The 2012 Census of Agriculture [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2014] indicates that Hispanic/Latino farm owners represent a promising next generation of specialty crop growers. While principal operators of all farms decreased by 4% between 2007 and 2012, Hispanic principal operators increased by 21%, and average age was younger (USDA, 2014). U.S. horticultural crop sales increased 18% between 2009 and 2014, which represents a significant opportunity for a rising generation of aspiring Hispanic/Latino growers (USDA, 2016).
There is a paucity of research on extension and outreach programming specific to the needs of Hispanic/Latino specialty crop producers. However, studies with other groups of adult agricultural learners indicate trends that may also apply to this group of adult learners. Several studies have shown that active learning techniques are highly effective with adults who participate in agricultural extension programs. Strong et al. (2010) looked at the perceptions of extension educators who facilitated various teaching strategies for adult farmers and reported that hands-on learning was considered more effective than lectures and slideshow presentations. Irani et al. (2003) also evaluated adult learning through the perspective of educators and found that use of a variety of active learning strategies was associated with the motivation to learn. Surveys of university personnel and producers indicated extension educators could better align teaching styles with learning styles through hands-on demonstrations and participatory programs (Johnson et al., 2008). Participants suggested more programming on producers’ farms with extension personnel facilitating educational networking.
Evaluations of teaching methods specific to the needs of young and women learners have revealed similar trends. Trede and Whitaker (2000) conducted surveys of beginning farmers and identified experiential learning and problem-solving activities that involve both physical and mental capacity as key to the promotion of critical thinking. Dollisso and Martin (1999) assessed learning preferences of members of a young farmer association and found practical, hands-on experiences were most preferred. A survey of women farmers found participation-style workshops and on-farm demonstrations were preferred educational formats (Barbercheck et al., 2009). Women with less than 5 years of experience also expressed a preference for interactive learning opportunities that included peer teaching and networking.
Andragogy, the study of how adults learn, can provide a guiding framework for developing extension educational programming specific to adult learner needs and preferences (Irani et al., 2003; Ota et al., 2006; Strong et al., 2010). Fundamental principles of adult learning include active participation, relevance to life and work experiences, engagement through problem solving rather than subject content, and connection to communities of practice and purpose (Knowles et al., 2005). Ota et al. (2006) reviewed andragogy principles that have applications to extension education and proposed an increased focus on experiential techniques that connect to learner experiences. Suggestions included case study simulations, problem-solving activities, group discussion, and role play. Case studies and problem-solving activities enable adult learners to examine real-world situations, applying their own experiences with acquired knowledge, to determine pragmatic solutions. Discussions and role play engage participants in sharing experiences to connect with subject matter, and result in critical thinking and practice adoption.
The goals of this project were to 1) assess extension education methods for Hispanic/Latino stakeholders who aspire to be next generation specialty crop growers and specialized horticultural managers, and 2) evaluate learning style preferences of adult Hispanic/Latino horticulturists relative to extension and outreach programming. Adult learning principles provided the theoretical framework for this project that was led by a bicultural team of Penn State Extension educators and specialists.
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