June 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW1

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Everyone a Teacher, Everyone a Learner: A Learner-Centered Pesticide Private Applicators Recertification Training

Meeting the challenge of stimulating participants in a mandated program prompted the development of a learner-centered Pesticide Applicators Recertification Training curriculum. The goal was to enhance the value and applicability of the material being taught. This curriculum transformed an unpopular, routine training program into an effective learning experience, with some applicators attending regardless of the status of their certification. Participants widely embraced this curriculum, preferring it by 85% over traditional methods. This type of participatory, interactive curriculum could be used in other areas of Extension, such as youth quality assurance programs.

Kenneth D. Simeral
Associate Professor
Wintersville, Ohio
Internet Address: simeral.1@osu.edu

Mike P. Hogan
Associate Professor
Carrollton, Ohio
Internet Address: hogan.1@osu.edu

The Ohio State University


Extension educators often teach highly technical or abstract topics that clientele find difficult to grasp. This problem is magnified when the participant is mandated to attend and is not doing so voluntarily. The challenge is to present the material in such a way that the learner is able to process, retain, and apply the new knowledge.

Teaching pesticide recertification is one such challenge for agricultural agents. The Learner-Centered Pesticide Private Applicators Recertification Training Curriculum was developed to stimulating critical thinking on the part of the learner, enhancing the value and applicability of the material being taught.

Active student participation was the major consideration in the development of this curriculum. The students, farm managers who are licensed private pesticide applicators, are required by law in Ohio to participate in a 3-hour training session every 3 years to renew their license. This license permits the farm manager to purchase and apply restricted-use pesticides.

The goals of the Extension educators were to:

  • Call upon the participants' experiences as pesticide applicators;
  • Use a more dynamic and interesting teaching method than lecturing;
  • Develop a way to allow for more exploration of the potential on-farm application of the information taught; and
  • Provide participants with an opportunity to apply the new information practically, using farm application records and problem solving techniques.

Audience Targeted

The audience for this project consisted of all licensed private pesticide applicators in Carroll, Harrison, and Jefferson Counties. The curriculum has been used for 6 years, three sessions per year.

Teaching Methods and Activities

A learner-centered group problem-solving activity was developed. A scenario, which described a case farm, its enterprises, location, and pest protection needs, was developed. Participants were divided into groups ranging in size from 3 persons to 10 persons, depending upon the total number of participants at each session. Six different pest-related problems were developed and distributed to the different groups. Each group was charged with the task of working together to identify solutions to the problem.

These problems were developed to resemble situations farm managers would routinely encounter on all types of farms. Different problems were developed on topics such as livestock pests, forage production, and grain production. These problems incorporated issues related to product labeling, product compatibility, environmental concerns, off-site movement, carryover, weather-related problems, cultural practices, economic issues, and community issues.

The flexibility of this curriculum allows for the development of new case problems to address current topics relevant to pesticide use. New problem development also allows the learner to build upon knowledge gained at previous sessions and eliminates repetition as the applicators return for their required recertification training sessions.

To aid in the problem-solving discussion of each group, the participants were given a set of resource materials relevant to their specific problem. These resources included:

  • Actual product labels for specific pesticides;
  • Sample farm pesticide records with information about previous pesticide applications and weather conditions;
  • A crop scouting field guide; individual spray guides for weed control, crop insect control and livestock pests; and
  • The Ohio Agronomy Guide, which contains cultural practices related to crop production.

Groups were given 20 to 30 minutes to discuss the problem and formulate a possible solution. Each group presented its solution to all participants. Two Extension agents facilitated the discussion, posing additional questions for discussion as appropriate. All parts of the program were put into curriculum form consisting of teaching packets and instructions for other agents to use.


The Extension educators who developed and taught this curriculum have been teaching pesticide recertification for the past 24 years. Before using this curriculum, lecturing was the teaching method used, enhanced with audio/visual aids. In comparison to lecture, according to the agents, this curriculum produced a great deal of enhanced active participation on the part of the learners.

The agents observed that participants were eager to seek solutions and present and defend their ideas to the group. The agents feel these interactions allow for a more thorough, in-depth exploration of on-farm pesticide-use situations. They also observed the activity caused participants to think and ask questions more than the typical lecture method had in the past. Some farmers have attended recertification the following year, even though their certification did not need to be renewed, saying they enjoyed participating in that type of learning opportunity.

It was also observed that this shared interaction allowed all participants, including the agents, to become learners and teachers, benefiting from the diverse experiences and backgrounds of all participants. The Extension educators got a new perspective on pest management issues. The agents also gained insight on how to enhance the problem-solving and decision-making skills of pesticide applicators.


This program has been conducted for 6 years, three sessions each year. As part of the evaluation for the first 3 years, participants were asked how they perceived the value of the group problem-solving learning activity. Of the 319 respondents, 309 (97%) indicated that that they learned useful skills from the exercise. Additionally, those indicating they preferred the group problem-solving activity to the traditional lecture method of instruction numbered 271, or 85% of the respondents.

When asked to identify specific items learned, participants listed pesticide safety (31 comments), factors affecting efficacy of pesticides (18 comments), economic thresholds (21 comments), effective solutions to pest problems ranging from insect control to weed control in soybeans (37 comments), and methods of preventing non-farm neighbor complaints (9 comments). There were 34 comments related specifically to improved problem-solving skills. In addition, the value of idea sharing that was gained through the activities was important to 43 of the participants.


Evaluations conducted at pesticide recertification classes prior to the use of this curriculum repeatedly showed low student achievement and satisfaction with the training. Evaluations after the implementation of this curriculum have been positive and show a marked preference for this method of teaching. As evidenced by the increased knowledge gained by all participants and the level of participant satisfaction, this teaching method would appear to have the potential for use in other Extension educational programs.