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)
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).”
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.”