The following case example illustrates how one educator has applied all five of the adult learning best practices before, during and after a learning event. You will note that the educator applied multiple best practices in each timeframe and applied some practices more than once. The case study is on the left, and the concepts that it illustrates are described on the right.

Farm Financial Management Course: A Case Example of Adult Learning Best Practices in Use

Seth Wilner, New Hampshire Cooperative Extension


Pre-Course Survey and Self-Study Resource

Farm financial management is an educational topic of utmost importance to farmers that can also be difficult and frustrating for many, causing some to approach it with trepidation. With the financial management course he teaches, Seth Wilner surveys farmer participants about their experience, concerns and struggles related to the subject [1]. He uses that information to shape how he teaches the subject, focusing on making connections to their experiences. 

Wilner has learned that new terminology is one significant source of negative emotions that causes frustration and trepidation [2]. When survey results indicate participants have moderate levels of prior knowledge and experience, his first step before the course starts might be to break down this language barrier by sending registrants a list of finance terms and definitions participants will learn about [3]


[1] Gathering information from a pre-course survey helps educators identify pre-existing mental models and knowledge gaps, and design programs based on learners’ needs. It also serves as a tool allowing learners to begin the process of making connections between the content and their prior knowledge and experience.

[2] Addressing the barrier of terminology before the course minimizes negative emotions and sets the stage for engaging positive emotions when the course meets.

[3] Providing a helpful resource for self-study before the course is another tool that enables farmers to begin the process of making connections to prior knowledge.


Orientation at the First Class

When the group gathers in person for the first class, Wilner spends a few minutes reviewing the agenda and responding to questions about it [4]. He shares results from the pre-course survey in aggregate so participants can make connections between the results and agenda decisions and know the diverse levels of knowledge, skills and concerns the group is bringing into the course [5].

Orientation also includes talking about and soliciting agreement on group norms: how they are going to function as a learning community, with concerns welcomed and viewpoints respected [6]. Wilner encourages the farmers to pay attention to their emotions. If they find themselves getting frustrated or angry about something, then he asks them to please ask a question or express a concern before shutting down [7]. He asks them to also pay attention to whether they are getting bored. Are you on your phone? Spacing out? Talking with a friend? Checking email? If so, he asks that participants let him know so he can check in with the group to assess if a change of pace, topic or teaching method is needed.

Enterprise Budget Terminology Exercise 

Steps in this exercise include:

  • Farmers choose an enterprise on their farm for which they want to develop a budget (e.g., high tunnel tomatoes) [8] and make a list of every cost they can think of that goes into this production enterprise [9]
  • Farmers go through the list and put an up arrow (↑) next to any cost that goes up the more they produce (e.g., grafted rootstock, stakes)—these are variable costs.
  • Farmers then put a horizontal arrow (→) next to anything that does not change (e.g., the cost of a high tunnel or tractor)—these are fixed costs.
  • Farmers look at all the fixed costs and identify anything they use for more than just that production enterprise. They put an (i) next to them—these are indirect costs.
  • Lastly, farmers identify any fixed costs that are used only for that production enterprise. They put a (d) next to them—these are direct costs.

Throughout this enterprise budget exercise, as farmers are individually marking up their lists, Wilner circulates among participants and responds to questions about costs or items to include in the list [10]. He brings questions to the whole group for further discussion when appropriate [11].

Deliberate Practice Activities

The farmers aren’t finished learning about enterprise budgets after the first exercise. There is practice time, and this may be structured as individual or group practice. An individual practice assignment may involve farmers choosing three enterprises on their farm, writing down the variable and fixed costs, and deciding whether each cost is a direct or indirect cost [12]

For group practice, Wilner may survey the group to identify the crops they would most like to develop an enterprise budget for. Farmers divide into small groups by enterprise to work through the budget exercises together [13]. As with the initial budget terminology exercise, Wilner checks in with learners during individual or group practice sessions to respond to questions and share questions and answers as needed with the group [14].


[4] Reviewing the agenda in relation to the survey results is an opportunity for farmers to make connections between the content and their prior experience and knowledge.

[5] Acknowledging the prior experiences of participants promotes positive emotions.

[6] Establishing group norms and acknowledging the role of emotions in learning helps promote positive emotions and build a safe and inclusive learning community.

[7] Acknowledging the possibility of negative emotional reactions and offering participants a constructive way to deal with them helps promote a positive learning environment.

[8] Giving farmers a choice in the enterprise of focus for the exercise makes it more likely they will value the exercise and persist if they run into challenges.

[9] Allowing farmers to make their own list of costs draws upon their prior knowledge and experience related to their chosen enterprise, and helps them make meaning of the new terms.

[10] Fielding questions from farmers provides glimpses into their mental models related to the content. The points that Wilner brings to the whole group for further discussion often relate to common biases and perceptions or misperceptions about costs in different production systems, such as organic versus conventional.

[11] Hearing others’ questions can broaden individuals’ mental models and enhance connections they make between the content and their own prior experience and knowledge.

[12] Giving farmers the choice to focus on enterprises that interest them the most during the individual and group practice exercises enhances their intrinsic motivation to learn and apply the content to genuine problems back on their farms.

[13] Engaging farmers in small groups to practice new skills allows for immediate peer feedback. 

[14] Sharing experiences, perspectives and decision-making processes among peers can expand mental models about the content and potentially about other aspects of their production systems that may be discussed during the exercise.


Tools, Support and Community

For educators, with the end of an event, course or consultation comes the reality that they must move on to their next responsibility. Learners, too, return to their busy farm or work lives. Recognizing this, Wilner employs several strategies to help farmers continue learning and applying their new farm financial management knowledge and skills, including: 

  • Wilner provides information guides and worksheets from the course as resources to make it easier for the farmers to incorporate good financial recordkeeping into their work routines [15]
  • During the last 30–60 minutes of the course, Wilner facilitates a discussion with farmers about how he can best support their continued learning with each other [16]. In the past, this has included Wilner hosting periodic Zoom meetings, holding regularly scheduled virtual office hours, or offering a web-based listserv for sharing information and group members’ questions and answers. Wilner passes out paper for farmers to exchange contact information for future follow up with each other. 
  • In the closing discussion Wilner asks farmers about additional educational programming they need to continue their learning. This information informs development of new workshops, projects and even grant applications [17].


[15] Providing take-home resources enables farmers to continue practicing and applying the new knowledge and skills they have learned.

[16] After the event, having an emphasis on farmers learning together and from each other sustains learning. This encourages a sense of community and leads to positive emotions and opportunities for farmers to work together to apply their knowledge and skills to genuine problems they encounter on their farms.

[17] Offering choices continues into the post-event phase of learning. Soliciting farmer preferences about future programs serves to identify needs, inform development of programs and enhance farmer motivation to participate in the future.