Learning and facilitation methods
A variety of learning methods can be used to transfer and exchange knowledge and to develop skills. It is important to realise there is no single right method, but that the actual choice depends on several factors, like for instance the group size & composition. The demo event should also contain a combination of well-considered and well-balanced activities, to support good learning conditions.
GROUP SIZE & COMPOSITION
The decision on the group size depends on the objective(s) of the demo and has a major impact on the format of your demo event.
- Smaller groups (8-15 participants):
- More effective for knowledge exchange, reflection and deeper peer-to-peer learning.
- Easier to manage.
- Small closed groups who meet regularly have built up trust, possibly enabling effective discussions.
- Larger groups:
- When the objective is to raise awareness and wide knowledge transfer.
- Help to attract sponsors and farm supplying companies.
- Need good audio and visuals
More homogeneous groups appear to be ‘prepared to share ’and to trust other participants, while groups made up of different types of actors can be beneficial to spark discussions and networking, by looking at the same problem together from different angles. This is of course also an important element when thinking about recruitment.
Also, the extent of familiarity between the participants can have a big impact on the group dynamics, and can influence the appropriateness of some learning methods over others. You need more organised facilitation methods to spark networking, sharing and discussions for groups that don’t know each other. A skillful and friendly facilitator can create a nice and friendly atmosphere and environment that makes it easier for farmers to speak openly and create a good discussion.
Split up large groups in smaller groups to increase active participation and discussion.
SELECTION SUITABLE LEARNING METHODS
There are 3 basic principles:
1 | Relate learning content to farming practice
2 | Engage participants in active knowledge exchange
3 | Use a variety of learning methods
1 | Relating learning content to farming practice
Pay attention to the broader context. Address the impact of the demonstrated practice or innovation on the whole farm, and also discuss the wider context (e.g. societal, economic, political). By providing this additional information participants can make more informed decisions on whether or not to adopt a practice or innovation.
Make use of the host farm, and the experience of the host farmer. The opportunity to visit another farm is often one of the main motivations of farmers to attend a demo, so it is important to link the demonstration content to actual farm management conditions on the host farm and provide as many practical examples as possible. This also means paying attention to problems, failures, mistakes or the negative side effects of a practice. These problems often reflect the barriers for adopting practices. So, when they are addressed and explained how they could be dealt with, they might contribute to the adoption of practices and innovations by the participants.
2 | Engage participants in active knowledge exchange
Offer opportunities for peer-to-peer knowledge exchange. You can increase participation in presentations and demonstrations, by e.g. actively giving participants the opportunity to share their experiences with the audience, by organising discussions with smaller numbers of participants, or by organising workshops in which active knowledge exchange is stimulated. Create opportunities for more informal knowledge exchange, by providing enough time for farmers to chat to each other, for example during lunch, drinks or workshops.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT FOOD AND DRINKS
Breakfast or lunch during which introductory speeches are held.
Food and drinks after the “formal part”, so people can discuss what they have seen or done.
Provide home-made goods, preferably by using ingredients of the host farm.
Provide food from local sources who are co-organisers or sponsors.
Provide refreshments and snacks as a break in between.
Offer a wide range of experiences and look for ways to surprise participants. Include a range of diverse activities. Examples may be field walks, observing practical demonstrations carried out by a demonstrator, and letting participants carry out hands-on activities. Such practical activities enhance learning and understanding, and also the interactions between participants. By adding a surprise effect to the demonstration activities, participants will more likely remember the information for a longer time. This surprise effect can be generated in different ways, for example, by skilful storytelling techniques, using an original engaging activity for participants, or by revealing a product/innovation during the demo event.
Create a stimulating and familiar setting. Arrange the meeting room/space in such a way that everyone can comfortably listen to and understand the speaker(s) and other participants. Some ideas are:
- Use microphones so that each participant can hear the speaker (in particular, when outside)
- Use visual material that each participant can see (i.e. do not use posters with small font size, which may be only visible to the front row)
- If indoors: put chairs in a circle/half circle, so everybody has clear sight of the other participants.
- Organise a “market” with different stands/presenters so people can walk around in smaller groups.
- Think about where you will hold discussions, considering that farmers tend to be more at ease in the field or barn, than in scholarly classrooms.
- Provide some funny icebreakers at the beginning of the event. Inspiration can be found on the internet, for example: The 10 Best Icebreaker Activities for Any Work Event or Icebreakers for Large Groups
3 | Use a variety of learning methods
Go for a combination. Various learning methods can be employed during demonstration events, e.g. posters, presentations, experiments, discussions, workshops, etc. These methods differ in the degree of interaction between demonstrator and participants and the active engagement required by the farmers, and appeal to different learning styles. Again, the choice of what combination of learning methods is being used depends on the objective of the day, and the group composition and size.
Adapt to different knowledge levels and learning styles in the audience. If possible, get an idea of knowledge levels of your participants in advance. If not, start with basic information for newcomers in the field. Typical types of learners are:
- Auditory learners prefer to hear the information. They often talk to themselves while they are studying or thinking. This can be supported by stimulating the audience to repeat the key messages out loud, e.g. by asking them questions.
- Visual learners prefer to see information and visualize the relationships between ideas, for example in infographics, charts, schemes and colours.
- Reading/writing learners prefer to read or write down information, in booklets or handouts.
- Kinesthetic (Physical) learners prefer to actually perform hands-on exercises and experiments.
Make use of suitable educational tools. Educational tools are all sorts of materials used during a demo to facilitate learning (e.g. hand-outs, videos, interactive electronic voting systems), to:
- Increase interaction: by, for example, the use of voting systems or interactive apps (e.g. Mentimeter; Kahoot)
- Visualise content: e.g. show equipment used on the farm, posters with engaging infographics (free online infographic makers on Canva), videos to show ‘good’ or ‘bad’ practices.
- Provide supporting information for the demo event: e.g. booklets with additional information on the host farm or a list of attendees. An example of this are the “farm walk booklets” published by Teagasc
- Provide information to take home: e.g. booklets with practical information on the demonstrated innovation. This is of particular importance, since participants don’t always have the opportunity to take notes. Make references to webpage, Instagram, Facebook if available.
Think about how to distribute materials during the demo event. If they are distributed during presentations it might distract participants. Some of this information can also be sent in advance to the participants.
A PROFESSIONAL AND FLUENT DEMONSTRATION EVENT
Follow the ”rule of three”. Provide three key messages that are repeated throughout the demo event and are also summarized at the end, as ‘take home’ messages for the participants. A good practice here is to bear in mind the “rule of three”. This principle, often used in advertising campaigns, suggests that formulating three key messages is more effective than other numbers.
Have a good facilitator present. Stimulating active participation is often missing during demos, most probably because of the lacking facilitation skills of demonstrators. The importance of a good facilitator cannot really be overstated, since he or she is pivotal during the whole event, making sure that everything runs in a fluent manner, actively engaging participants in discussions, and guiding them throughout the event. He or she can also collect questions that come up during the event.
Safeguard good time management. There is nothing as frustrating for participants as having to leave when the programme is not yet finished or having the feeling that the programme has come to an abrupt close. Make sure to appoint a time keeper during the event who helps to keep to the time schedule. This might be someone from the organisation or facilitation team, or in some cases (e.g. smaller groups) even a participant.
Plan for the unexpected. Some unforeseen circumstances can always happen, and it is advisable to think in advance and be prepared for the unexpected. Examples are bad weather forecast, groups size is too big or too small, group composition differs from what was expected (e.g. few active farmers), problems with equipment, problems with field trials, etc. For example, when bad weather is forecasted the demo can be postponed, or indoor presentations, videos, demonstration or discussion set-up could be planned as an alternative.