Action Learning for Sustainable Agriculture: Transformation through Guided Reflection

By Battisti, Bryce T.; Passmore, Cindy et al. | NACTA Journal, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Action Learning for Sustainable Agriculture: Transformation through Guided Reflection


Battisti, Bryce T., Passmore, Cindy, Sipos, Yona, NACTA Journal


Abstract

The Action Learning form of Experiential Learning stipulates learning be achieved through actions oriented toward enabling individual or societal change. Here, we situate Action Learning within a larger exploration of Experiential Learning and argue that Sustainable Agriculture (SA) education aligns best with Action Learning. While more traditional experiential learning generally follows a pattern: an impulse to do/learn something, an experience, reflection on that experience, formation of cognitive generalizations, and repetition of the same or similar experience in light of one's newfound knowledge, Action Learning formalizes the reflection process by organizing learners into groups, or sets. Members of Action Learning sets challenge one another to question their assumptions as they reflect on their experiences. This critical self-reflection is essential to transform learning beyond what is already known. The prescribed nature of the reflection process means that individuals don't usually use Action Learning in their daily lives and that it is rarely used to teach college students despite being an ideal approach to teaching agricultural sustainability.

Introduction

Learning Sustainable Agriculture (SA) requires more than mastery of the technical agronomic knowledge and skills to grow crops (Parr et al., 2007, Francis et al., 2001). Students of SA study ways to create a food, fiber and fodder system that is environmentally safe, socially just and economically viable and does not limit the options of future generations (Lieblein et al., 2000). To think and act against the prevailing industrial paradigm of profits at any social or ecological cost, SA students find themselves questioning the attitudes and assumptions about agriculture with they were raised and which are still predominant (Bawden, 2000). For learners to question their own assumptions and world-views they must experience a change of heart (affective learning) in addition to developing increased knowledge (cognitive learning) and skills (psychomotor learning) (Sipos, et al., 2008). Requisite for the affective dimension of learning is for learners to care about the world and their place in it (Dewey, 1997). Gruenewald argues, "places are fundamentally pedagogical because they are contexts for human perception and for participation with the phenomenal, ecological, and cultural world" (2003, p. 645). To achieve a place-based agricultural education, "it is not just the content of the [agriculture] curricula that needs to be changed, but also the way students are taught" (McRae, 1989 p. 200). Key SA education stakeholders agree that in addition to being place-based SA education needs to be interdisciplinary and experiential (Parr, et al, 2007, Rarsten and Risius, 2006).

Engaging with the three domains of learning, including cognitive, affective and psychomotor - or head, heart and hands - may enable transformative experiences and learning (Sipos, et al., 2008). In particular, integrating these domains of learning may ultimately lead to perspective transformation: the process of questioning and adjusting one's world-view in light of newfound knowledge (Mezirow, 1995), and/or transformation of the behavioral domain: the interaction of cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning that shapes the way one behaves (Hauenstein, 1998). One learning model that holds promise for providing students with place-based, transformative, experiential learning in agriculture at the college level is Action Learning (McGill & Brockbank, 2004). The balance of this paper situates college-sponsored Action Learning historically and within related experiential learning theories by first exploring a general framework for understanding experiential learning and then taking a more specific look at Action Learning. Our central argument is that Action Learning is an ideal approach to SA education, but one that will require significant, although not unprecedented, changes to college curricula. …

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