How to learn from people around you

According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California-San Diego, we each receive on average 34 Gigabytes of information per day. So, you might ask yourself how can I make effective use of this information?

I’m a knowledge transfer manager in the AHDB arable team. I therefore spend a lot of time immersing myself into the working worlds of researchers and farmers and learning more about what they do and how they do it. I’ve certainly learnt that understanding how other people experience situations is one of the best ways to learn from them.

Strategic Farm West meeting

A group of Monitor Farm hosts wearing high-vis jackets look at the wheat at Rob Fox’s farm, Squab Hall, Leamington

This was certainly the theme at a conference I recently attended in Sicily. The 24th European Seminar on Extension and Education (ESEE) looked at how to create environments which support innovation.

I learnt that by taking part in an interactive experiences, grounded in open and facilitated discussion, such as on-farm demonstrations, we gain a better understanding of a topic and are more likely to be motivated to engage and adopt a new approach. By actively discussing the environmental and individual barriers to adoption, the social interaction experienced at on-farm demonstrations has the greatest influence on their effectiveness.

Evidence collected from participants involved the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Monitor Farm programme certainly backs this up: in 2019 92% of respondents to the annual survey said they valued the opportunity to share experiences and 78% of respondents said that the meetings helped them identify ways to improve their business.

When we explore how to learn from others around us, we must recognise that we are influenced by environmental and individual factors. Environmental factors can be either social or physical factors. Individual factors are often more complex to identify than the environmental ones. Individual factors include knowledge, attitude, ability, intention, self-image, emotions and habits.

As individuals, we need to identify how our personal characteristics either prevent or promote change.

When I first came across the concept of environmental and individual factors, I was quite overwhelmed by the complexities of how we learn and adopt new approaches.  But in the weeks since attending the ESEE conference, I have found that I am increasingly interested in challenging myself to understand the factors that influence my ability to learn from others.

Here are five questions I ask myself, to identify what is really influencing my own learning experiences:

  1. What goal am I trying to achieve: I will (do something new) instead of (something I do currently) (where and when)?
  2. Who else is involved in, and influences, my learning?
  3. What do I do before, during and after a learning experience?
  4. Which three environmental or individual factors have the most influence?
  5. What can I do to achieve my goal?

A useful guide can be found online. So why not try it for yourself and see how you can learn from others around you?


Emily Smith

Emily Smith