Extension - Education

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Society of American Foresters                                                                               International Society of Tropical Foresters


Extension - Education

A. Scott Reed and Viviane Simon-Brown, Universidad Nacional de Misiones, Argentina


The origin of Extension has its roots in early American history when an agricultural nation chose to organize special universities funded through grants of federal land to provide practical education to average citizens. Extension services are located at these “land grant” institutions throughout the United States. All such extension programs share a common mission—to help solve practical problems and address high-priority forestry issues using research-based, objective education designed with input from clients. Other references to this function include technology or knowledge transfer, outreach and sometimes public service.

The goal of this chapter is to describe the elements of effective knowledge transfer that match important information with receptive learners who can use that information. Effective knowledge transfer is predicated on engaging these learners in ways that make the educational content clearly relevant to their circumstances, on building alliances with others, and working to adapt both past experience and new knowledge to improve operational practice. Learners represent an array of recipients, or “clients” of extension education who derive value in knowledge and enhanced decision-making abilities. Such clients include landowners, resource professionals, the forestry workforce (loggers, haulers, ecosystem treatment contractors), and assorted general audiences such as youth and the general public.

Extension programs are most effective if their leadership and staffs are provided an operational environment that respects and nurtures the role of such nonformal education. Institutions that engage in the transfer of knowledge to the forestry community have highly variable organizational structures, but share the common goals of helping both researchers and practitioners to solve problems, manage their resources, and better engage with people—all of which contribute to the long-term sustainability of forests and provision of their many benefits.

Three key factors are required for successful extension of knowledge-- a common policy foundation, an empowering institutional environment, and effective program design principles.

Extension is one of several policy alternatives that may be considered to stimulate private behavior in the public’s interest. Other approaches include technical assistance, financial subsidies, and regulation of forest management (Adams, 1996). Extension education is most effective when its activities and motives are not confused with, and in fact supported by the other tools of public policy. As used elsewhere in the world, extension sometimes describes implementation of government policy or advisory services of the type offered by the private sector through forestry consultants. Reed et. al. (1997) offer a definition of extension to include:

“…an informal educational system to meet the needs of identified forestry audiences (learners), carried out by a partnership of the Cooperative States Research, Education and Extension Service (federal), Universities (state), County Governments (counties) and the learners themselves using a variety of educational methods suited to the learners”.

Reflective of the hierarchy of governmental approaches, the success of an extension service may be enhanced through three organizing principles that have allowed the growth and performance of US-based Extension programs. First, responsiveness to locally-identified issues helps to ensure receptivity of educational programs that address the expressed needs. Second, recognition that informed citizens build human and community capacity in a democratic society. Third, achievement of broad social goals such as sustainabilty or a skilled workforce, is made possible through non-formal, adult education providing appropriate combinations of new knowledge, skills and abilities.

Institutional factors influencing success include the extent their staff succeed in helping audiences understand the alternatives available to them and consequences towards addressing their issues and problems. In addition, stability of funds over relatively long periods of time allows program staff to make durable commitments to clients, and allows levering of base funds through seeking of extramural resources to address emerging or critical needs. Finally, recruiting and rewarding staff requires seeking or developing skills in technical and appropriate disciplinary areas, educational design, and interpersonal communication.

Effective educational design is defined by four fundamental features:

Needs identification

As a provider of client-oriented education, forestry extension programs seek input and advice from representative perspectives within the forestry community. Often, organized advisory committees provide ongoing input to specific projects and/or geographic regions of the state. Surveys are occasionally conducted to gain responses to specific questions, especially when the community of interest is widely dispersed or otherwise difficult to assemble. Interviews and focus group techniques can provide flexible discussions with strategically-sampled or representative samples of target groups. Scanning for relevant issues in the media and other expressions of public concern is another technique through which program priorities may be developed.

Educational Design

The pedagogy of adult education provides helpful guidance for extension educators. The credibility of extension organizations depends upon delivering high quality, timely educational experiences that match the needs and abilities of learners. High-quality programs are enhanced by consideration of known models of information diffusion that segment populations into classes of readiness for adoption of new technologies. Extension educators learn to recognize community leaders who, through their role as innovative leaders, demonstrate and stimulate behavioral changes among latent adopters of new technologies or behaviors.

Research on how to effectively teach adults generally stresses the practicality of their educational experiences. Motivated adult learners value incorporation of what they already know into relatively short, highly-applied and action-oriented solutions that provide skills to address items of concern to them.

While adults seldom enjoy lectures, diversity in human learning styles encourages educators to use a diverse array of approaches to sharing information. Individuals best retain information that includes combinations of verbal, textual, visual and experiential exercises.

Specific performance objectives are important to match content to the learner. For example, some landowners may need a general level of awareness about a particular issue, such as forest health risks affecting their woodlands. Others with acute management challenges such as reforestation, need knowledge and skills in successful establishment of the next forest.


The relationship of Extension educators to other institutions is key to expanding a sense of ownership and commitment to working together on common issues. The nature of a relationship varies, and may be characterized as cooperation, collaboration or true partnership. Cooperative relations are appropriate where one organization requests assistance from another. Collaboration usually occurs where there is partial overlap in the missions of two or more organizations who agree to work together on such common elements. True partnership exists in more rare circumstances where organizations share completely in purpose and goals. In a partnership, one organization will never disadvantage another, and all partnering institutions are motivated and rewarded by the success of the partnership.

Extension programs are enhanced if productive working relationships are established with communities (of place and of interest), public and private organizations, multidisciplinary teams, and stakeholders.

Accountability and Evaluation

Appropriating bodies, such as state legislatures and the U.S. Congress are increasingly demanding evidence of the return on financial investment in public institutions. Extramural funds also carry responsibility to the benefactor for demonstrating program accomplishments. Measures of such accomplishments may be characterized as inputs, outputs and outcomes. Inputs are measures of the amount of resources, time and funds that have been invested. Outputs describe the educational activities, people reached and their initial reactions to the programs. Outcomes are regarded as the most powerful form of evaluative evidence. They attempt to measure the meaningful implications of new knowledge, skills, and behavior toward some socially-desirable end result. Outcomes are usually the most difficult form of evaluative data to produce.

Emerging Issues

Emerging issues in the U.S. Extension System include the need to better recognize and reward those who work within communities utilizing multidisciplinary approaches to education. This is complicated by the departmentalization of university faculties where initial evaluation of performance is conducted when a faculty member is being considered for promotion. New definitions of scholarship are being developed at universities that better recognize true quality in extension and other specialized faculty assignments.

In summary, there are numerous challenges associated with extension program success. Some are inherent in any contemporary organization; others are unique to the mission and purpose of extension. The challenges include use of new and developing information technologies that make it possible to reach people very efficiently. Tools will be needed to match technologies to peoples’ needs and capabilities to use them. New approaches to program evaluation are needed to best assess the performance of distance educational approaches compared to traditional means.

Long-term engagement of extension educators with clients creates life-long learning relationships. Rather than offering episodic events, linked curricula can establish a pattern of service that helps stimulate continuous adoption of research-based knowledge

Extramural funding can enhance publicly-appropriated financial resources which have been steady or declining in real terms, leading many extensionists to seek additional resources through funding innovations. While developing grant proposals is most common, some programs increasing look to formation of new cooperatives around special issues, development of long-term demonstration forests, implementation of user fees and other approaches as ways to enhance programming capability.

Program success establishes powerful bonds between extension staff and clients that may discourage development of new and different programs. Tools are needed to help identify when and how to conclude a program and/or hand it off to another institution more geared to program maintenance.

Reward systems typically recognize individual accomplishments. Because of the complexity of issues, many contemporary extension programs must involve an appropriate mix of technical and other disciplines to effectively address the issue.. Creating meaningful rewards and recognition for this teamwork will be increasingly important.

The demand by stakeholders for additional accountability will require increasing attention to measurement of the impacts of extension programs. Documentation of results and successes through systematic program evaluation helps to ensure program excellence and continued support. The extension community will benefit from additional intellectual development of tools and models for efficiently collecting data that supports measures of program performance.

(See also: Education: Professional; Education: Public Relations, Environmental)

References and Further Reading

Adams, Paul W. 1996. Addressing forestry issues for the future: A vision for coordinated research, education and assistance programs. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 51:2, 126-129.

DeYoe, D. and C. Hollstedt. 2003. A Knowledge Exchange System: Putting Innovation to Work. Paper presented at the 6th IUFRO Extension Working Party Symposium. Troutdale OR. 8 pp. http://www.iufro.org/science/divisions/division-6/

Johnson, J. 2003. Best Practices in Forestry Extension – A State Perspective. Paper presented at the 6th IURO Extension Working Party Symposium. Troutdale OR 9 pp. http://www.iufro.org/science/divisions/division-6

Kellogg Commission. 2000. Renewing the Covenant: Learning, Discovery and Engagement in a New Age and Different World. Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, Washington, DC.

Norland, E. 2003. Best Practices in Extension Forestry: What We Know and What We Do. Paper presented at the 6th IUFRO Extension Working Party Symposium. Troutdale OR. 9 pp. http://www.iufro.org/science/divisions/division-6/

Patterson Jr, T. 1991. Tomorrow’s Extension Educator-Learner, Communicator, Systemicist. Journal of Extension, V29, n1, Spring

1991. 5 pp. http://www.joe.org/joe/1991spring/fut1.html

Reed, A.S., J.J. Garland, and L.E. Biles. 1997. Extension Forestry Organizational Processes, Programs, and Policies. In: Proceedings, Approaches to Extension in Forestry--Experiences and Future Developments. International Union of Forestry Research Organizations Working Party, S6.06-03. September 1996, Freising, Germany, 117-136.

Reed, A. S. 1999. Key Factors in the Success of Extension Forestry Programs. Paper presented at the 4th IUFRO Extension Working Party Symposium. Bled, Slovenia. 6 pp. http://www.iufro.org/science/divisions/division-6.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation. (2000) Logic Model Development Guide: Using Logic Models to Bring Together Planning, Evaluation, and

Action. http://www.wkkf.org/Pubs/Tools/Evaluation/Pub3669.pdf

Posted: June 2006

Updated: 21 April 2007

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