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Learner-developed scenarios to enhance and evaluate a learning experience

Veronica Chapman1, Neil Cliffe2 and Howard Cox3

1Department of Primary Industries, LMB 6, Emerald, Qld 4720
Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 668, Mackay, Qld 4740
Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 102, Toowoomba, Qld 4350


Learner-developed scenarios were used to enhance a learning experience and to evaluate a workshop activity. Scenarios built relevance for learners into an exercise by engaging them in a process drawing on their experience. The process allowed learners to address practical problems defined at a level of complexity with which they were comfortable.

The use of the scenarios was designed to:

  • enable participants to learn how to use ‘Whopper Cropper’ a software discussion support tool (DST) by applying it to a current or potential management situation and
  • allow presenters to evaluate how competently participants were using the tool and interpreting its output.

The use of the scenario exercise within the workshop demonstrated that participants were using the DST and interpreting the output appropriately. Evaluation conducted at the end of the workshop and again within 6 months of the workshop indicated that participants were happy with the workshop process and were confident about using the DST.


Dryland cropping is a risky business. One way to quantify and better manage this risk is through the use of crop models such as the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) cropping systems model. APSIM was developed by the Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit (APSRU) a joint initiative of Department of Primary Industries (DPI), Department of Natural Resources and Mines (NRM) and CSIRO. APSIM mathematically reproduces the physical processes taking place in a cropping system. Whopper Cropper is a database of pre-run APSIM simulations and provides crop management advisers with access to the APSIM simulations without learning to use APSIM itself. Whopper Cropper contains simulations for 8 crops over 21 districts from Dubbo in New South Wales to Clermont in central Queensland.

Whopper Cropper was developed in 1990 (Nelson et al. 1999) and has been used in DPI workshops with grain growers and agribusiness professionals and as input into DPI newsletters and newspaper articles.

Training workshops are delivered to technical advisers and grain growers as part of the “Whopper Cropper: Empowering crop management advisers and grain growers to manage production and economic risk” project (GRDC DAQ504). One of the project aims is to train and support a network of skilled extension officers and agribusiness consultants to use Whopper Cropper in workshops on managing climate and economic risk in cropping systems.

Essentially Whopper Cropper can be used to explore potential yield distributions (and therefore risk) in crops under different starting conditions. This enables the use of scenarios or ‘what if’ questions as part of the training process. Scenarios were used to train participants in the use of the software and interpretation of results. It also allowed evaluation of the effectiveness of the training process. This paper discusses the process used and the outcomes from a training workshop held in central Queensland in November 2000.


At the request of local DPI staff, producers and agribusiness a Whopper Cropper accreditation workshop was conducted with 7 participants. Participants had been exposed to Whopper Cropper output previously either through workshops or newsletter and newspaper articles.

Adults with years of experience in crop management attended the workshop. Therefore in designing and conducting the workshop the following principles of adult learning (Stanfield 1997) were considered:

  • the workshop was made relevant to participants’ needs (the workshop was conducted on their request and they would be learning what they wanted to learn)
  • learners’ experience and knowledge were valued in the workshop process (eg. by asking learners if potential yield ranges presented in the software were indicative of local yields and asking participants for feedback on the software and future direction of software development)
  • a flexible learning process was provided (eg. time set aside for discussion and option for further time after lunch if required) involving learners in their learning
  • learners were encouraged to PLAN, by developing a relevant scenario, ACT, by using the DST, REFLECT, by making an interpretation of the output of the DST and DRAW CONCLUSIONS about the appropriateness or otherwise of the output generated by the tool by using scenarios as a process and
  • participants were helped to realise that their learning had been successful through developing and addressing their scenario.

Learning outcomes for the workshop

At the end of the workshop participants will be able to:

  • use the Whopper Cropper software
  • interpret the output given the assumptions and limitations associated with Whopper Cropper and crop models in general and
  • use Whopper Cropper themselves or with their clients to better manage production and economic risk associated with dryland cropping.

Workshop process outline


Process used during the session

Aim of the session

9 am

Introduction to crop models as a presentation

To set the scene for the learning activity

9.30 – 10.15 am

Demonstration of the basic features of Whopper Cropper using a worked example

To demonstrate the basic features of the DST

10.15 am

Use of Whopper Cropper by participants

To familiarise participants with the DST and its features

10.30 am

Morning tea


11.00 am

Demonstration of more advanced features of the software

To assist participants to more fully understand the capabilities of the DST

11.30 am

Learner-developed scenarios (participants use the DST to explore a cropping scenario)

To enable participants to apply the DST to their situation

12 noon – 12.50 pm

Report-back session by participants on their use of Whopper Cropper – each participant described a scenario they had explored, discussed why they had looked at this scenario and interpreted the output in context of their original ‘question’.

To encourage learners to demonstrate their ability to interpret the DST output and to draw conclusions based on this output

12 noon – 12.50 pm

Whole group discussion on each participants’ scenario

This session also included some further discussion on limitations of the software and the future direction of the Whopper Cropper project

To seek greater insight into the application of the software and interpretation of output from the wider group

12.50 pm

Workshop evaluation

To collect evaluation information regarding the workshop content and process

1 pm



A large part of the workshop involved participants using the DST. This included each participant developing a scenario of interest to explore using the tool. For example, participants were able to explore the effect of different sowing dates on expected yield in a specific crop with all other factors (eg. starting soil moisture, soil type and plant available water capacity) being the same. After a reasonable amount of time (as determined by the pace of the group) learners were asked to share their scenario with the rest of the group and interpret the output. Each individual scenario was explored in a wider group discussion.

Ward and Daly (1994) state that our personal learning and communication styles depend on the way in which we use or brains and our bodies in receiving and expressing information. There are three main forms of communication and learning - visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. We all use the three learning forms to some extent however for an individual one form may be dominant. The approach we used in this workshop involved the three different learning styles outlined by Ward and Daly (1994) and catered for the learning needs of all participants.

Visual (best learning comes from reading, note-taking and diagrams):

  • Presentations and demonstrations by presenters using computer linked to a video data projector
  • Presentation of output in the DST
  • Whopper Cropper workshop notes for participants

Auditory (best learning comes from lectures, talks and discussions):

  • Presentations
  • Whole group discussions
  • Discussion between individual participants and presenters

Kinaesthetic (best learning comes from writing, acting out and gestures):

  • Use of the DST by participants
  • Involvement of all (participants and presenters) in group discussions


Presenters’ evaluation/reflection of the workshop and its effectiveness

This approach to the training made the workshop both ‘hands-on’ for participants and interactive between participants and presenters. We elected to use the scenario and discussion approach to:

  • give participants time to use the DST and interpret the output while assistance was available
  • demonstrate the relevance of the software to participants’ situations and
  • assess whether participants could competently use the DST, apply it to an appropriate situation, interpret the output and judge whether that output was meaningful in the context of the scenario being addressed.

All participants were able to:

  • Plan — Develop a cropping scenario (demonstrated by each person presenting their scenario to the broader group)
  • Act — Address the scenario using the software (demonstrated by each person sharing the output from the program)
  • Reflect — Interpret the output of the DST and
  • Conclude — Draw relevant conclusions about the comparative potential yield outcomes from the different scenarios (demonstrated by each person drawing conclusions about the implications for the cropping activity concerned).

The group discussion of each scenario allowed meaningful conclusions to be drawn by individuals and the group as a whole.

Participants were encouraged initially to keep the scenario quite simple to ensure the process was as comfortable as possible and promote confidence in the learners’ ability to use the tool. All participants achieved this and some then went on to explore more complex examples. This process catered for people with different levels of understanding and different paces of learning. This group of participants were highly motivated to learn about and acquire the software. In addition all participants were computer literate and were familiar with workshop situations.

Participant’s comments

Post-workshop comments from participants regarding the workshop process were favourable. Participants considered the order of presentation and the length of presentations were appropriate and that the material presented was informative and easy to understand. Participants considered the workshop to be effective for a number of reasons including the small number of participants (relative to presenters), sufficient time for hands-on use of package and the flexible timetable.

All participants indicated a willingness to use Whopper Cropper following the training session to:

  • assist farmers with their crop management options and
  • examine crop management decisions to better manage production and economic risk (eg. planting date, planting density, crop type).

Participants were contacted within a fortnight of the workshop and indicated that they were confident to use the program following the training session.

Three to six months after the workshop participants were contacted by telephone and reported that they had used the software to:

  • aid own on-farm management decisions
  • assist clients with on-farm management decision and
  • provide examples to use in newspaper / newsletter articles.


The use of learner-developed scenarios in this workshop proved to be a highly valuable process. Firstly, it enabled participants to learn to use a DST using examples directly relevant to their needs at that particular time. This provided a powerful learning process that addressed the principles of adult learning particularly well. Secondly, the scenario and report back process was a form of evaluation as it allowed an assessment of how well participants were able to use the DST.

Some participants may feel threatened by being required to report back to the whole group. However participants were given sufficient time to work through a scenario and throughout that time had access to presenters. This preparation time and access to assistance should allow most participants to feel relatively comfortable. Another problem that may occur when using this process is that some participants may not demonstrate the ability to competently use the DST. This may be due to a lack of conceptual understanding of computer modelling or simply a lack of familiarity with the use and application of computers. These potential problems may be overcome by access to presenters throughout the workshop and some one-on-one tuition during and immediately following the workshop.

Through the evaluation process we have been able to determine that the approach we designed and used was appropriate for this type of training session and will become the basis for further accreditation workshops.

The use of learner-developed scenarios is a valuable process, which may have further application in extension and training.


  1. Nelson R. A., Hammer G. L., Holzworth D. P., McLean G., Pinington G.K. and Frederiks A. N. (1999) User’s Guide for Whopper Cropper (CD-ROM) Version 2.1, QZ99013, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland, Brisbane.
  2. Stanfield, D. (1997) Training – If you grab them by their learning principles; the rest will follow. Australasian Pacific Extension Forum Proceedings, pp391 – 400.
  3. Ward, C. and Daly, J. (1994) VAK in “Learning to learn”. Published by authors, Christchurch, New Zealand p. 58-59.

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