Category Archives: network literacy

Assumptions of basing our work on diffusion of innovation

In our last post, we asked you to think about why, as an adult educator, you do the things you do. We suggested that for many of us, especially those working in Cooperative Extension, the “why” was based at least in part in diffusion of innovation theory. Unfortunately, diffusion of innovation theory and the assumptions it leads to are causing us to fall short.

Most of the foundation of diffusion of innovation theory was established more than 50 years ago. In 1941 Bryce Ryan began studying how the innovation of hybrid corn, released in 1928, spread across Iowa. His 1943 study with Neal Gross showed that the adoption of hybrid corn began with a small number of farmers and diffused from there, implying that targeting innovative farmers to adopt innovation would speed up the adoption among all farmers (Stephenson, 2003).

The work of Ryan and Gross led to further studies, most notably by Everett Rogers, who developed the classic adoption curve and the categories of adopters in 1958.

Innovation Adoption Curve
Image by Jurgen Appelo, Flickr, downloaded 12/5/2016,

These categories and the resulting focus on innovators and early adopters have led to serious questions about Cooperative Extension’s reliance of diffusion of innovation theory, including Garry Stephenson’s question, “By Utilizing Innovation Diffusion Theory, have we caused harm in some way to the population we serve?”

Stephenson points out that a focus on innovators can widen gaps in equity. Innovators in agriculture tend to have higher incomes and larger operations than non-adopters. By marketing innovations first to innovators in hopes of influencing others, we may be widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. In agriculture, non-adopters can be further hurt when bigger operations adopt innovations that increase yields which lowers crop prices.

The focus on innovators is especially concerning in light of the work of Duncan Watts and his colleagues suggesting that under most conditions, social change is driven not by “influentials” (opinion leaders) but by easily influenced individuals influencing other easily influenced individuals (Watts and Dodds, 2007) (Thanks to reader Kevin Gamble, @k1v1n, for pointing out Watts’ work).

Watts says a trend’s success depends less on the person who starts it and more on whether the conditions favor that trend (Thompson, 2008). Creating the right conditions is complex. What makes not just one person, but a majority of people ready for change? It’s complex, and our reliance of diffusion of innovation theory leads us to simplification.

Cooperative Extension tends toward a one-size-fits-all approach that better aligns with our reliance on mass media. If we think of our audience as a homogeneous group, all equally ready for change, we can rely on a single message delivered on a limited number of channels to reach them.

Relying on diffusion of innovation theory also simplifies how we look at problems. It leads us to assume problems can be solved by innovations, especially those devised by “experts,” and especially those “experts” at our land-grant universities. However, not all problems can be solved by innovations. Cooperative Extension is being called upon to help address “wicked problems,” complex social issues that cannot be “solved.”

As we said in our previous post, diffusion of innovation theory is implicit in the logic model which in turn guides our program planning. But, as Thomas Patterson pointed out, our planning model has “failed to result in programs capable of solving ill-defined, complex human problems where there’s disagreement on the desired outcomes” (Patterson, 1993).

We need new theories that support our work in the areas where diffusion of innovation leads us to fall short.

Readers suggest alternate theories

In addition to Kevin’s suggestion that we look at the work of Duncan Watts, readers of our last post also suggested Embracing Chaos and Complexity: A Quantum Change for Public Health (thanks Peg Boyles @ethnobot), the Unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (thanks Jared Decker @pop_gen_JED), Extension 3.0: Knowledge Networks for Sustainable Agriculture from UC Davis  and Adaption – Innovation Theory from Virginia Tech (both thanks to Jeff Piestrak @Jeff_Piestrak). Each of these theories/efforts can serve to complement (and sometimes contradict) the theory of the Diffusion of Innovation.

If you are familiar with any of these theories, or others, which do you think holds the most promise for Cooperative Extension?

Authors: Bob Bertsch (@ndbob), Karen Jeannette (@kjeannette), and Stephen Judd (@sjudd)

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on January 11,2017.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Diffusion of innovation and asking why

In his book, “Liminal Thinking,” Dave Gray uses the term “The Obvious” to refer to our individual view of the world. “The Obvious” is a map that we’ve built up over time to navigate the world around us, and it influences most of the conscious decisions we make in a given day. We trust our map implicitly, even take it for granted, but rarely to think about how that map came to be.

The Pot Roast Story  is an example of relying on ”The Obvious.” In the story, a woman, for years, diligently follows a family recipe that calls for cutting the ends off a pot roast before cooking. When the woman decides to find out why the recipe calls for cutting off the ends of the roast, she finds out it was less about the result than the original circumstances.

Every day we make decisions in our life and in our work based on our individual map, on what we consider “The Obvious.” What if we looked deeper? What if we started to ask why we do the things we do? What is it we are actually trying to accomplish?

Cooperative Extension, like other adult education programs, has a mission, though the exact mission and wording varies state by state. The word cloud below captures the most common words in Extension mission statements from 32 states found on websites in October 2016. What stands out to you?


Viewing just the word cloud, we surmise that Extension is associated with universities, and uses education and research-based knowledge to improve and strengthen people, families, and communities. But why do we believe education and research-based knowledge will improve and strengthen people, families, and communities?

The answer, for many adult education programs, is grounded in the theory of Diffusion of Innovation. This theory provides an underpinning for much of what Extension does, and a substantial body of peer-reviewed literature has developed around it.

In a nutshell, “Diffusion is the process through which an innovation, defined as an idea perceived as new, spreads via certain communication channels over time among the members of a social system.” – A Prospective and Retrospective Look at the Diffusion Model, Everett M. Rogers, Journal Of Health Communication Vol. 9 , Iss. Sup1, 2004 []

Extension has developed as a system to communicate innovations (broadly defined) to our audiences, with the assumption that this will lead to the audience adopting innovations that will “strengthen and improve their lives.”

Diffusion of innovation theory is implicit in the logic model, which posits changes in knowledge lead to changes in action which lead to changes in condition. While it seems self-evident that people require knowledge before their behavior will change, do we do enough to consider, and affect, the other complex factors that influence changes in behavior?

We encourage you to read more about the diffusion of innovation, and ask if it sufficiently answers your “why question.” If it doesn’t, then what does? The next step is to delve a bit deeper with the diffusion of innovation theory and ask questions, e.g.:

  • Where does the innovation come from?
  • What is the role of Extension in developing or discovering the innovation?
  • What is Extension’s role in communicating that innovation?
  • Are there steps beyond communicating that will lead to adoption of the innovation?

In our next blog post, we will look at some of these questions, particularly through the lens of networks. In our view, networks can play a key role in facilitating the discovery and spread of innovations.

Authors: Bob Bertsch (@ndbob), Karen Jeannette (@kjeannette), and Stephen Judd (@sjudd)

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on November 16, 2016.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


Developing network literacy is a continuous process of, not only “becoming comfortable and proficient with tools to use in interactive online environments,” but also becoming knowledgeable about how to protect yourself and your online identify in an online environment.

One of the most common methods that criminals use to steal users online identity is by getting the user to reveal personal details through a method called “phishing”. Phishing is defined as a “criminal mechanism employing both social engineering and technical subterfuge to steal consumers’ personal identity data and financial account credentials.” Criminals often use very realistic emails asking the user to reveal personal information such as passwords or financial information.

Another form of phishing is called “spear phishing”. The difference between phishing and spear phishing is that spear phishing is sent to targeted individuals whereas phishing is sent to a mass of individuals. According to Forbes, spear phishing is an example of how John Podesta’s emails were hacked.  Criminals emailed Podesta from a spoofed webpage in which he was asked to change his password. After he clicked on the link, the criminals were able to access his emails with the stolen password. With the stolen password, criminals were able to use that password to connect to other social networks because the same password was used for his Twitter account.

In order to stay vigilant against phishing and spear phishing follow these recommendations:

  1. Never use the same password for any account
  2. Never go to a site by clicking on an email, instead type the url directly in the browser.
  3. Enable two factor authentication to prevent hackers from gaining access to a user credentials.

Please continue the conversation by adding more recommendations to the list and in the near future we will summarize the list.

Author: Terrence Wolfork (+Terrence Wolfork,@trwolfork )

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on November 3, 2016.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Addressing Complex Problems Within Networks

“Our responsibility is to really facilitate that across the entire state to start thinking like a network rather than an organization, and then our role as a statewide that we get to think like a movement.”

Think about it. Not Extension as an organization, not Extension as an institution, but Extension as part of a movement.

It’s been about a year since Steve Judd shared the book “Connecting to Change the World” with me. At the time I had been thinking about networks for years. I believed, and still do, that Extension professionals should be using networks to fuel their professional development and reach out to the people they serve.I didn’t fully understand, however, that Extension could be involved networks working to address complex problems.

Problems like climate, obesity, food security are difficult or impossible to solve because the knowledge around them is incomplete or uncertain, they are interconnected with other problems, and the situations around these problems keep changing. The traditional “expert” model and Extension’s dominant theory of change, diffusion of innovation, are inadequate to deal with these problems. Networks are particularly suited to addressing the issues around complex problems because they generate more solutions, more quickly; they are resilient, quickly filling voids when a person leaves; and they provide a way of approaching these problems from many different angles.

“Connecting to Change the World” tells the stories of collective action networks that are making a difference. It also includes information on why these diverse, decentralized networks were able to accomplish things no single organization, even Extension, could. Most importantly, the authors share strategies for building and strengthening networks that can collectively do meaningful, impactful work.

This book launched a conversation within the Network Literacy Community of Practice and the Military Families Learning Network. It also led me to seek out more information on collective action networks and Extension professionals who were working within them.

Which leads me back to the quote above from the conversation below. Some Extension professionals are already working within collective action networks and thinking deeply about what that means. I had the opportunity to talk with four of them. Jamie Bain, Noelle Harden and Stephanie Heim of University of Minnesota Extension are working within networks around food systems. They are also authors of the report, “Cultivating Collective Action: The ecology of a statewide food network.” Jeff Piestrak of the Alfred R Mann Library, Cornell University, has worked within networks to promote resilient agriculture and healthy food systems in New York state and beyond. Our conversation focused on why Extension should work within networks, what roles Extension professionals could play within networks, how Extension professionals could start thinking and behaving more like a network, and more.

Please share your thoughts, reflections and questions in the comments section below.

Download audio version

Bob Bertsch seeks and shares insights on weaving collaborative networks. He’s currently a web technology specialist with North Dakota State University Agriculture Communication and engagement coordinator for the eXtension Network Literacy community of practice. You can find Bob, @ndbob, and engage in this conversation using the hashtag #ExtCAN, on Twitter.


It’s 2016: Is Your Organization Moving From Training to Social Learning

Bob Bertsch, Steve Judd and I presented at the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals (NAEPSDP) in December 2015. Our topic of discussion was Building Networks for Organizational Learning. This post is a recap of my conversation on why organizations need to move from training to social learning.

Autistic Services Team Development (72)

Social Learning is not a new phenomenon, but rather it is based on the social learning theories of Albert Bandura, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and others. These theorist posit that learning does not occur through repetition as behaviorists propose, but rather learning occurs through individuals constructing knowledge through observation or their real world experiences. In essence social learning is learning as we always have, but with utilizing social media tools for access and scalability.

In support of social learning, the 70:20:10 Model holds that 70 percent of what people learn occurs from real-life and on-the-job experiences, 20 percent from people in our network, and 10 percent from training events. This model supports the position of organizations moving to social learning not as a replacement for training programs, but rather as a complement in organizations development programs.

Today, organizations must be vigilant in continuous social learning that is not possible in traditional training. Jane Hart, Founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, points out that “workplace learning is no longer something that is wholly owned and managed by L&D; everyone now has access to resources and tools to solve their own problems”. Furthermore, the late Jay Cross gave an excellent illustration of comparing traditional training and development to social learning. In his illustration he summarized it by comparing organizations of the past as worker-centric and individual focused to organizations of the future who are group-centric and work group focused.

Organizations have to transition from training and development to social learning organizations. Doing this requires organizations to embrace social learning tools and networks for knowledge transfer. Organizations that continue to practice the hierarchical control of knowledge will soon find that they are no longer relevant

Author: Terrence Wolfork (+Terrence Wolfork,@trwolfork )

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on January 12, 2016.

Photo from Flickr user Michael Cardus (Autistic Services Team Development) (CC BY 2.0)

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Talking about Slack with Rich Phelps

On Tuesday, October 20, 2015, I had an online conversation with Rich Phelps, eXtension Project Manager, about Slack. Slack is “a messaging app for teams” that can facilitate collaboration, particularly for distributed teams.

The conversation, which was presented as a webinar, focuses on why you might want to use Slack and how it is different than other communications tools. Since this was a discussion, rather than a show and tell, I’m posting the audio recording here, in case you are interested.

Download MP3

Thomas Vander Wal has a great post about what makes Slack different: Slack is more than chat: Why it is the trojan horse to better enterprise that is worth reading if you want to know more about Slack.

Author: Stephen Judd (@sjudd)

This article (Talking about Slack with Rich Phelps) was originally published Tuesday October 20, 2015 on the Military Families Learning Network blog, a part of eXtension.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Deepening Connections in Social Media

By Bob Bertsch, NDSU Agriculture Communication and MFLN Network Literacy

Make Emotional Connections
Photo by sorokti:Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

After co-presenting the MFLN Family Transitions “Engaging Military Families with Social Media” webinar with Bruce Moody, I have received a few emails from people wanting to learn more about social capital.

I’ve been talking about social capital since I first learned about it in Tara Hunt‘s book, “The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business.” Recently I’ve begun thinking about it more deeply.Hunt describes social capital as the currency of your reputation, specifically your online reputation. In sociology, social capital refers to the “collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups” ( I like to think of social capital like monetary capital, except with valued actions replacing money.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you need someone to help you move some furniture. There are many people you could ask; from a stranger on the street to your closest friend. The likelihood of someone agreeing to help you (without paying them) increase based on how much you have helped that person in the past. It’s the favor economy.

In social media, social capital matters. If you dive into social media and begin asking for favors (e.g., like my page, share my post, come to my event), you’re making withdrawals on your social capital. If you haven’t spent any time making social capital deposits (e.g., thanking someone for their post, suggesting your followers follow another page or account, answering a question), your withdrawals will give you a negative social capital balance, which negatively effects your online reputation.

In the webinar I mentioned earlier, I talked about social capital at the ground level to begin building a relationship with people. Now I’m starting to think beyond that to building the kind of social capital needed to deepen existing relationships.

I’m currently reading John Stepper‘s book, “Working Out Loud.” Although the term “social capital” does not turn up in the book, the concept is definitely present. The book helps individuals build a network that will serve them professionally, establishing and improving their online reputation.

Stepper touches on some of the initial social capital strategies I have spoken about, but also goes beyond those initial deposits to the kind of interactions that will deepen relationships.

According to Stepper, two keys for working out loud are generosity and empathy. I think both are also key to building enough social capital to deepen online relationships. As you try to make meaningful connections with those you serve on social media, I suggest you ask yourself these 3 questions (adapted from “Working Out Loud”):

  • Who is this for?
  • Why should they care?
  • Why am I doing this?

These are critical questions to ask when making social capital deposits.

Asking “Who is this for?” helps you be intentional with your posts. Having a specific person or group of people in mind can help you create posts with value – social capital deposits.

Asking “Why would they care?” requires empathy. The answer to that question should not be  “because I say it’s important” or “because I want them to know.” You need to put yourself in the mind of the specific person the post is intended for and sincerely imagine why they would care.

Asking “Why am I doing this?” speaks to generosity. If the answer is “to get more likes/shares/comments”, STOP. Approach social media in the way you approach your work with military families, with generosity and a sincere desire to help.

These questions will help you avoid treating social media as mass media. By focusing on a specific person, putting yourself in their mind, and sharing out of generosity, you can avoid using social media as a bullhorn and begin to use it in a way that can have the most impact, to deepen connections with people and connect people with each other.

Bob Bertsch has worked in communications, education and web technology for more than 20 years. He’s currently a web technology specialist with North Dakota State University Agriculture Communication and a member of the eXtension Network Literacy community of practice, which works to engage professionals in a community built around learning in networks.  

The archived webinar “”Engaging Military Families with Social Media” can be viewed at  Learn more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Transitions at

Security Practices Reviewed

Do you really know the best ways to stay safe online? A recent post on the Google Online Security Blog showed that average web users focus on different tactics than those favored by security experts.

In the blog post, Iulia Ion, Rob Reeder, and Sunny Consolvo highlight the results of two surveys they conducted. One was with security experts and one with users of the web who weren’t security experts. The two groups were asked to list the three best practices for remaining safe online. As the graphic (from the original post) below shows, the opinions of the two groups diverged, although both had recommendations about password usage.

Image from Google Online Security Blog post - New research: Comparing how security experts and non-experts stay safe online
Image from Google Online Security Blog post – New research: Comparing how security experts and non-experts stay safe online

I thought it would be useful to look at these recommendations and provide some of my thoughts:

Install Software Updates

Experts’ top recommendation was to install software updates – why? All software is prone to bugs, and many of these can be exploited by “bad guys” to compromise a user’s computer. As these bugs are discovered and the exploits employed, vendors provide patches for their software which fix the bugs. If you don’t keep your software up-to-date, you are unnecessarily exposing yourself to the risk of being compromised.


Experts advise using strong, unique passwords, while non-experts only advised strong passwords. By using unique passwords for each site, you can reduce the impact of a single site being compromised or your password exposed. Think about it this way – if you use the same strong password for every site you visit, what happens if one site gets hacked and someone finds out that password? Now, the “bad guys” have your password for all the sites you use.

Using strong, unique passwords presents challenges, like, how do you remember all those passwords, especially if they are non-memorable? That’s why the number four recommendation of experts is to use a Password Manager. Most reputable password managers keep your passwords encrypted, so they can only be unlocked with a master password or fingerprint – now you only need to remember one strong password, and the rest can be unique and non-memorable.

Non-experts recommend changing passwords frequently, but that really only provides protection against passwords being exposed and used long after the fact. This recommendation is likely made because many enterprises encourage (force) their users to change their passwords every six months.

Two-factor Authentication

Experts also advise the use of two-factor authentication. This means that, in addition to your username and password, you must have something else to prove who you purport to be. Many services, like Twitter, will send you a text message with an additional authentication code, if you configure it that way. This means that even if someone has your username and password, they wouldn’t be able to log in as you from a new device (most two-factor authentication can be set to only prompt for the second factor every 30 days, or when logging in from an unrecognized device.)

Anti-virus software

The number one recommendation of non-experts was to use anti-virus software. Why didn’t experts recommend the same? Since new bugs and exploits are being discovered all the time, anti-virus software often doesn’t catch the latest problem. If you believe that having anti-virus software will protect you from all threats, then you may be less cautious and let your guard down.


Being an active participant in online communities and using online services entails some level of risk that your personal information will be misused. Adopting some of the expert-recommended practices outlined above will make it a bit harder for the “bad guys,” and doesn’t impose a large burden on you.

Author: Stephen Judd (@sjudd)

This article (Security Practices Reviewed) was originally published Thursday August 27, 2015 on the Military Families Learning Network blog, a part of eXtension.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Inventory Your Digital Assets

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®

Last year, my brother-in-law passed away. A pretty tech savvy seventy-something, he used computers a lot for online bill-paying, online shopping, and financial account access. As family members gathered from points all across the U.S., I observed his sons trying to make sense of missing or illegible usernames, passwords, and security questions. It was a real “teachable moment” for me as I saw first-hand what happens when people pass away without a list of their digital assets.

Photo by Wilson Hui (Creative Commons License 2.0)
Photo by Wilson Hui (Creative Commons License 2.0)

The term “digital assets” refers to personal information stored electronically on either a computer or an online “cloud” server. Anyone who uses e-mail, has a password protected cell phone or iPad, uses social media, makes online purchases, or pays bills or does banking online has digital assets. Like all Americans, military families have many digital assets that often need to be accessed far away from home. Digital assets generally require a user name, password or PIN, and/or security questions to access and can be difficult or impossible to retrieve if someone is incapacitated or passes away.

Encourage service members to take the time to record their digital assets using the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Digital Assets Inventory Worksheet that I developed. They should then keep this information in a safe place and share it only with a power of attorney, executor, and other trusted person who would need to have it. Writing everything down will also help them keep track of their digital life by itemizing account access details in one place so this information is available when needed. Below is a list of categories:

  • Electronic Devices- This category includes all of a person’s electronic gadgets including a smart phone, tablet, laptop computer, desktop computer, and external hard drive.
  • Benefit Accounts- Examples include airline miles, Amtrak railroad miles, hotel rewards program points, and online accounts for retailer reward/loyalty programs.
  • E-mail Accounts- Specific examples include Yahoo!, Google Gmail, AOL, Outlook, Hotmail, Juno, and an employer’s E-mail account.
  • Financial Accounts- This category includes bank, credit union, and brokerage accounts, and online access for mutual funds, retirement savings accounts, credit cards, employee benefit accounts, PayPal, and Social Security.
  • Online Merchant Accounts- Included here are accounts that someone creates to make online purchases from any retailer. Specific examples include Amazon, Blair, Chadwicks, eBay, Etsy, Zappos, and Wal-Mart.
  • Organization Accounts- Include here access information for professional societies, membership organizations, and personalized charitable organization donation web pages such as those for American Cancer Society fundraisers.
  • Photography and Music Accounts- These are web sites where people store often irreplaceable family photos and music. Examples include Instagram, Snapfish, Flickr, and a digital music library.
  • Publication Accounts- This category includes online access to newspapers, magazines, and blogs.
  • Social Media Accounts- In this category are various types of social media that often include intellectual property and personal photographs. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.
  • Video Accounts- This category includes web sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, that are used to store videos that people create for personal or professional use.
  • Virtual Currency Accounts with Cash Value- Many people have digital currency with real U.S. dollar currency value stored in web sites such as Bitcoin, Farmville, Second Life, and World of Warcraft.
  • Web Site Accounts- This category of digital assets includes domain names, hosting services, online business accounts, and cloud storage sites such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Apple iCloud.

Once military families have inventoried their digital assets, they are not quite done. The final step is to include specific language in estate planning documents (e.g., will, trust, and power of attorney) that authorizes a fiduciary to handle digital assets, as well as tangible assets, in the event of their death or incapacity. Digital assets should be referred to in a will, as someone would similarly do for a list of untitled personal property. However, do not include them in a will. A will becomes a public document when someone dies, which will not keep digital asset data secure.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on August 11, 2015.

VLE #MFLNchat recap

The Personal Finance Virtual Learning Event, held June 2-4, featured daily Twitter chats focused on the topics discussed in that day’s webinar. The webinar speakers were on hand to answer questions and to dig deeper in to the topics discussed in the 90-minute sessions. Here, you can view all the tweets shared during these daily chats, including great discussion on promoting positive financial behavior change and resources to share and use with clients.