In our times, based on a wide range of theoretical views on learning and change, new extension, education/ training and development approaches rooted in systems thinking and social learning perspectives have emerged; moreover, innovation is nowadays understood as a social as well as a technical process, as a nonlinear process, and as a process of interactive learning. Learning groups and networks have been shown as powerful means for engaging and empowering people, creating spaces for communication, knowledge exchanges, negotiation, experimentation and the development of skills and competencies. In parallel, the transition towards more sustainable forms of agriculture requires the engagement of a wide range of stakeholders in networks allowing for and promoting social learning and the co-generation, adaptation, appropriation and use of innovations; in the same vein, participatory approaches and discovery and experiential learning vis-à-vis farm- and site-specific management approaches have been stressed.
The dominant Transfer-of-Technology model, despite its long history of innovations and increased effectiveness in food production, fails to respond to complex challenges and rapidly changing contexts - such as the increasingly complex and diverse modern agricultural systems as well as the shift to sustainable development implying trade-offs between environmental, social and economic sustainability. Therefore the conceptual evolution from the TOT model to network and systems approaches such as the agricultural knowledge and information systems (AKIS) and, more recently, to the agricultural innovation system (AIS) approach, embracing the totality of actors (and their interactions) involved in innovation. In this respect, ‘transforming’ extension, as an integral part of AKIS/AIS, involves a focus on co-designing rather than disseminating innovations implying, in turn, the building of networks, the articulation of the multiple dimensions of innovation and the ability to manage complexity, conflict and unpredictability.
Innovation studies increasingly focus on learning, with emphasis on facilitation and the processes of human interaction from which learning emerges; currently, growing attention is given to various types of (process) ‘intermediaries/ facilitators/ brokers’. However, conventional extensionists/ advisors encounter difficulties in taking over new roles. Therefore, further research addressing the improvement of the effectiveness of extension, including extension strategies and methods, extensionists’ key competencies and education/ training as well as institutional settings/ governance structures (including financing mechanisms) is needed. Similar issues pertain the case of farmers’ (especially of young farmers’) education and training since the transmissive/ ‘instructive’ model still predominates over the transformative/ ‘constructive and participative’ one and disciplinary knowledge over transdisciplinarity.
In order to address such questions and deepen our understanding of current transformations in agricultural education and extension and the ways they promote transformative learning, esp. in the context of systems change towards sustainability, we welcome a diversity of theoretical perspectives and case studies/ practice examples which will constructively contribute to debates on a number of topics such as the following.