By: Brian Flanagan as a USAID-funded Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) project
Published: 2016-01-25

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In EDN 127, we mentioned that a number of MEAS (Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services) documents were being summarized and distilled for ECHO’s audience. An article on Farmer Engagement in Agriculture Extension was shared in EDN 128, and we want to continue to highlight these articles as good resources for extension work. Other ECHO summaries of MEAS docs can be found on ECHOcommunity.org.

Introduction

Workshops are an often-used and effective tool that extension workers can use to teach new skills to groups of farmers (Fig. 1).  This document, drawn from the USAID/MEAS Technical Note on Presenting Workshops to Adults, explains how a workshop setting differs from that of a classroom/teaching setting, and how best to plan and conduct workshops to effectively transfer knowledge and skills to farmers.

ECHO Summary of MEAS Technical Note:  Presenting Workshops to Adults - Figure 1

Figure 1.  Participants practicing grafting cuts at a workshop on grafting in Haiti. (Source: Brian Flanagan)

Adults attend workshops for varying reasons, depending on their needs and motivations. Some are asked by supervisors to attend while others are looking to interact with peers. Other participants may have a specific problem they want solved, or they may simply want to learn more about a specific topic. Farmers in any given workshop will have a mix of these expectations and goals.  The challenge for the workshop designer, therefore, is to identify those expectations and craft the workshop to best engage and meet the needs of the participants.

Workshop characteristics

Workshops, like other teaching settings, require facilitators who can successfully apply adult education principles to share new knowledge.  However, workshops also have unique characteristics that differ from other teaching settings.  Four key characteristics define a workshop:

  • Short-term intensive learning
  • Small group interaction
  • Active involvement
  • Application of new learning

Guidelines for conducting workshops:

To conduct effective workshops, the following elements are recommended:

  • Plan workshops around very specific learning objectives. Too often, workshop designers try to include excessive information, with little being learned because of the amount shared.
  • State the intended outcomes and their importance stated early in the workshop.
  • Develop workshop instruction around solving a problem or completing a task that is relevant to the participants.
  • Provide an opportunity for participants to share their own experiences about the topics being discussed. Then use these real-life examples to highlight the key objectives of the workshop.
  • Allot time for participants to practice new skills learned at the workshop.  Participants who practice newly learned material in the workshop are more likely to remember and implement these new practices when they return home.

Key workshop interactions

Three important types of interactions should occur in workshops:

  • Facilitator ↔ Participant
  • Content ↔ Participant
  • Participant ↔ Participant  

These interactions facilitate active involvement in the learning process, enabling participants to engage with the facilitator, the material and other participants.   Such positive interaction is an important aspect of effective workshops.  

If lecturing is used in a workshop, it should be brief. As learning is a social experience for most adults, plan times for participants to share and learn from each other in small groups. The workshop should also include an opportunity for participants to actively apply the new knowledge and skills learned during the training. 

Summary

Workshops can be an effective extension method if properly designed and facilitated. Workshop designers should facilitate an active learning process in which participants engage with the material, but also with the presenter and fellow participants.  These interactions help farmers to readily acquire new knowledge and put into practice what they have learned.

References

Myers, Brian E. 2011. Technical Note on Presenting Workshops to Adults. Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services.

Further reading

Barrick, Kirby. 2012. Methods and Techniques for Effective Teaching in Extension and Advisory Services. Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services.

 

Note from the editors: In selecting and using any extension approach, it is important to learn about existing ways in which farmers adopt new ideas and practices. Joel Matthews shared the following, based on his experience in West Africa:

“Here is what I discovered in my research: Many farmers already have a system in place for evaluating and disseminating new techniques and plants. However, development facilitators, perhaps because they focus on introducing change, are unaware that a system of innovation already exists right under their noses. Why is this a problem? When we operate without awareness of a pre-existing system, we may be working at cross-purposes with that system.
“It is also important to recognize that indigenous systems of innovation may contradict the standard social science theory, known as Diffusion of Innovations, that explains the adoption and spread of new ideas. This is important because Diffusion of Innovations directs development facilitators to approach opinion leaders in hopes of convincing them to adopt a particular technique. This is done because it is believed that once opinion leaders adopt a technique, others will follow.

“Among societies such as the Hausa, however, the actual innovators live on the margins of society and have the least social capital. People eventually follow their lead, but only gradually as the innovation spreads among less and less marginalized folks. Eventually the innovation reaches the opinion leaders. This is the opposite of what Diffusion of Innovation predicts.

“The point being, that if we do not realize that competing systems of innovation exist, and then we do not take time to understand and work with those systems, we may wind up working against them. This may explain why after successfully demonstrating new techniques and training farmers how to utilize them, they often fail to continue with the programs. Very likely we have bypassed, confused, or reversed their system of innovation. When facilitators understand these systems, they can choose to work within rather than outside of them. This may be one of the most important ways to promote the ‘bottom-up development’ that is universally recognized as the path to sustainability.”

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