The Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project is testing different training approaches and methods such as couples training, mixed-group training, coaching and mentoring, direct training and training of trainers (ToT). This blog story shares preliminary observations on potential advantages and disadvantages of a mixed-group training approach used in LIVES.
Traditionally, homogenous group training offers targeted information to specialists such as development agents and farmers separately on the ground that they have different training needs and levels of knowledge and skills. In such contexts, mixing participants who have different training needs and levels of knowledge and skills is not the best way of providing effective task-oriented training. However, homogenous group training programs limit interaction, cross-learning and joint action among farmers, subject matter specialists and development agents.
To address this limitation, the LIVES project is experimenting with mixed-group training where farmers, development agents and subject matter specialists come together in a farmer-focused training program. A review of these training events shows that the mixed-participant training has several advantages over the homogenous group training approach. The advantages of mixed-group training approach include:
- Facilitating experience sharing, learning and problem-solving among participants.
- Subject specialists and development agents help in localizing learning activities, providing feedback and responding to questions raised by farmers during the training.
- Facilitating joint action plans by farmers and development agents, which creates ‘social pressure’ to help farmers apply knowledge and skills and on development agents to provide coaching and mentoring support to farmers.
Training farmers or development agents separately can lead to challenges in effectively transferring learning. If farmers are trained alone, development agents may not have the incentive to support trained farmers to apply knowledge and skills. Likewise, if development agents are trained alone, farmers may not be keen to reach out to development agents to seek new knowledge and skills, as they will not know what the development agents were trained in. Mixed-group training can address this kind of learning transfer constraint.
After one of these mixed-group training events in Yilmana Densa District in Amhara region, farmers asked for representation of line departments in future farmer training programs so that the government official could support and follow up with farmers on the application of the learning. Farmers said joining these mixed-group training programs motivated and gave them confidence to interact with development agents. Additionally, discussions with farmers and development agents in North Gondar and West Gojjam zones of Amhara region showed that practical training and action planning help them in applying new knowledge and skills. Farmers appreciated practical demonstrations and use of audiovisual materials during training sessions. When asked about the knowledge and skills they gained, they were able to recall what they saw and practiced more than what they heard.
Learning by seeing and doing are the most effective methods of applying knowledge and skills from training sessions. Farmers are motivated to use, in their farms, what they observe and practice during training program and study tours to other well-performing farms as it enables them to see and judge the likely results of applying new skills and knowledge.
Lastly, it is important to contextualize and present information within the thinking and practice framework of farmers. Development agents help to contextualize training activities by articulating the problems of farmers, giving practical examples and assisting training facilitators during practical sessions. This is probably why farmers prefer mixed-group training to homogenous group training.
The LIVES project will continue to document evidence on the advantages and disadvantages of mixed- and homogenous group training approaches in order to characterize conditions where these training approaches are most appropriate.
Written by Mamusha Lemma, capacity development and innovation expert, LIVES.