An extension educator works to bring the benefits of university research and training to members of the community outside of the formal university setting. Many extension educator jobs are in the field of agriculture and the life sciences. In other cases, an extension educator may work to provide healthcare services and information to under-served populations. A significant number of university extension programs also offer more general interest education and training, and an extension educator working for this type of program could teach very nearly any subject.
Extension education is based on the idea that universities should have an active and ongoing relationship with the communities and populations that they serve. Universities, especially public institutions, in the United States, have long had a tradition of sharing research and information with interested members of the general public. This allows for the knowledge produced in an academic setting to be disseminated more widely, so that men and women who spend most of their time engaged in non-academic pursuits can still benefit from university research.
Information about crops and animal husbandry is frequently shared in this fashion. An extension educator might teach classes in soil conservation, crop rotation, or other such subjects at a local community outreach center. Some educators work with local groups, such as 4-H, to help teach young people. In other cases, an extension educator working in agriculture might be responsible for fielding questions from the general public in areas ranging from the application of pesticides to large commercial crops to the cultivation of personal vegetable gardens.
A second mainstay of extension education is the field of health education. Many university programs offer free clinics or free training in fitness, nutrition, child development, and many other health topics. An extension educator who works for this sort of program may conduct small classes on issues of specific interest, such as pregnancy or the prevention of childhood diseases. A portion of this work may also be conducted via the Internet and may involve direct questions and answers from members of the public.
Other sorts of extension education provide ongoing adult education, and are intended to offer either an alternative path to a college degree or opportunities for personal growth. Distance learning programs are often managed by extension centers, and an extension educator working for this sort of program generally has all the same responsibilities as any other faculty member teaching in a distance learning program, and extension educator requirements for these programs typically reflect this fact. Other extension educators provide short classes that cater to individual interests, ranging from pottery to history, which are meant to provide an opportunity for personal development, but do not offer degree credit.