A network is similar to a range of actors who interact and share a common purpose: together they make up a social fabric. Learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge or know-how that can be individual or collective. The concept of a learning network refers to this notion of collective learning. It can be seen as a tool to share knowledge within a network of actors. The creation of such a network is determined by a common purpose and common values.
A learning network is a source of added value, both personal and collective. It allows people to share knowledge and practical field experience between peers (for instance: a group of farmers). Such a network does not however exclude the presence of another person, such as an agricultural extension specialist, but he/she will play an animation role with the aim of organizing and encouraging peer-to-peer learning. Like all networks, it can also have limits such as social exclusion: for an individual who has different values than those shared by the rest of the group, it can be difficult to integrate the network. It is therefore necessary to ensure the network opens up and renews itself so that the peer-to-peer learning remains helpful and open.
In the context of agroecology, learning networks of different maturity levels exist. Firstly, there are networks formed by farmers in reconversion, often supported by facilitators. Their aim is to acquire knowledge on the advantages, disadvantages and means of adaptation in order to optimize the new system established. Secondly, there are networks which bring together farmers who are more advanced in the agro-ecological approach, and who already have a good command of alternative practices. The objective of these farmers is more to improve what already exists, and innovate by exchange of experience. Therefore, learning networks of all levels enable new practices to be adopted or improved, with the perspective of a transition to agroecology.
References to explore
Francis, C. A. et al. 2011. Innovative Education in Agroecology: Experiential Learning for a Sustainable Agriculture. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 30(1-2), p.226-237. https://doi.org/10.1080/07352689.2011.554497
Warner, K.D. 2006. Extending agroecology: Grower participation in partnerships is key to social learning. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 21(2), p. 84–94. DOI: 10.1079/RAF2005131
Warner, K. D. 2008. Agroecology as Participatory Science Emerging Alternatives to Technology Transfer Extension Practice. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 33(6), p. 754-777. DOI: 10.1177/0162243907309851