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close this bookIrrigation Training Manual: Planning, Design, Operation and Management of Small-Scale Irrigation Systems (Peace Corps, 1994, 151 p.)
close this folderIntroduction to the irrigation manual
View the documentPurpose of this manual
View the documentThe training sessions
View the documentThe irrigation reference manual
View the documentOverview of the training sessions
View the documentIrrigation principles and practices
View the documentThe experiential learning approach
View the documentThe trainer's role in experiential learning
View the documentTiming, location, and trainee preparedness
View the documentImplementing the irrigation training sessions

The experiential learning approach

Irrigation is a very practical art and science. It requires skills that are grounded in field experience. As a result, the training sessions in this manual largely emphasize exercises that require Trainees to participate in hands-on work assignments. The overall curriculum consists of approximately 70 percent field sessions and 30 percent classroom sessions. Even in the classroom sessions, however, Trainees are expected to play a strong participatory role and complete assignments that require self-motivation, communication skills, and cooperative problem solving. Each Trainee will have a participatory, leadership, or independent role to fulfill in designing, constructing, or rehabilitating various components of an actual irrigation system in the field. This physical work forms the foundation of the experiential learning methodology emphasized throughout the training sessions.

Experiential learning is exactly what the name implies people learning by doing. Experiential learning occurs when a person engages in an activity, reviews this activity critically, identifies useful information from this analysis, and then applies the results of the process in subsequent practical situations. The experiential process follows the following theoretical circle:


Experiencing: Each training session should include one or more activities that the Trainees will do. Requiring Trainees to experience the content of sessions will increase their opportunity for becoming aware of how they currently handle related situations and skill areas that they need to develop or strengthen. Trainers must be careful to avoid putting Trainees in situations in which the skills being tested cannot be accomplished given the entry skill level of the group. Experiences can be developed in classroom settings, using role plays, games, small group discussions, case studies, videos or slides, sharing of personal experiences, or training of Trainees by one another.

Processing: The Trainees must follow each activity by immediately analyzing the experience. It is very helpful for the trainer to provide some guidance questions for Trainees to answer, such as: "How did time management become a problem in completing the pump repair?" "What went wrong in this role play?" "What else could you have done?'' With carefully worded questions such as these, Trainees can do an effective analysis with minimal interference from the trainers.

During this processing phase, individuals share with others the specific experiences they had during the activity. This can be done through group discussions, written reports, generating and analyzing data, one on one dialogues, or interviews. Individuals share both their cognitive and emotional reactions to the activities in which they were engaged and then try to link these thoughts and feelings together to derive some meaning from the experience. Putting their responses into language is the critical link in enabling Trainees to develop generalizations that they can then apply to new situations in the future.

Generalizing: As a conclusion to this analysis process, Trainees need to individually or collectively draw generalizations or inferences. A generalization is a rule or concept, based on facts, that a person can accept and act on. An inference is a generalization that a person can accept tentatively but which needs to be tested before the person is willing to incorporate it into his or her behavior. An example might be the following:

In conducting interviews of government officials, the Trainee group may draw as a generalization or inference that better information can be obtained when open-ended questions are asked rather than when leading questions are asked.

Activities that can facilitate this generalizing process include:

- summarizing the generalizations or inferences into concise statements or concepts,

- establishing agreement on definitions, concepts, key terms, and statements, and

- relating the activity and generalizations or inferences to past experiences, thoughts or feelings.

These activities can be done individually or in a group setting.

Applying: After generalizations or inferences have been drawn, Trainees need opportunities to practice using these generalizations or to further test their inferences. These practice or trial efforts should be directly related to the work the Trainees will be doing after they complete the training. For example, if Trainees have acquired basic generalizations or inferences about how to plan small surface irrigation systems, they now need an opportunity to work with a small system. Useful techniques and activities to facilitate this process include having Trainees develop plans of action, personal goals, and strategies for modifying personal behavior.