Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 9, Issue 2 - December, 2016


Developing high-quality, low-cost online training materials for adult learners

Daniels, C. H., Extension Specialist, Washington State University
Miller, Megan M., Undergraduate Student, CAHNRS, Washington State University


A new online Pesticide Policy training package was created for Washington State University primarily by using Adobe Spark, Audacity and SoundCloud. These programs are free and can be used by anyone to create high-quality audio and visual forms of communication to educate adult learners. Although this subject matter focuses on a single university’s policy, understanding how to refresh existing online content applies across extension programs.


Resources for internal programming are not as plentiful as they once were. To see the considerable collection of articles confirming this observation, just search for “budget cuts” in past issues of the Chronical of Higher Education or the Journal of Extension.

One approach to doing more work with less money is to use virtual training through webinars (Vandenberg at al., 2011); another is through asynchronous modules (Robideau & Vogel, 2014). This article reports on the approach we used to refresh existing online training for university employees. Although our subject matter deals narrowly with pesticides, understanding how to cost effectively refresh existing online content or create new training modules applies more broadly to all extension programs.


In 2007, Washington State University (WSU) and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) worked together to recommend an every five-year training schedule for WSU employees on using experimental pesticides. This recommendation resulted from a self-reported minor incident involving use of an experimental pesticide by a WSU employee. While WSU has maintained a comprehensive and specific employee Pesticide Policy since the early 1960’s, this incident made it clear that many employees either didn’t know of the policy’s existence or didn’t understand how the policy applied to them.

In 2007, the Pesticide Coordinator conducted five mandatory-attendance workshops to present the full policy at WSU’s major research and extension centers across the state. The three-hour presentations incorporated exhaustive question and answer sessions. Although all employees reported satisfaction with the in-person training, many also reported difficulties in rescheduling their workloads to accommodate these workshops, especially during their busy season. Given the breadth and scope of research and extension activities conducted by WSU, busy season overlaps are the norm, especially for field crews.

Accordingly, in late 2012, the Pesticide Coordinator created a set of online training modules in Macromedia Breeze®. At that time, Breeze software licenses were held centrally by WSU and faculty were offered the opportunity to create training materials. The Macromedia program uses PowerPoint® slides to present material, and enables a voice recording for each slide; the program also has a notes feature that enables hearing-impaired viewers to read along with the narration.

Three modules covered just the policy basics: using and recommending pesticides, organic pesticides, and using experimental pesticides. Additionally, links to the written policy were provided, as well as contact information for the Pesticide Coordinator for follow up Q&A. Run time for the three canned-lecture modules totaled approximately 36 minutes. The modules were posted on the publically accessible Employee Resources section of Washington State Pest Management Resource Service’s web site (

Informal feedback from employees indicated that:

  • They appreciated 24/7 accessibility of the online modules.
  • They valued being able to participate in individual Q&A sessions more than general ones because discussion related solely to their issues.
  • As just one of many university policies vying for employees’ attention, it wasn’t clear to them why they needed to fully understand this one.
  • “Legal stuff” is dense and boring.
  • Module length encouraged them to work on email while listening to the presentation.


New Approach

The 2007 WSDA-WSU agreement required that existing training materials be refreshed by early 2017. Budget constraints dictated using free software. Employee feedback indicated that training needed to be revamped to meet specific learner needs.

Literature searches indicate that adult learning differs greatly from that of younger students. In the 1970's, researcher Malcom Knowles (Ota et al., 2006) coined the term andragogy to express this distinction. Knowles identified six key principles that contribute to adult learning:

  • Need to know
  • Self-concept
  • Prior experience
  • Readiness to learn
  • Learning orientation
  • Motivation to learn


According to Ota et al., significant emphasis should be placed on the “need-to-know” and “prior experience” principles when developing and implementing education programs. (Ota et al., 2006)

According to the research of Strong et al. (2010), lectures are the least effective strategy; adult learners cited them as, “dull, uninteresting or boring”. Videos are a very popular teaching tool, both formal and informal, as evidenced by the more than 300 hours of videos uploaded to YouTube® every minute (Statistic Brain, 2016). Although, it can be argued that some of that content is not “how to” videos as much as “wouldn’t recommend you do this” content. Regardless of the engaging quality of a video, according to Guo et al., as cited by Brame (2015), video length significantly affects viewer engagement (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The impact of content length on viewer engagement.

Strong et al.’s research also suggested that, “Adults are able to apply new information and skills effectively when the knowledge is applicable to them practically”.

This finding led authors to redesign 36 minutes of pesticide training modules in such a way that they:

  • Communicated information that was directly and clearly relevant to employee’s jobs (e.g., continued employability, specific research tasks, self-values on health and job competence, etc.)
  • Were less than nine minutes each

Another important consideration in developing learning modules is encouraging an adult learner’s self-concept and engaging their self-directed learning skills (Ota et al., 2006). In other words, enable the learner to take control of their education and to decide when, where and in what form to consume information.

Providing a variety of materials that enable adult learners to watch, read or listen to information is important, particularly at a self-determined pace (Kinsey, 2010). These findings were the foundation we used for refreshing our employee Pesticide Policy training modules and making them more engaging.


Materials and Methods

Literature Search

A literature search was conducted to gather data on how to best approach the WSU Pesticide Policy training module update, using these key words:

  • Adult learners
  • Communicating with the adult learner
  • Educating the adult learner
  • Outreach
  • Online learning
  • Successful learning strategies
  • Successful online learning techniques
  • Educational podcasts
  • Educational videos
  • Color-blind individuals

We reviewed ten Journal of Extension articles to identify effective educational strategies and approaches to enhance an online adult learner’s educational experience and comprehension level. Four of these articles were used primarily to guide the project.


Content Restructuring

All previous training content, in text form, was copied into Microsoft™ Word® for use in the final media. Several free, online programs were evaluated for their ease of use and range of hosted content, as shown in Table 1.


Table 1. Software Platform Comparison

Brand Name Free















Breeze (now Adobe Connect)


Only in


Yes Yes Yes Yes



Adobe Spark Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes More variety
PowToons Yes; limited trial Yes Yes No Yes Yes More variety
Audacity Yes Yes Yes No No Yes NA
SoundCloud Yes No Yes No Yes Yes NA


For creating training videos, Adobe Spark and PowToons met the criteria for range of content hosted and ease of use, in addition to being free. Adobe Spark, which also offered web page creation and hosting options, was chosen as our platform.

Workflow to create Module 1 is described in Figure 2 below. The same process was used to create Modules 2 and 3.

Figure 2. Workflow for Training Module Refresh

We shared each video with four separate internal reviewers via a Dropbox account at Workflow Step five. Resulting changes in the narration were made in both videos and attendant scripts.

To accommodate hearing-impaired viewers, video transcripts were provided as Adobe PDF files and linked next to each video module. Podcasts of these transcripts were created using Audacity software, uploaded to SoundCloud, reviewed for fidelity, and the links posted next to their attendant video module.

Finally, the three web pages created through Adobe Spark were published to the publically available Employee Resources section of the Washington State Pest Management Resource Service home page, to replace the outdated modules.



The challenge was to find a versatile, free, easy-to-use platform that we could use to create content designed to work for adult learners. No single platform had all of these attributes. However, it took only a moderate amount of work to integrate several platforms in order to satisfy the needs of the project. The major work of writing the training content had already been done in the original modules.

Original tutorial content was kept, but it was reformatted in the following manner based on literature search results:

  1. Need to Know

Added clear statements of employee liability when working with pesticides during employment at WSU.

  1. Self-concept

Added a clear explanation of training content; encouraged viewers to pick and choose relevant training materials.

  1. Prior Experience

Gave a clear explanation of commonly misunderstood concepts.

  1. Readiness to Learn

Shortened training materials and added more visuals to better engage viewers.

  1. Learning Orientation

Added short videos, transcripts and podcasts to accommodate all learning styles.

  1. Motivation to Learn

Gave a clear explanation of how knowing the policy will better inform viewers’ on-the-job decision-making.


Examples of Training Content 

Figures 3-7 provide examples of training content.

Figure 3. The original pesticide policy training was a narrated PowerPoint presentation and had either no graphics or limited graphics.


Figure 4. The original tutorials were limited to long, narrated PowerPoints, with notes for reference, forcing viewers into a specific learning style.



Figure 5a and 5b. Two Adobe Spark post examples.


Figure 6. Screen shot of Module 1 Spark Page.


Figure 7. Screen shot of Video 1 of Module 1 Spark Page; note PDF transcript link at bottom of figure.

The three updated modules now consist of 16 informational posts, eight videos with PDF transcripts and eight podcasts that collectively reflect the same 36 minutes of original training content. Benefits to the viewers are that content is available using three different types of media.

By starting with a multi-use focus, we were able to minimize duplication of work by reusing original training material as video narration and podcast scripts, publishing the same as transcripts for viewers, and recycling specific training material into posts with the simple addition of an image.

Video creation, the largest part of the effort, took less than two weeks. The entire project took one person a total of five full weeks, including becoming familiar with the software and performing internal peer reviews.



Media formats were chosen to make the educational material more attractive to online learners and to enable users to learn at their own pace. The versatility and flexibility of the online Adobe Spark program enabled us to integrate all important facets of the pesticide policy into videos and posts, and then compile them into an interactive blog format known as the Spark Page on Adobe Spark. Links were then embedded to bring the viewer to either a podcast or a PDF transcript of the video. This platform enabled us to compile all of these resources on one web page that functioned as a single module.

In all, three Spark Pages were created for the three separate modules ­– Overview, Organic Systems, and Experimental Use Pesticides – that together represent the full Pesticide Policy training package.

These online education modules, developed with Adobe Spark, SoundCloud and Audacity software, should provide an attractive and effective learning environment for adult learners by giving them the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace – a key that is paramount in andragogy (Kinsey, 2010).


Literature Cited

Brame, C.J. (2015). Effective educational videos. Retrieved from: 

Kinsey, J. (2010). Five social media tools for the extension toolbox. Journal of Extension {On-line}, 48(5) Article 5TOT7. Retrieved from:

Ota, C., DiCarlo, C. F., Burts, D. C., Laird, R., & Gioe, C. (2006). Training and the needs of adult learners.” Journal of Extension {On-line}, 44(6) Article 6TOT5. Retreived from:

Robideau, K. & Vogel, E. (2014). Development strategies for online volunteer training modules: A team approach. Journal of Extension {On-line}, 52(1) Article 1FEA6. Retrieved from:

Statistic Brain Research Institute. (2016). Publishing as Statistic Brain. Retrieved from:

Strong, R., Harder, A., & Carter, H. (2010). Agricultural extension agents’ perceptions of effective teaching strategies for adult learners in the Master Beef Producer program.” Journal of Extension {On-line}, 48(3) Article 3RIB2. Retrieved from:

Vandenberg, L. & Reese, L. (2011). Virtual training for virtual success: Michigan State University Extension’s virtual conference.” Journal of Extension {On-line}, 4499(6) Article 6IAW2. Retrieved from:



We gratefully acknowledge and Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs for supplying Creative Commons images used in our modules and in Fig 4b, and Vanderbilt University for Fig 1.