Barriers to Internet-Based Learning Systems in a Select Virginia Agricultural Population
Chappell, Glenn Franklin II
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The purpose of this study was to identify the barriers Virginia agricultural producers encounter when using the Internet and their preferences when seeking information delivered via the Internet. The results are expected to provide Extension educators needed information about producer Internet use patterns and their preferences related to Internet-based learning systems. The survey population (N = 370) consisted of Virginia agricultural producers currently known to be using the Internet as identified by the county Agricultural Extension agents. Data were collected online via an interactive, encrypted Web site and analyzed with SAS/STAT software. The 186 usable producer responses indicated that they were predominately white (98.36%), males (82.87%) averaging 51 years of age with some college education. Their primary occupation was farm or ranch work (41.71%) with a gross value of agricultural sales of $100,000 - $249,999. Nearly 60% conducted Internet agricultural marketing activities; three quarters purchased agricultural supplies, 43.17% conduct non-agricultural Internet business, and 50% use dialup services to access the Internet. In total, 95.68% of the responding producers access the Internet at least once a week and 31.60% reported previous participation in Internet-based learning. Producers below 30 years of age considered their lack of experience/training to be less of a barrier than older producers. Time constraints associated with job responsibilities, isolation from other program participants, and their ability to learn at a distance were seen as greater barriers by males than females. Producers listing their primary occupation as other than farming saw time constraints associated with their job as a greater barrier than those retired but still farming. Producers with a high school education generally rated barriers associated with Internet-based learning as greater obstacles than those with advanced degrees. Following an exposure to an Internet-based learning experience, no differences were observed related to the producersâ age, gender, primary occupation, and the operationâ s gross value of agricultural sales and the selected factors. Producers making agricultural Internet purchases, perceived their motivation to participate in Internet-base learning as less of a barrier than those that did not. Generally, as the producersâ Internet use frequency increased, their perception of the barriers was reduced and those with previous Internet-based learning experience saw their ability to learn at a distance as less of a barrier than did those with no experience. A comparison of pre- and post-exposure data, revealed time constrains associated with job responsibilities, access to instructors/specialists, feedback/instructor contact, and the motivation to participate as the greatest barriers to Internet-base learning. Differences in pre- and post-exposure assessments confirm that producersâ perception of the barriers were worse than actuality. Extensionâ s Internet-based learning experiences should be accessible from a familiar Internet location. The learnersâ abilities and connectivity should be considered when developing systems to minimize barriers associated with these factors. Internet-based activities should be relevant to the learner. Experiences should be available in multiple formats including video, audio, print and combinations of the aforementioned. Learners should be afforded the opportunity to interact with the presenter/instructor via the most acceptable and timely means.
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