The Journal of Extension -

December 2019 // Volume 57 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // v57-6iw6

Back to the Basics: Are Traditional Educational Methods Still Effective in a High-Tech World?

Although Extension educators have harnessed the power of technology as an important vehicle for conveying research-based content, it is important that the power of traditional educational methods not be overlooked. These traditional methods remain ideas that work, have worked, and continue to work even today. In this article, we spotlight these traditional ideas by presenting a social marketing campaign that engages limited-resource audiences via themed print educational materials—posters, brochures, and bookmarks. Evaluation results indicate that the campaign has been successful in engaging the target audience and motivating them regarding the adoption of healthful behavior changes.

Christopher T. Sneed
Assistant Professor

Karen L. Franck
Extension Assistant Professor

The University of Tennessee Extension
Knoxville, Tennessee


We are producing and consuming more digital content than ever (Kulshrestha, Zafar, Noboa, Gummadi, & Ghosh, 2015; Sasseen, Olmstead, & Mitchell, 2013). Apps, social media sites, messaging, and pop-up Internet advertisements compete for our attention, offering newest products, latest best advice, or breaking news stories. Indeed, technology has transformed the way we learn and consume information (Collins & Halverson, 2009).

Extension educators have harnessed the power of technology as an important vehicle for conveying research-based content. For example, social media platforms engage teen parents with parent education (Allen, Jolly, & Barnes, 2016). Safe home food preservation practices are communicated through technology-based tools (Johnson, Case, Hyde, Kershaw, & Kraemer, 2018). Self-directed e-learning apps address childhood obesity (Parmer, Struempler, Funderbuck, & Parmer, 2017).

The importance of digital technologies for increasing Extension's reach and client learning opportunities cannot be overlooked (Diem, Hino, Martin, & Meisenbach, 2011). Even in light of this importance, it is critical that we not forget the effectiveness of traditional educational methods that have served Extension well for decades. In today's technology-saturated environments, we must be reminded that "old ideas"—print materials, fact sheets, brochures, displays—are media channels that have reached audiences in the past and continue to reach audiences even today.

In this article, we draw on traditional ideas that have worked for Extension by presenting a social marketing campaign that engages limited-resource audiences through the use of themed print educational materials—posters, brochures, and bookmarks. The campaign and associated evaluation results demonstrating its effectiveness are described. Implications for Extension professionals seeking to engage limited-resource audiences conclude the article.


Quick Wins is a social marketing campaign that includes the placement of posters, brochures, and bookmarks in community locations frequented by limited-resource families. Each year county Extension offices are asked to identify partner sites that serve limited-resource audiences (i.e., local health department, social service agency, or senior center). For each partner site, counties are provided a large freestanding poster stand with an attached brochure holder. The poster stand accommodates a 2-by-3-ft poster and up to three sets of educational literature. Each quarter throughout the year, counties are mailed a marketing kit for each partner site. The marketing kit includes a poster to display in the poster stand as well as brochures and bookmarks. See Figure 1 for an example marketing kit.

Figure 1.
Marketing Kit

Each quarterly marketing kit highlights a theme designed to promote healthful eating, physical activity, hydration, or food resource management. Focus group sessions held with limited-resource participants informed the selection of the themes, content, and design of the campaign materials. Six campaigns that correspond to four major themes were launched over 18 months (Table 1).

Table 1.
Quick Wins Campaigns

Theme Campaign title(s)
Healthful eating Eat Healthy; They Will Too
Healthy Now; Healthy Later
Active lifestyles Move . . . It Matters
Water consumption Water: The Choice Is Clear
Saving money Simple Savings
Savings in Season

We evaluated the effectiveness of the campaigns through an awareness and behavior change survey. Lists of limited-resource adults residing in the intervention counties were obtained through a third-party marketing firm. Individuals on the lists were solicited by email or phone. In order to participate, individuals had to be 18 or older, be residing in a county where the social marketing materials were displayed, have children 17 years or younger living at home, and have visited or received services at a health department, social service agency, or senior center within the preceding 18 months.


A total of 453 adults completed the survey. Frequencies were computed for each survey question. Table 2 provides a demographic overview of respondents.

Table 2.
Demographics Summary for Respondents

Demographic variable Frequency Percentage
Female 360 79.5%
Male 93 20.5%
White (Caucasian) 364 80.4%
African American 61 13.5%
Hispanic (Latino/Spanish) 12 2.6%
Asian 6 1.3%
American Indian 1 0.2
Other 7 1.5 %
Prefer not to respond 2 0.4%
18-25 63 13.9%
26-35 172 38.0%
36-45 139 30.7%
46-55 57 12.6%
56+ 22 4.9%

Respondents were asked whether they recalled messages related to each theme. Over four fifths of respondents recalled messages about healthful eating, and almost two thirds recalled messages about active lifestyles (Table 3). Slightly over half recalled messages about hydration, and more than one third recalled messages on food resource management (Table 3).

Table 3.
Respondent Recall of Campaign Themes

Theme Yes No Unsure
Healthful eating (Eat Healthy; They Will Too and Healthy Now; Healthy Later) 376 (83%) 36 (8%) 41 (9%)
Active lifestyles (Move . . . It Matters) 299 (66%) 95 (21%) 59 (13%)
Water consumption (Water: The Choice Is Clear) 231 (51%) 145 (32%) 77 (17%)
Saving money (Simple Savings and Savings in Season) 163 (36%) 208 (46%) 82 (18%)

For each theme, participants were asked to recall the format in which they saw the messaging (Table 4).

Table 4.
Respondent Recall of Messaging Formats

Theme Poster Brochure Bookmark Other
Healthful eating (Eat Healthy; They Will Too and Healthy Now; Healthy Later) 385 (85%) 258 (57%) 27 (6%) 5 (1%)
Active lifestyles (Move . . . It Matters) 331 (73%) 240 (53%) 18 (4%) 0
Water consumption (Water: The Choice Is Clear) 294 (65%) 227 (50%) 45 (10%) 5 (1%)
Saving money (Simple Savings and Savings in Season) 231 (51%) 294 (65%) 41 (9%) 14 (3%)

Participants who recalled the messages were then asked whether they planned to use any of the information from the materials. Lists of the top responses for each theme are provided in Table 5.

Table 5.
Respondent Planned Behavior Change

Behavior Frequency Percentage
Healthful eating
Keep fruits and vegetables available 293 78%
Share meals as a family 252 67%
Serve as a healthful eating role model 222 59%
Active lifestyles
Use tips to get active at home 132 57%
Water consumption
Drink at least one glass of water with meals or snacks 226 77%
Provide water to children throughout the day 203 69%
Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator 121 41%
Saving money
Check grocery ads for sales 148 64%
Buy in-season fruits and vegetables 134 58%
Use grocery list and calculator when shopping 118 51%

Finally, participants were asked about the formats they prefer for receiving information about healthful lifestyles. For each format, participants responded (yes or no) as to whether they preferred to receive information about healthful lifestyles in that format (Table 6).

Table 6.
Respondent Preferred Information Formats

Format Frequency Percentage
Posters 372 82.1%
Websites 357 78.8%
Brochures 353 77.9%
Apps 301 66.4%
Social media 298 65.8%
Online ads 246 54.3%
Magazines 230 50.8%
Newspapers 202 44.6%
Bookmarks 165 36.4%
Note. Frequencies and percentages represent participants who responded yes to indicate having a preference for receiving information in the identified format.


The results of this social marketing campaign have several practical implications:

  1. When designing Extension programming, Extension educators should not overlook the value of traditional methods. Our results indicate that adults still pay attention to and retain information communicated through these traditional methods. Print materials, displays, and posters remain valuable tools in the Extension teaching toolbox. For participants in our study, the top three preferred formats for receiving information about healthful lifestyles were posters, websites, and brochures. It is worth noting that bookmarks were not highly ranked as a preferred information source; this could be due to the lack of in-depth content contained on the bookmarks. Given its pervasive presence, it would be easy to assume that the web would be the best vehicle for conveying educational messages. However, as our study shows, traditional methods, including those involving the use of posters and brochures, are still preferred. The key for Extension educators is to design programming and messaging that leverages the best of each educational method for the target audience.
  2. Younger age is not synonymous with a preference for technology. Well over half (68.7%) of participants in our study were between the ages of 26 and 45. As digital natives and digital immigrants, this demographic is accustomed to and comfortable with accessing information using technology. Yet even in light of this fact, traditional print materials were still effective in reaching the audience and engendering behavior change.
  3. The environment is important. We designed our campaign to target limited-resource families through social service agencies. These settings often have waiting areas where participants can view posters, brochures, and bookmarks. Here participants were able to pick up, read, and digest the information provided all while waiting for services. Extension educators should continue to consider the environment in which their education will be taking place and how best to match educational methods with the educational environment.

Even in today's technology-rich landscape, traditional Extension methods are ideas that (still) work. Print materials, posters, and displays—although lacking the bells and whistles of newer technology tools—call us back to the basics as effective means for delivering Extension content and fostering behavior change.


Allen, K., Jolly, C., & Barnes, J. (2016). Using social media to engage and educate teen parents. Journal of Extension, 54(2), Article 2TOT3. Available at:

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The digital revolution and schooling in America. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Diem, K. G., Hino, J., Martin, D., & Meisenbach, T. (2011). Is Extension ready to adopt technology for delivering programs and reaching audiences? Journal of Extension, 49(6), Article 6FEA1. Available at:

Johnson, T., Case, P., Hyde, G., Kershaw, N., & Kraemer, L. (2018). Food preservation: Using technology-based tools to reach diverse audiences. Journal of Extension, 56(3), Article 3IAW5. Available at:

Kulshrestha, J., Zafar, M. B., Noboa, L. E., Gummadi, K. P, & Ghosh, S. (2015, May). Characterizing information diets of social media users. Proceedings of the Ninth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 218–227.

Parmer, S. M., Struempler, B., Funderbuck, K., & Parmer, G. (2017). Pioneering Extension nutrition education with iPad apps: A development story. Journal of Extension, 55(6), Article 6IAW3. Available at:

Sasseen, J., Olmstead, K., & Mitchell, A. (2013). Digital: As mobile grows rapidly, the pressures on news intensify the state of the news media. Retrieved from