In the previous three blogs, the influence of the individual characteristics of the practitioner, the characteristics of the knowledge source and the nature of the knowledge itself on practitioner knowledge uptake were discussed. This fourth and final blog discusses the influence of the knowledge transfer channel.
Knowledge can be transferred in a one-directional or participatory/interactive way, where the term knowledge exchange is more appropriate. Some scholars also describe knowledge transfer channels as learning pathways. Agricultural practitioners usually use a combination of three learning pathways: technical, social and experiential.
Technical learning is achieved through formal education, reading print material, reading information online, reading e-mail newsletters, attending training programmes, attending conferences and seminars, and doing short courses. This type of learning correlates with one-directional knowledge transfer. Technical learning provides a solid theoretical understanding and, thus, a foundation upon which practical outputs can be achieved. A recent study in the South African wine industry that explored the information-seeking behaviours of winemakers found that winemakers differ in their desire for technical learning. Some winemakers require only the basic information about a new product or process, whilst, on the other end of the spectrum, some winemakers appreciate the detailed scientific information underlying the innovation. Most winemakers lie somewhere in between and, depending on the situation, will require more or less information. For instance, winemakers in the study indicated that they are more likely to engage with technical information if they need a problem solved. Most of the study’s winemakers preferred social and experiential learning to technical learning.
Social learning focuses on acquiring knowledge and skills through interactions and collaborations with other individuals. This is achieved through workshops, study groups, field days, informal conversations on the phone and in person with fellow practitioners, and conversations with consultants and suppliers of products and services. Social learning is a process of sharing experiences, information and local wisdom within a particular social context. It helps practitioners to learn from the practical experiences of others and adapt them to their settings. This learning pathway correlates with interactive/participatory knowledge exchange.
Winemakers in the South African wine industry are exposed to various social learning opportunities. The most popular events are tasting and study group meetings. Social learning also happens less formally through everyday winemaker-to-winemaker interactions in the cellar and interactions between winemakers and suppliers of products and services.
Potential drawbacks of social learning can be the spread of inaccurate information, individuals being influenced by the opinions and behaviours of their peers, even if those behaviours are not beneficial, and over-reliance on social learning, which can discourage independent thinking and problem-solving. Winemakers can also encounter conflicting information in diverse social environments, which can be confusing and difficult to navigate. For these reasons, the availability of scientifically accurate sources of technical knowledge to support social learning is crucial.
Experiential learning in agriculture is a hands-on approach that emphasises learning by doing. Practitioners gain knowledge and skills through direct practical experiences. The idea to try something new can be spontaneous or result from previously encountered technical or social learnings. Each vintage presents unique challenges and opportunities. Producers, viticulturists and winemakers strongly rely on their previous experiences and experimentation to make adjustments and improvements in subsequent vintages.
The sensory evaluation of wines through tasting is an example of a fundamental part of experiential learning for winemakers. It allows them to refine their palates in assessing the quality and styles of their wines.
It’s all connected
In practice, the three types of learning are interconnected and complementary. One-directional knowledge transfer channels are effective in generalised settings and transfer mainly technical information. Interactive knowledge transfer channels are more effective in sharing contextualised practical knowledge. Producers, viticulturists and winemakers often combine technical expertise with social and experiential learning to adapt to market changes and adopt sustainable practices.
O’Kennedy, K., 2022. Wine scientists and winemakers as two communities: Bridging the gap through boundary-spanning activities. PhD thesis, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch. http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/125902.
For more information, contact Karien O’Kennedy at email@example.com.