February 2004 // Volume 42 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW3

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Rediscovering the Potential of In-Depth Training for Extension Educators

In exploring in-service training methods, Extension shouldn't forget the potential of in-depth, face-to-face in-service training for facilitating the integration and application of more complex knowledge and skills. The Florida Innovators Program (FIP) is a 2-year professional development program for Family and Consumer Sciences and 4-H agents during which participants develop a program for at-risk audiences. After program workshops, agents implement their projects with the help of a seed grant and evaluate and report on the results. Evaluation indicates that FIP's approach is building the participants' capacity to implement community-based programs and highlights program characteristics that enhance the value of face-to-face in-service training.

Millie Ferrer
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Anne M. Fugate
Project Coordinator
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Daniel F. Perkins
Associate Professor
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania

Janice Easton
CYFAR Project Evaluator
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida


In an effort to save time and money, Extension has been exploring distance education as an alternative to traditional in-service training. Distance education alternatives like videoconferences, Internet classes, and self-study courses have been shown to be effective in various ways--they certainly save time and money and often provide a satisfactory learning experience for county agents (Fitzpatrick, Duncan, Williamson, & Smith, 1997; Lippert, Plank, Camberato, & Chastain, 1998; Smith & Wolford, 1997).

However, in the exploration of distance education, Extension should not forget the potential of the face-to-face in-service training for facilitating the integration and application of more complex knowledge and skills. Florida Extension's CYFAR (Children, Youth and Families At Risk) project team has been reminded of this potential in the implementation of the Florida Innovators Program.

Florida Innovators Program

The Florida Innovators Program (FIP) is a two-part professional development program through which Family and Consumer Sciences and 4-H county agents develop community-based programs for at-risk audiences. The first part of FIP consists of a series of five workshops, which address topics such as risk and protective factors, evaluation for hard-to-reach audiences, program sustainability, collaboration, cross cultural communication, and technology. A significant part of each workshop is devoted to working on individual community projects through a logic model approach.

The second part consists of the agents' implementation of their projects, with a $4,000 seed grant. Because of the in-depth nature of the workshops, each FIP cohort group consists of only four or five agents, plus program assistants if they will be assisting with the project.

FIP was implemented as part of Florida Extension's USDA CYFAR state-strengthening grant, as one strategy to address the grant objective of increasing capacity for developing community-based programs for at-risk audiences. FIP was patterned after the Kellogg National Leadership Program (KNLP), which has a successful, 21-year track record of capacity building (Sublett & Beineke, 1998). Like KNLP, FIP is an intensive program with 7.5 days of training, between-workshop assignments, and the integration and application of knowledge.

The participating agents, who have had from 2 to over 26 years of Extension experience, have responded very positively to this in-depth training approach, calling it "invigorating," "refreshing," and "the best training I've ever been to." In describing the benefits of the FIP model, one agent summed up the comments made by most of the participants:

[The workshops] helped put what I already know and what I am learning into perspective. In the past I have gathered information in bits and pieces, but the practical application and follow-through in these trainings helped to integrate the information.

The participants attribute their positive experience to several program characteristics, which together foster an environment of rigorous and supportive guided practice. Table 1 lists program characteristics identified by participants as strengths of the FIP workshops. These same characteristics have also been cited by leaders who have emerged during the KNLP's 21 years of leadership development (Sublette & Beineke, 1998).

Table 1.
Program Characteristics Identified by Participants as Strengths of FIP In-Service Training

Program Characteristics

Program Strengths Identified by

The workshops extend over a 10-month period, with the time structured by group work during the workshops and individual work between meetings.

Having time to think through and develop a program.

The first workshop includes team-building activities, which help develop the familiarity and trust necessary for subsequent group work.

Working as a group, which generates ideas, provides informed feedback, and builds relationships with colleagues.

Agents are asked about their needs on the application for the FIP program and again at the first workshop; their expressed needs help determine workshop topics.

Having input in training topics.

The project director, coordinator, and evaluator work with the agents throughout the course of the workshops. In addition, speakers from several university departments and from other organizations address various topics.

Having support and technical assistance from state specialists and staff.

As of August 2003, 23 FCS and 4-H agents have participated in the workshops. Eighteen agents have implemented 16 projects (two agents are working on one project together). Examples of projects include a parenting program at a housing authority, a child-care center, a support program for children who have lost a loved one, and afterschool programs for elementary- and middle school-age children.

Evaluation of FIP, which includes group and individual interviews after the workshop series and review of the developed projects, indicates that the approach is building capacity, as defined by the CYFAR initiative. For example, FIP helps develop a common vision for children, youth, and families at risk; in a post-series interview, the interviewer noted that when asked to discuss "at-risk," FIP participants had "an excited discussion in which they shared similar definitions. It was clear they had given this a considerable amount of attention and thought."

FIP also promotes working with diverse audiences and with other agencies or organizations. Of the 16 FIP projects that have been implemented, the majority involve working in new communities with new agencies and organizations.

More important, FIP provides training that agents can apply not just to their grant project, but also to any programming effort. One agent said, "I've used what I've learned over and over in my Plan of Work. When I start a new project, I look at it from all angles, where I used to just dive in. Also, my scope of evaluation has improved. I have a better understanding of how important it is throughout the program." Another agent stated, "A lot of our in-service trainings are subject matter related. This is more programmatic--it's helping us become better professionals."

Despite the FIP model's success, there are obvious barriers to its replication. First, the model requires a definite commitment of travel funds and agent time that Extension services are trying to save through distance education. It also calls for small group interaction, which takes time and would be difficult to facilitate in a larger group. Finally, because each workshop session builds on the previous session, if an agent decides to leave (two agents left Extension while in the FIP program), it is difficult to bring in a replacement.

However, the results of FIP do highlight the value of face-to-face in-service training as an environment in which in-service participants can apply what they have learned and receive immediate feedback. This application is especially important if the information to be learned is theoretical or complex and, therefore, more easily lost in the pace of day-to-day programming. Further, the characteristics of FIP that participants have cited as strengths of the program suggest ways to realize the potential of in-depth in-service trainings.


Due to the constraints of time and money, there continues to be a need to explore distance education alternatives to find the most efficient and effective methods of in-service training, whether for the updating of content, the introduction of new materials, or the development of process skills. However, Extension should also be willing to invest in in-depth in-service training when it is the best method for the desired outcome.


Fitzpatrick, J., Duncan, S., Williamson, S., & Smith, T. (1997). An evaluation of two modes of self-paced agent in-service training. Journal of Extension [On-line], 35 (1). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1997february/rb5.html

Lippert, R., Plank, O., Camberato, J., & Chastain, J. (1998). Regional extension in-service training via the Internet. Journal of Extension [On-line], 36 (1). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1998february/a3.html

Smith, J., & Wolford, M. (1997). Agent in-service alternatives provide multiple benefits. Journal of Extension. Journal of Extension [On-line], 35 (3). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1997june/iw1.html

Sublett, R., & Beineke, J. (1998). Leadership lessons and competencies: Learning from the Kellogg National Fellowship Program. In Proceedings of the Annual Meeting: Leaders/Scholars Association [On-line], 21-26. Available at: http://www.academy.umd.edu/ila/pdfs/LeadersScholars.pdf