relationships. Second, "in-betweeners" prefer choices and options, dislike situations in which they are forced to make limited decisions, and are influenced by trends and fads. Third, "challengers" are likely to question authority and traditional values, believe that individual rights should take precedence over group or organizational considerations, have difficulty accepting social orders, and are informal in their approach to social orders and organizational roles. Finally, "synthesizers" are motivated to resolve conflicts, optimistic about the future, skeptical about present situations, and often noncommittal toward singular approaches (O'Connor & Massey, 1989).

Demographic data were collected by way of a researcher- developed questionnaire. Items included on this questionnaire were based upon an in-depth literature review on learning styles and value systems (Baker, Hoover, Rudd, 1996).


The average GEFT score was 9.04 (SD=5.08). Scores ranged from a low of 1 to a high of 18. As a whole, more Extension professionals were field dependent learners (65%) than field independent learners. All of the professionals were categorized by the VAP as synthesizers.

About 35% of the Extension professionals had multiple program area responsibilities. Of the multiple program Extension professionals, 41% included county-level administrative responsibilities and a combination of 4-H and Youth Development, Family and Consumer Sciences, Agriculture and Natural Resources, or Community Development assignments. Thirty-five percent of those with multiple responsibilities indicated that they had 4-H and Youth Development as well as Agricultural and Natural Resources assignments. Ages of Extension professionals ranged from 22 to 61 (M=40.06, SD=9.96). Over 53% were male.

In terms of learning style and gender, both males (M=8.16, SD=5.26) and females (M=10.0, SD=4.81) were field dependent. A greater percentage of males than females were field dependent than females (68% compared to 60.9%). Participants in their 30's scored higher on the GEFT than did participants in the other age groups. When looking at GEFT scores by age range and gender, males in their 20's were more field independent than males in other age groups (M=13.00, SD=1.73). Females in their 40's (although field dependent), scored highest on the GEFT (M=11.14, SD=4.74) compared to females in other age groups.


Participants tended to be field dependent learners. Learning style identification certainly has implications for both program delivery and professional development. In terms of program delivery, presentation and learning experiences must be differentiated based upon the learning styles of clients. As for professional development, it is essential that programs be delivered to Extension professionals that are highly structured and allow for social interaction.

The results of the VAP revealed that all participants were synthesizers. Synthesizers have the goal of integration of self with others. They are often overly-demanding upon themselves and what they can reasonably accomplish. There is a need to identify the value systems of program clients in an effort to determine if value systems are similar.

Participating Extension professionals in this study represented three broad program areas. Over one-third of the participants had multiple program responsibilities. The subjects included about the same number of men as women. As a whole, they were in the mid-point in their Extension careers. Over 70% of the Extension professionals attended high school in the Southeast. However, participants represented every geographic region in the country with the exception of the Pacific West.

No clear patterns emerged in regards to learning style and gender, age range, or geographical region in which the Extension professionals attended high school. Extension professionals differed only slightly in regards to their learning styles and demographic characteristics.


Baker, M., Hoover, T., & Rudd, R. (1996). A comparison of learning styles, value systems, and demographic characteristics of selected teaching faculty at the University of Florida. Proceedings of the Southern Region Agricultural Education Research Meeting, Athens, GA, 144-151.

Duncan, M.J., & Biddle, B.J. (1974). The study of teaching. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

O'Connor, M.J., & Massey, M.E. (1989). Values Conflict Action Planner. Minneapolis, MN: Carlson Learning Company.

Performax Systems International, Inc. (1985). Values analysis system profile manual. Minneapolis, MN.

Rollins, T.J. & Yoder, E.P. (1993, Summer). Agents' learning preferences. Journal of Extension, 31(2).

Seevers, B.S. (1995, June). Extensionists as adult educators: A look at teaching style preference. Journal of Extension, 33(3).

Witkin, H.A., Oltman, P.K., Raskin, E., & Karp, S.A. (1971). Group embedded figures test manual. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press, Inc.