By Sarah Baughman, Ph.D.
I would like to introduce you to the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN). We are a network of faculty and staff from land grant universities (LGUs) across the country. Land grant universities were established by the federal government starting in 1862 to provide military arts, agriculture, and engineering (mechanical arts) education to the “working classes” and have evolved to generally have a mission focused on teaching, research, and extension or outreach.
We provide online professional development for military family service professionals and Cooperative Extension System (CES) professionals as part of the Department of Defense (DoD) – US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Partnership for Military Families. At first glance, this seems an unlikely team however, the USDA is the Cooperative Extension System’s federal partner and has a history of working with DoD to provide research and programming from LGUs/CES.
Why the MFLN?
At no time in history has the public had access to so much information and advice. With the swipe of a finger we can read about the latest trends in medical research, read heartbreaking stories of personal sacrifice, and access a myriad of resources for military families. It is challenging, both personally and professionally, to sift through the “firehose” of both good and bad information available to us every day. The MFLN’s role is to create and organize or curate research and evidenced-based resources and information for professionals serving military families.
Professionals serving military families and veterans are faced with thousands of organizations offering an amazing array of information and services for veterans and military families; much of it available free online. Our network can help you sift through this sea of goodwill, with information to learn, share and engage with other service providers to improve your practice and ultimately improve the lives of the service members, families and veterans you serve.
Why Cooperative Extension?
Perhaps best known for its agricultural roots, the Cooperative Extension System is a decentralized national program based within land grant universities across the country. CES connects university research to people and communities across a broad range of subjects including agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, youth development, and community development. Through a network of local and regional offices, CES faculty and educators have programs in almost every county in the country. The DoD-USDA Partnership leverages the resources of universities and Cooperative Extension in support of military families. In addition to the MFLN, the DoD-USDA Partnership for Military Families includes the Penn State Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness and the University of Minnesota REACH project.
Virtual professional development offerings are developed and delivered by nine teams of faculty working in partnership with the Department of Defense Office of Military Community, and Family Policy. Our faculty engage with participants in the areas of building community capacity, family development, early intervention for families with special needs children, military caregiving, caregiving for families with special needs, network literacy, nutrition and wellness, personal finance and family transitions.
Our educational programming began in 2011. In the last five years more than 10,000 people have attended or watched one of our webinars. Our innovative programming includes more than 150 hours of educational videos, 569 blog posts and has reached over a million users on Twitter and Facebook. A total of 11,525 continuing education units (CEUs) have been earned across all of our content areas. These efforts have contributed to participants indicating that they “felt prepared to teach clients about the new content they have learned” (92%), “intend to apply information learned to their work” (95%) and expressing “a belief that the content is not easily obtained elsewhere” (74%).
In practice, professional development offerings vary across content areas with all teams using a mix of webinars and social media including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter as well as short video blogs, podcasts and storytelling. A hallmark of our work is innovation and a willingness to try new ways to reach military and civilian provider audiences while also appreciating the reality of credentialing. Where appropriate, our webinars include CEUs from the National Association of Social Work, the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning and several other state and national level credentialing agencies. All of our programs are free and open to anyone.
Behavioral health professionals may be most interested in the work of four of our nine teams:
Community Capacity Building (CCB) focuses on educating communities on building partnerships and resources to best support and improve the lives of military service members in their local communities. Current CCB work focuses on the Community Capacity Building Curriculum available free to military and civilian work forces on My Training Hub. In addition, the CCB Blog is highlighting stories of capacity building across the country.
Military Caregiving provides professional development to service providers working with wounded service members or military families with special needs. This team includes a both caregiving expertise as well as expertise in the areas of families with special needs (school age and above). The special needs team focuses on audiences within the DoD Exceptional Family Member Program. Programmatic offerings include an excellent series of short Caregiving Videos, a strong social media presence, webinars and online courses and a series of Caregiving 101 resources.
Our Family Development team includes both family advocacy and early intervention for families with children with special needs (birth to 5). The family advocacy team focuses family strengthening, family violence prevention and treatment and recognizes that military families may face unique challenges and situations that can positively or negatively impact family life. The early intervention team strives to to enhance the capacity of professionals working with military families with young children with or at risk for disabilities and developmental delays. The team is currently developing a series of podcasts focusing on the real life issues and challenges many families encounter and practical solutions to reduce ripple effects. Additional offerings include webinars, blog posts and social media outreach.
Family Transitions, one of our newer teams, focuses on transitions families encounter throughout the life cycle including relocations, deployment, re-integration, separation from the military, marriage, divorce and having children. This innovative team has a broad audience and is effectively using webinars, social media and a mix of storytelling media to engage audiences. A highlight of their work is a recent podcast series interviewing a military couple about military life, deployments and finally separation from the military.
Supplementing the work of all MFLN teams is the Network Literacy Community of Practice. This unique group of experts in technology and its applications concentrates on helping military family service professionals use online technologies to enhance communications, sharing, and learning. Through webinars and social media, developing network literacy is a continuous process of becoming comfortable and proficient with a variety of tools to use in interactive online environments. As the demographic for military families changes and technology impacts that demographic to new and far reaching levels, understanding and proficiency of technologies and strategies are critical.
We invite you to attend one of our webinars, engage with us on social media and join the conversation.
Upcoming and Archived Webinars: http://create.extension.org/node/90189
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/MilitaryFamilies
Twitter - @MilFamLN
LinkedIn – Email Baughman@vt.edu for an invitation to our private group
Dr. Baughman is an Assistant Research Professor with Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech. She is currently the National Project Leader for the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) and holds a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in Agricultural and Extension Education and a B.A. from the University of Virginia in Sociology. Prior to her work with MFLN, Dr. Baughman worked as an Extension Specialist and an Extension Agent with VCE. Her areas of expertise include program development and evaluation, youth development, network building and quantitative research methodologies. She has published 11 journal articles and presents regularly at national conferences on evaluation, the MFLN and social media programming/evaluation. She can be found on twitter at @programeval.