The Extension Foundation, in partnership with a research team from Ohio State University, has released a new report on emerging technologies. The “Extension Foundation Report on Emerging Technologies Impacting the Cooperative Extension System” was supported by funding from the New Technologies for Agricultural Extension (NTAE) project.
The report was developed by the research team in part through interviews with a panel of thirteen experts representing all five Extension regions, as well as non-Extension personnel. Panel participants were selected based on their background and experiences in adult learning and development, applied technology use, and innovation.
The research team was led by Dr. Jerold Thomas, an associate professor with Ohio State University Extension/Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership (ACEL). Dr. Thomas is also affiliated with OSU’s Leadership Center, where he serves as a leader for innovation and change. Other members of the team include Dr. Julie Aldridge, Assistant Research Professor, Ohio State University, College of Engineering; and Emma Newell, Communication Specialist and Researcher, Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership, Ohio State University.
The research goals were to identify emerging technologies, and to propose impacts on Extension programming, professional development, and policy through 2025. The research process was impacted by the pandemic and first-hand experiences of the research team and panel, who, like other professionals across the nation, were thrust into work-at-home environments. Research for the report included primary and secondary sources, and focused on the following questions:
- What emerging technologies will be most important to Cooperative Extension programs over the next three to five years?
- What key trends do you expect to accelerate the adoption of emerging technology across Cooperative Extension programs?
- What significant challenges may impede the adoption of emerging technologies across Cooperative Extension programs?
The panel and research team identified seven emerging technologies of critical importance:
- 5G mobile wireless technologies
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Adaptive learning
- Assistive learning technologies
- Internet of things (IoT)
- Adaptive/Virtual technologies
The report provides a helpful summary of each technology and includes a discussion of the potential impacts and possibilities represented by each for Extension work. The digital divide and larger equity issues (including algorithm bias) emerged as a major challenge and critical issue to consider with all emerging technologies. Other recommendations from the report center on professional development, and policy.
Dr. Thomas noted that "This report is a good starting point for Extension professionals to learn about the impacts of emerging technologies on the Cooperative Extension System. This includes understanding changes in our systems of professional development, how we work, policies, and others. Online discussions about the report are being planned to share the findings, seek input, and develop conversations about the report's implications for Extension."
Dr. Thomas will hold a webinar discussing the report and its findings on Tuesday, October 20th, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. ET. Look for more details in early fall.
Extension Foundation has a long tradition of investigating new and existing trends around innovation and technology. The 2016 Horizon Report (Freeman, et al., 2016) focused on emerging technologies in the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) through 2021. That report is available here. In 2020, Extension Foundation published an eFieldbook on using digital technology in Extension education. The Extension Foundation’s Connect Extension platform provides an opportunity for Extension professionals interested in technology to participate in the technology in Extension education virtual subgroup. Join Connect Extension here.