Learning tours and their impact on rural conditions: Case studies from Thailand
Learning tours are an educational intervention, which aim to facilitate learners acquiring new knowledge and skills. Thai non-government and government organizations have made significant investment in this type of intervention. However, little research has been conducted to determine the impacts that learning tours have on rural Thai community. The purpose of this dissertation is to determine what impact learning tours have on rural communities in Thailand. To achieve this purpose, four objectives were formulated to determine: i) whether the participation of participants in the learning tours results in the development of their human capital; ii) whether participation of learning tour participants results in the development of human capital in non-participants; iii) whether the participation of participants in the learning tours builds social capital within a particular community; and iv) whether participation in learning tours builds social capital across communities. Flora's model for sustainable rural communities was used as an analytical framework to describe the impact of learning tours. Three rural Thai communities were chosen to examin the impacts. Data were collected through semi-constructed interviews, participant observation, and review of secondary sources. The empirical results illustrated that learning tours developed the human capital of the participants and non-participants. They learned a new practice and applied this new practice to solve their own, family and community problems, and resulted in improving the well-being of their lives, families and communities at large. In the meantime, the development of learning tour participants' human capital led to the development of social capital through sharing knowledge, skills and resource with non-participants. The process of sharing knowledge and skills resulted in establishing institutions in the community. The institutions played an important role in developing and mobilizing human, social, financial/built capital and improving the use of personal and community natural resources in sustainable manner. The empirical results also illustrated that learning of both participants and non-participants in learning tours developed their new identity related to agroforestry (in two case studies) and management of community forest (one case study) as they learned and applied knowledge and skills. Their new identity bonds them together by the need of sharing problems, experiences, insights, tools and best practice. This resulted in the development of a group of individuals who share the same interest and decided to learn and work together to solve the community problems in order to improve the well-being of the community at large. Through establishing and engaging in various ways of learning, each community becomes a learning community. Moreover, the participation in learning tours of participants resulted in building networks across communities. The networks across communities were used to mobilize human, social and financial capital to enhance the participatns' and other community members' lives and eventually the home community's life.