REVISED in August 2015
As a youth engagement program, 4-H has long been an educational arm and extension of land-grant universities (LGUs) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As it adjusts to accommodate the school-age youth population and engage adult facilitators through the use of technology in learning, some commonalities may need some consideration. From a broad or global perspective a common online platform for learning and acknowledgement of learning with national, state, or local recognition functions may be helpful. While the various land-grant institutions and their 4-H programs may provide online learning through various learning management systems to its youth audience within their respective states or territories, might there be a need for a learning platform that crosses geographic boundaries? To what degree does social media play a role in engaging youth in 4-H as well as the broader youth population? Would online learning communities or networks be useful and effective?
Further, in engaging the broader youth audience from which 4-H draws its members and participants, user registration and costs of sustaining such a system must be a consideration. Would economies of scale help keep costs for users very low or free for many resources? The youth population is also mobile, meaning that their connection to online learning resources is through mobile devices while often interfacing with social media. Connecting to knowledge and learning is also largely open and free as is sharing what is learned with others is largely free and open. Accommodating a younger audience is a challenge as well in that learners under the age of 13 must especially be assured of a safe and secure environment. In addition, is the online learning resource ultimately provided exclusively to 4-H or designed for the larger and broader audience. Certainly, the online learning platform and environment may be provided by a collective effort though 4-H and its supporting institutions thereby providing exposure to 4-H and the opportunity to become involved as well. Would this approach be a positive strategy in extending the 4-H experience beyond the traditional audience?
Another notable point to consider is what happens to 4-H engagement past the ages or 11 and 12 or the 6th and 7th grade. In most states there is a precipitous decline in participation as youth enter junior high and high school. While there are various factors that contribute to such a decline, might there be an opportunity through technology to extend the engagement and even attract a broader audience? Could it be that 4-H, in collaboration with its academic units of their home institutions, offer online learning to the broader audience of youth ages that connects them to career pathways?
These and other points and questions are things to consider as 4-H strives to become a 21st century learning experience. What are your thoughts? Please feel free to comment and contribute to what will be a continuing dialogue.