Learning by Doing

ZAMORANO is a unique university due to its four pillars: Academic Excellence, Learning by Doing, Multiculturalism and Strengthening of Values. Its campus offers students the opportunity to develop experiential learning activities through the Learning by Doing modules, where they can apply theoretical knowledge in real work scenarios, such as: laboratories, production fields, research centers and commercialization and agroindustrial plants in order to improve agrifood systems and ensure that they are sustainable, resilient and inclusive. The main objective of Learning by Doing is to develop technical and attitudinal competencies in young people, while contributing to the development of agriculture.

Zamorano students and graduates stand out for their willingness to work hard and their capacity for leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, communication, knowledge management and the appropriate use of technology in multiple contexts. The Learning by Doing component represents 50% of the study time and offers a unique educational experience in a learning ecosystem suitable for the development of leadership skills and the strengthening of knowledge and capacities that place our alumni in key positions in universities and companies involved in the different links of the agri-food system worldwide.

Wilson Popenoe, the founder of EAP ZAMORANO, adopted from the beginning the motto of “Learning by Doing”, reflected in the Latin expression “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Work conquers everything).

Since its inception, students “get their hands dirty” in the fields during the middle of the day. Then, during the other half, they attend classes; balancing an education between a theoretical component and a practical one. Popenoe insisted on the importance of the practical component of education, which he called “learning by doing”. He compared the knowledge gained from a student who memorizes a textbook for an exam compared to a student who has learned how to produce good cheese and butter. Popenoe declared that the student who memorized the text would forget what he had learned in a few days; while the student who learned how to make cheese and butter would remember that skill for a lifetime (Rosengarten, 1991).

Since those times, Popenoe’s educational model was based on what we know as constructivism. Constructivism, as a learning theory, has been the basis of different theoretical frameworks on how people learn. Theoretical frameworks derived from constructivism share the basic assumption that students construct knowledge through experience (Bodner, Klobuchar, & Geelan, 2001; Hinde & Perry, 2007; Tuddenham, 1966). These theoretical frameworks may differ in the relevance given to the individual (Piaget) or the social influences that impact the learning process (Vygotsky) or the impact that the learning process can generate for society (Dewey); however, they all converge on the premise that students actively construct their knowledge, either individually or socially (Joldersma, 2011) and knowledge is not only transmitted from one person to another.

Hand in hand with this, Zamorano’s Learning by Doing is a practice-based learning philosophy that characterizes the institution and is considered an academic program parallel to the applied theoretical component.

Its main objective is to provide students with the opportunity to build knowledge through their participation in learning by taking modules that are part of different value chains relevant to their academic training.

Michael Porter (2008) defines a value chain as the concept that “divides the activities of a company into the technologically and economically distinct activities it performs to do business” (p.75). A value chain, according to Porter (2008) is “a system of interdependent activities, which are connected by links” and those links exist whenever the performance of one activity directly affects the cost or effectiveness of the next activity in the chain.

Throughout the first three years of study, students rotate through work modules that are part of different value chains (for example, grain and seed chain, fruit and vegetable chain, milk chain, and forestry chain, among others). others). During their fourth year, students are part of a Specialized Learning component based on their chosen major. The Learning by Doing component has large spaces for primary production, agro-industrial processing plants, marketing centers, and modern laboratories; all of which are managed by professors and supervised by instructors.

Through the Learning by Doing component, students receive a learning experience based on the evaluation of the following skills: 1) hygiene and safety, 2) technological adaptability, 3) problem solving, 4) technical ability, 5) technical communication, 6) Effective attitude towards work, and 7) Resource management. These competencies are evaluated and reported through the different learning modules from the first to the fourth year. While enrolled, students work three (3) to four (4) hours each day on the Learning By Doing component.

Active learning modules last from one (1) to six (6) weeks, and the number of modules that are part of the same value chain varies. For example, the beekeeping chain is completed in one (1) hands-on learning module, while the fruit and vegetable chain is completed in six (6) hands-on learning modules. Students are organized into groups and each group rotates through the year through all the modules for that year, regardless of what courses they may be taking in the theoretical-applied component.

All students achieve the desired competencies at the end of the academic year; however, the evaluation processes and the follow-up of the student’s learning outcome are recorded at the end of each academic period.

Learning at higher levels depends on the acquisition of knowledge and skills from certain lower levels. With this in mind, the Learning By Doing component increases the level of requirements and complexity each year.

For example, first-year students are taught how to work crops, including grains and the seed chain; during the second year they are taught the fruit and vegetable chain that has a higher level of complexity and in the third year, the value chains that involve animals (ie, cows, pigs, fish and poultry) are included. During the fourth year, students specialize in their areas of interest according to their chosen career, and based on that, they are registered in the corresponding specialized learning modules.

Zamorano: a life-sustaining education

During the first three years, the Learning by Doing modules can be classified as follows:


Cross-cutting knowledge modules

Modules that serve as the basis for the different value chains. These modules are offered by specific departments; however, they are applied throughout the different value chains.


Value chain modules

Modules that are part of the value chains and are offered by the corresponding departments pursuant to their focus areas.


Integrating modules

Modules where value chains conclude their last step and are ready to offer and manage products in the market.