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Moving an experiential learning program online

By Ann Nordby

Next week I'll co-present at the National Urban Extension Conference about 4-H online adventures. It's a model we're developing for delivering hands-on experiential learning online.

The seemingly opposite ideas of "hands-on" and "online" are actually very compatible.

If you've ever searched on Youtube for how to prune hydrangeas or change a tire, you understand the value of video for teaching. If you've ever shared your own video on Facebook, you probably did it because it explained something better than you could do in words. You may also have experienced how online games can do more than entertain – they can teach and enlighten.

Our team still has many questions. For example, we’re still discovering how best to integrate evaluation, what are the best dosage and duration of a learning module and how to take it to scale. None of our questions has to do with whether to move our program online. There are compelling reasons that we must.

It’s where youth are

Most young people are online daily. Most have smart phones. They play games, watch videos and connect with others -- all online. Many of them use tablet devices to do their school work.  Youth programs need to meet them there.

It extends our reach

Extension and 4-H have a long history of offering youth programming, but we’re playing catch-up with some audiences. Some barriers to participation such as transportation, responsibilities at home and busy schedules, have long been known. Offering online activities goes a long way to overcoming these barriers.

It’s what we do

Extension’s mission is to connect Minnesota’s community needs to university resources. We've had a network of staff in offices throughout the state for 100 years, but online learning offers young people more direct access to university experts.  Our online adventures topics offer youth the chance to learn skills they'll need in their future careers. For example:
  • Right now we're offering The Better World Film Festival, a six-week smart phone videography course led by a 4-H youth worker who is also studio recording professional.  Media literacy is a 21st century skill
  • Last summer, 4-H'ers in the Pollinator Super Heroes adventure played games, had a backstage tour of the University of Minnesota’s entomology lab and a chance to ask U experts questions about insects and pollination, all in the broader context of food production and climate change.
  • Our next online adventure will be a cultural exchange. They’ll learn how to talk about differences and work with people who live very differently than they do.

Are you combining online and experiential learning, or aware of someone who is doing this well? My colleagues and I are very interested to know about it. What approach are you taking? How is it different from ours?

-- Ann Nordby, online communications & learning

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