New review published on climate change curricula for adult learners in agriculture and forestry

Adult education class raising hands to ask questions

by Rachel E. Schattman, Research Fellow, USDA Northeast Climate Hub


Researchers from the USDA Northeast Climate Hub, Rutgers University, and the University of Vermont, recently asked: what makes climate change curricula for adult learners effective?

To find out, the team reviewed 12-curricula focused on land-management and climate change adaptation. Together, they found that successful curricula were not only designed to meet specific audience needs, but were also often developed by interdisciplinary teams and took a project-based approach.

There is scientific consensus that the climate is changing, and that agricultural systems will be directly and indirectly affected.

It is expected that increasingly disruptive weather patterns will pose greater challenges to agriculture and other land-based industries. Because of this, agricultural and forestry advisers and other technical service providers play an important role in supporting land manager decision-making around climate change. A recent survey of researchers and Extension professionals in the Northeast showed that ‘training Extension educators and providing them with support on climate change’ was perceived as one of the most important priorities related to climate change for Land Grant Universities (LGUs)i.

However, not all agricultural and forestry advisers are comfortable talking about climate change with land managers.

Educational curricula that target land-managers, agricultural and forestry advisers, and other technical service providers can help. Specifically, well-designed curricula can support advisers to incorporating climate change information into their services. These curricula can also support farmers use of climate information when they make management decisions.

But what is a curriculum? Some say that a curriculum is the knowledge and skills a learner will gain through education, in addition to their ability to thrive within society, practice reflection, and growii.

Curricula can utilize a variety of education tools depending on the goals, objectives, and audience. These can include courses, as well as classes, workshops, experiential activities, service learning, and more. To better understand best practices in climate change curricula development for adult audiences, the research team reviewed 12-curricula which had been developed and implemented between 2001 and 2017. These curricula targeted land managers and/or professionals in the fields of agriculture, forestry, and water resources. In this review, themes and reflections emerged across the curricula sample.

The findings suggest that developers of future educational programs need to consider the following: (a) the specific needs of their audience, including topical interests and learning needs; (b) the use of interdisciplinary teams for curricula development; (c) tradeoffs associated with inclusivity and depth of course content; and (d) the advantages of project-based education approaches suited for adult learning audiences. By applying these concepts to future curricula, these curricula are likely to have the greatest level of impact.

iTobin, D., Radhakrishna, R., Chatrchyan, A., & Allred, S. (2017). Addressing Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture and Natural Resources: Barriers and Priorities for Land-Grant Universities in the Northeastern United States. Weather, Climate, and Society, 9, 591–606.

iiSimpson, D. J., & Jackson, M. J. B. (2003). John Dewey’s View of the Curriculum in The Child and the Curriculum. Education and Culture, 19(2), 23–27.

Published manuscript:

Schattman, R. E., M. Kaplan, H. M. Aitken, and J. Helminski, 2019. Climate change curricula for adult audiences in agriculture and forestry: A Review. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 25(1): 131-151. DOI:

Funding acknowledgement:

This project was funded by USDA Joint Venture Agreement 14-JV-11232306-103, the Rutgers Climate Institute, University of Vermont Extension, and USDA NIFA Award #2017-68002-26728.