Isn’t that Obvious?

Like many people, I usually think that what I’m doing is obvious to everyone.  And then this happens!

Recently my husband ordered wood blocks for our grandson…you know…adding something to the order to get free shipping.  He loved playing with blocks as a little kid, so wanted to have them so that the grandkids can enjoy them.

Anyway, the blocks came with instructions!  I thought that was hilarious….and kept them as I have been analyzing this decision to include instructions for a whole week now.


The wooden blocks came in a nice little wooden box with a slide open lid.  To add this simple piece of paper with instructions to the blocks they shrink wrapped the box, then attached a plastic pouch to the side with these instructions neatly folded up inside.  Of course I had to open up the pouch to see what was inside because the shipping receipt was packed loosely in a bigger box along with the wooden box.  And I was delighted to see the “instructions for play”.  The method of packing made me realize that the company had went to great expense to add these instructions to the wooden blocks.  And while I thought it was obvious how to use them….apparently it isn’t to everyone, or the company would not have went to the expense and additional human labor to include the instructions.  

And, I could be a little critical of the instructions….because they could have added some other uses…like the ability to use the blocks for simple classification of items, like by color, or by number/letter.  Or that the “to play” list wasn’t exactly written for a specific audience.  You see if someone is going to learn letters from the blocks, they probably can’t read the instructions.  And if the instructions are written for parents/guardians/babysitters of small children, they didn’t include the age/stages information that would be helpful to go along with the play instructions.  Like toddler may use them to learn the alphabet, numbers, colors etc.  While older children (kindergarten and 1st graders) might use them to do simple math problems or build simple structures, whereas an upper elementary child may use them to build complex structures.  But that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here.

Last week I also shared a lesson plan with an Iowa parent.  I immediately received back a question about how long the lesson plan would take…and I responded with that depends.  You see if you do it this way, it’s a one hour lesson…if you do it this way, it’s a four hour lesson, and if you do it this way, you can stretch it out all summer long. And I looked at my lesson plan and realized that I had not put estimates of time on the lesson plan, nor had I put the variations that I had shared with the parent and how each variation would emphasize a different aspect (scientific concept) of the lesson plan, targeting a little bit different age group, and have a little different expectations about the knowledge level of the participating youth.

But then today it hit me….what I might think is obvious in my area of work, might not be to everyone!  Do we really look at the materials we create from the end users perspective?  Do we pilot these materials with end users and take into consideration their feedback?  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have Extension curriculum in a database format, so that the end user could enter the age of a participant, subject area interest, or key scientific concepts to learn, or even the area of the state that the participant resided in, and the database would spit back out the perfect lesson plan/workshop designed specifically for that clientele?  ……Making each lesson plan highly relevant to the end user!!!

Isn’t that our ultimate goal?  Using research from the University and boiling it down to consumable, highly relevant, information for our clientele!  Then layering that information with our knowledge about how/who the information is highly relevant to and how it’s relevant….neither error on the side that the clientele obviously know the information and we aren’t programming to their knowledge level nor that we assume they know things that they do not and program beyond their needs or knowledge level.

We know that the greatest opportunity for educational impact occurs at the front edge of the bell curve of knowledge in our expertise area.  So that is the area to program toward.  Because if all we are feeding is obvious solutions or if all we are feeding is beyond the learner…we are diligently programming ourselves into irrelevance?

One small step for Extension, one giant leap for impact!


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