February 2004 // Volume 42 // Number 1 // Tools of the Trade // 1TOT1

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Learning in Place Using "Common and Comfortable" Technology

Diminishing travel budgets, time constraints, and the demand for up-to the minute information require constant creativity in training and development. Using familiar technology, you have all the tools you need to deliver practical and to-the-point learning opportunities for Extension professionals.

Susanna Coppernoll
Program Specialist
Extension Education Unit

Barbara Stone
Professor and Extension Specialist
Department of Agricultural Education

Texas Cooperative Extension
Texas A & M University
College Station, Texas


In today's environment, learning and development have never been more important to achieving organizational excellence. Yet with diminishing travel budgets, time constraints, and the demand for up-to-the-minute information, delivering learning opportunities to Extension professionals requires creativity. Training that is designed and delivered "just in time - just enough" or "any time - any place" uses a blend of strategies:

  • Face to face programs,
  • Self-directed printed materials,
  • Teleconference coaching and meetings,
  • Computer-based training, including Web conferencing, and
  • Content management systems containing modules, courses and curriculum.

In releasing the You, Extension and Success! Professional Development System (YES!) to Texas Extension employees, a blended strategy was used, offering a concise, comfortable, and cost-effective training to accommodate travel and time restrictions faced by Extension professionals.

YES! Training

You, Extension and Success! (YES) is a competency-based, Web-based system designed for all Extension professionals in Texas. YES! has five components: the Texas Extension competency model; communication and information; professional development planning; learning opportunities and resources; and a tracking, integration, and accountability component. The objectives of the training were to describe the competency model component, explain the steps involved in planning for their learning and development, and demonstrate how to develop a professional development plan using the Web-based system.

Early Users

Introducing YES! to Texas Extension began with key stakeholders, including Extension directors, associate department heads, district supervisors, and the advisory group, known as the Professional Development Trust, which is entrusted with guiding staff development in Texas Extension. From these groups, agents, specialists, and support staff were nominated as "early users" of the system. Early users had three tasks: completing their professional development plan using YES!, providing feedback to developers, and assisting their peers as requested in learning to use the system in the future.

Training Methods

The YES! Training used self-directed materials available electronically, e-mail communication, teleconferencing and co-browsing, and electronic coaching to accomplish the training objectives.

Early users were invited via e-mail to participate in one of the 1-hour telephone training events. A confirmation e-mail was sent with instructions for the telephone training and a URL that included a training guide and an online presentation as background information.

At the scheduled time, early users were on the telephone, at a computer with Internet access, and logged into the system. Presenters explained the model and planning steps involved as they walked early users through (co-browsed) the YES! system. Next, users learned how to use the system planning tools to identify professional development action plans to help reach their short-term and long-term career goals. Participants were given ample opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification. Following the telephone training, e-coaching was provided as needed, conducted primarily via e-mail and instant messaging.

Value-Added Training

The value of learning in place can be described in terms of cost savings, use of available technology, and the measurement of learner performance.

By February 2003 over 100 employees had participated in one of the 11 trainings offered. The training was cost-effective because there were no expenses for mailing or duplication of materials, time away from the office, "windshield" time, or travel costs for participants or facilitators. There were no additional expenses for equipment and facilities because all early users had access to a computer and telephone. Except for development time, the only operating cost was the toll-free teleconference sessions, which averaged $135 per 1-hour training--less that $15.00 per participant.

Given the cost savings and use of available technology, did the YES! training accomplish the learner objectives? Data was collected through an on-line survey, through individual and event observations, and by counting the number of individuals who have completed their professional development plan using the system. Results suggest that early users not only utilized the YES! system but also talked about it with others. As of April 2003 (before the official rollout of the system to all employees), over 279 individuals had used the planning tools within YES!, representing a greater number than those attending the training sessions.

Learners were able to gain knowledge and practice new skills in an environment that was safe and suited to their abilities. They were using their own computers as they learned YES!. Participants who were anxious about the YES! system printed the guidelines and explored the system in advance, thus reducing some of their technology jitters before the training. Conversely, early innovators were able to explore the site prior to the training and come to the training prepared with clarification questions, and they often were able to be "training assistants" helping to put their peers at ease.

Lessons Learned

Before each training session, the Web system was checked to see that it was operational. A backup URL site was also available in case the main access point was not functioning properly.

Two facilitators, from different locations, served as presenters, helping to minimize the monotony of one presenter and aiding in summarizing key points and answering questions. The facilitators followed a facilitator guide that was developed in practice sessions prior to the training sessions. Two external training professionals were also invited to join a session to observe and provide an evaluation of the training design, proving to be beneficial for both the facilitators as well as the evaluators.

Software applications promise a blended learning environment, but specialty software may be required. Or there may be perceptions that hefty technology or facilitation skills are required.


In introducing an organization-wide professional development system, the authors demonstrated the value of blended learning, using common and comfortable technologies: e-mail, a Web browser, and a telephone. The training was not only delivered in a concise and cost-effective manner, it also provided a safe environment for the learner.