Agriculture: an origin of peer education techniques

Farmer Field Schools are an extent example of peer learning (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Agriculture  has been a proving ground for peer learning for quite some time. Peer  learning has been used as a supplementary method to education from  formal extension education. This track record has generated a rich  source of data, and some neat research on what works and how.

This article on peer education for farmers in Iowa is one I’d like to pull out here. (I’ll share more of what I’m learning  from the agriculture sector on peer learning over the coming time)

Unlearning

The  article points to the value of peer learning to a particular segment of  education, where learning involves combining new knowledge with  existing knowledge, the latter of which might be highly appropriate or  might not be appropriate at all.

This  relates to entrepreneurship education where you have to deliver to a  range of levels of prior knowledge in the same room, from those with no  entrepreneurship background, to those who’ve read the book, to people  who’ve actually walked the walk.

“Regardless  of quality or status, prior knowledge is full-bodied and resistant to  change. Adults must undergo an active process of unlearning before new  knowledge can be acted upon in ways that are appropriate (Mezirow,  1991). Therefore, primary tasks of the educator are to: surface adults’  prior knowledge and, if needed, to assist adults to unlearn what they  already know (Brookfield, 1987).”

Experiential

The  article becomes nice and practical in its explanation of the weakness  of structured lectures in this context for transferring knowledge, like  through power point presentations. These fail to put their finger on  misconstrued preconceptions of learners carrying prior knowledge, and  thus impede learning. See the example below:

“An  instruction could also organize a role play or another experiential  event and observe naturalistic behaviors. For example, the instructor  might provide a (mock) pesticide mixing tank, display a collection of  objects that might be found near the mixing station (safety gloves,  goggles, cigarettes, donuts, a wash station), and ask attendees to  prepare for handling pesticides “as they normally would.” If learners  physically perform the movements themselves, then their actions can be  compared with recommended practices.”

Experiential learning is an essential basis for delivery, as the authors explain:

“Making  fears, as well as hopes, public can be cathartic and lead to important  insights (Heron, 1999). It also provides information for the peer  educator, enabling targeted follow-up. The idea is not to talk someone  out of their fears or reign in their hopes, but to let permit fears and  other emotions to be part of the learning experience. When learners are  restricted to the expression of technical concerns, their learning is  also restricted.”

What the educator needs

The  point of the article is to look more closely at the needs of the peer  educator herself. You can sense the value of peer education from what is  mentioned above. However, it’s not straightforward which technique to  use for which lessons, and contexts. That requires education design,  testing, and educating the educator.

It is part of Source Institute’s mission to do this work, as well as build platforms where experiences from  others can be shared. All in the name of enabling people who carry  relevant knowledge about entrepreneurship to provide it to the world.

“To  deny peer educators an opportunity to develop as teachers out of a  notion that their “natural” qualities make them automatically  successful, smacks of romanticism and denies non-Extension change agents  a chance to develop personally and professionally.”