October 2007 // Volume 45 // Number 5 // Tools of the Trade // 5TOT2

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Advancing Cooperative Extension with Podcast Technology

Recently, a new form of technology-mediated communication, podcast, has been blooming, and it has been applied in various fields for knowledge distribution. Podcast, which combines the power of radio broadcast and Internet, has a great potential for advancing Extension. This article shares the background on podcasting, analyzes issues and problems in current Extension programs, discusses the attributes of podcast for advancing Extension, and introduces current podcasting programs and future directions of podcasting in Extension.

Kui Xie
Assistant Professor
Department of Instructional Systems, Leadership, and Workforce Development

Mengmeng Gu
Assistant Extension Professor
Department of Plant and Soil Sciences

Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, Mississippi


Emerging technologies, such as computers and the Internet, have affected the Cooperative Extension Service tremendously. Recently, a new form of technology-mediated communication, podcast, has been blooming, and it has been applied in various fields for knowledge distribution. It has a great potential for advancing Cooperative Extension Services.

What Is Podcast?

Podcast is a Web-based form of broadcasting of information. It allows end-users to download multimedia information and playback on personal computers or mobile devices (e.g., iPods and PDAs). Different from regular Web contents, podcast uses a publishing method called "Really Simple Syndication" (Podcasting and iTunes: Technical Specification), which allows information to be syndicated instantly on the Internet. Free software, such as Apple iTune©, scours the Internet for defined topics and downloads the contents automatically whenever a podcast has been updated.

Current Issues in Cooperative Extension

Principles stated by Burns (1995) on adult learning are similar to those in Extension education. The learning process of Extension clientele is more self-directed compared to that of students in classroom settings. Extension clientele normally have established a certain level of expertise related to their previous learning and professional experience. They are aware of the deficiency in their knowledge and learn to compensate through problem-solving experience. Often when an Extension client encounters a problem beyond his or her expertise level, he or she seeks Extension associates for support through individual visits, telephone, or email communications. In addition, many Extension clients attend professional events organized by Extension institutions, including field days, demonstrations, seminars, workshops, and short courses, to keep their knowledge up-to-date.

However, there are some potential limitations existing in the traditional methods used in Extension. A list of potential problems follows.

  1. Tradition Extension activities involve direct contacts between Extension associates and clients, which require both to be at the same time (e.g., phone conversation) and/or at the same place (e.g., field days, demonstrations, seminars, workshops). Those who cannot attend these activities may lose opportunities to learn.

  2. Attending Extension activities demands high investments of cost and time on travel for both Extension associates and clients. Moreover, travel and outdoor events can be easily affected by inclement weathers.

  3. Due to the fact that Extension is an inquiry-based service, Extension associates often need to deal with the same problems repeatedly from different clients. Duplicated presentations and deliveries of the same information may lead to inefficiencies.

  4. Extension relies on individual associates' expertise. When an Extension associate retires or leaves the position, his or her expertise may become unavailable.

  5. When dealing with emergency problems, Extension clients do not often have access to "First Aid" instead of direct contact with Extension associates.

  6. Because direct contact with clientele is inevitable in Extension, the efficacy of Extension can be influenced by "human" factors (e.g., personality and communication skills).

Podcast for Advancing Extension

By combining the power of radio broadcast and Internet, podcast has some unique attributes that make it popular for knowledge distribution. It has a strong potential to be used for advancing Extension.

First, podcast brings flexibility and mobility. Instead of having to be present at a certain time and/or at a designated place, Extension associates can publish their demonstrations, seminars, or workshops through podcasts. Extension clients can download these podcasts on their computers and mobile devices to enjoy these contents at any time and at any place. Extension associates and/or clients would not have to spend hours driving to a physical location for an event. Also, these events will less likely to be constrained by weather conditions. On the other hand, the mobility of podcast extends Extension beyond the traditional Extension networks. Extension clients will be able to listen to their favorite podcasts in their car, at an airport, or even at their farms.

Second, by adding different episodes into their podcast collections, Extension clients can build a knowledge library related to their professional area. Whenever they encounter problems in their practice, they can look up a specific podcast episode in their personalized library as a "First Aid" and solve their problems by themselves. Moreover, these podcast resources can help sustain Extension expertise and make them independent of individual Extension associates. Therefore, even if an Extension associate leaves or retires from the position, his or her expertise will still reside in the podcast library from which Extension clients can seek help.

Third, although direct contact with clients is encouraged in Extension, podcast, on the other hand, maximizes the efficiency and accuracy of Extension by bringing an alternative communication channel, which could reduce the risk of sabotage from bad communication skills.

In addition, setting up a podcast station or receiving a podcast is very simple (Farkas, 2006). Virtually anyone with a personal computer and an Internet connection can produce a podcast. Moreover, most Extension services have an IT support department. Therefore, integrating podcast programs in Extension should not present insurmountable technical challenges to Extension associates.

Current Programs and Future Directions

To date, there are at least 12 land-grant universities that have adopted podcast in their Extension programming. The contents range from weekly updated Extension related news (Taxes A& M University) to episodes of various Extension topics (Mississippi State University). Table 1 illustrates current podcast programs and the contents of these programs.

Table 1.
Podcast Programs in Land-Grant Universities

Land-Grant UniversityPodcastURLContent
Taxes A&M University Agnews Weeklyhttp://agnewsweekly.tamu.edu/News about Texas Cooperative Extension and the Texas Agricultural Experiment Stations
University of Nebraska Backyard Farmerhttp://byf.unl.edu/Lawn & gardening information for Nebraskans
Iowa State University Extension podcastshttp://www.extension.iastate.edu/emms/podcast/ISU Extension Audio/Video, Market News, Midday, Weekly CD, Extension 4-H Youth Video, Gardening in the Zone, Bugcast with Marlin Rice
Mississippi State UniversityMSUcares podcasthttp://msucares.com/podcast/Computer, crops, forestry, health, food & nutrition, home & family, Lawn & garden, livestock, wildlife& fisheries
Ohio State UniversityC.O.R.N newsletterhttp://corn.osu.edu/Crop observation and recommendation network newsletters
New Mexico State UniversitySouthwest Yard & Gardenhttp://cahe.nmsu.edu/CES/yard/To address the unique issues faced by gardeners in the arid southwestern U.S.
University of IllinoisDairynethttp://www.traill.uiuc.edu/podcast?ContentID=8933Provide a wide array of dairy related topics for dairy producers, agri-business personnel, educators, and consumers
University of California - Riverside Let's Talkhttp://www.extension.ucr.edu/letstalk/index.htmlInterviews of individuals
Utah State UniversityExtension podcasthttp://extension.usu.edu/htm/publications/by=type/type=8Choosing soil to grow interior plants; Is a solar greenhouse for you?
North Carolina State UniversityEconomic perspectivehttp://www.ncsu.edu/waldenradio/Latest economic issues facing North Carolina and the nation
Virginia Tech UniversityTurf and Garden Tipshttp://www.weblogs.cals.vt.edu/turf_garden/Lawn care and home landscaping
South Dakota State UniversityGarden Linehttp://gardenline.sdstate.edu/shows.cfmGarden topics

Developments in podcast technology suggest future directions for Extension. Video podcast allows Extension professionals to distribution video and audio information via podcasting. With video podcast, Extension clients will receive more authentic information with visual details. Dual Channels podcast allows Extension clients to request information on demand. It will allow clients to provide feedback for each podcast or ask questions regarding each topic. Extension associates will also be able to provide suggestions and comments back to Extension clients.


Burns, R. (1995). The adult learner at work. Sydney: Business and Professional Publishing.

Farkas, B. G. (2006). Secrets of podcasting (2nd Ed.). Peachpit Press, Berkeley, CA.

Podcasting and iTunes: Technical Specification on Apple.com. Retrieved on January 20, 2007, from http://www.apple.com/itunes/store/podcaststechspecs.html