Horizontal learning is an exchange of information in which users or doers learn from each other, instead of receiving top-down instruction. These exchanges usually occur in person, when people are brought together for this purpose, across or within peer groups or communities. 

Horizontal learning makes it more likely that effective solutions will be developed since communities can draw on the experiences of others like them who have experienced similar issues. 

Horizontal learning is often associated with program activities where funders or grantee organizations can help facilitate interaction among beneficiaries. This method can also be used amongst foundation staff as a way to learn from staff in different roles or organizations.



User Involvement Members of the communities are engaged in facilitated activities and play key roles in presenting ideas & learning from each other.
Key Expertise Facilitators who can effectively engage community participants for peer-to-peer learnings Community leaders who are supportive of the program cause, encouraging participation of community members
Key Roles Users/Beneficiaries: Exchange experiences, ideas on the given topic
Facilitators: Develop & execute exchange activities, facilitate user group interactions, support integration of new learnings in everyday practice
Essential Tools Research Plan: Methods or techniques designed to effectively engage intended users and encourage exchange of ideas
Outputs Community-driven ideas and learning, which can lead to further development and scaling up. Ideas originating from within the community; enriched knowledge & network within the involved communities
Cost & Time Cost: Experienced facilitator and cost of engaging participants such as venue hire, refreshments, and travel expenses.
Time: It is typically a long-term commitment, in order to ensure that involved communities develop their own internal capacity to sustain the innovative practices.


Activity Plan

The plan for horizontal learning needs to consider facilitation of beneficiaries’ interactions over several stages, to ensure that the learnings are truly happening peer-to-peer and to allow participants to internalize and adopt the new learnings.

You are most likely to partner with one or more local organizations to take on the central role in engaging participants, and they may also need training to effectively facilitate the horizontal learning process.

Identification of Participants

Once you have identified communities or specific groups of beneficiaries, you will need to acquire detailed understanding on the existing social dynamics and structure to select the key participants. You may also need to consider the diversity of experiences among participants, to take advantage of cross-learning potentials.  With the local knowledge, ensure there is no cultural obstacles such as social class or local dialects hindering interactions among participants. Some initiatives may benefit from utilizing existing activity groups within the community as a starting point in participant engagement, such as savings clubs to take advantage of the knowledge and influence of their leaders and outreach of their members.


Facilitation of Horizontal Learning Interactions

Horizontal learning method centers on encouraging new ways of thinking about expertise, recasting poor individuals as uniquely qualified to share their own experience and strategies. The facilitators need to take the backseat role by supporting participants to voice their opinions effectively, rather than being leaders themselves. Existing social dynamics and power structure need to be sensitively reflected in organizing the interactions among participants, to maximize contributions from all.

Plan for Exit & Scale-Up

The ideal conclusion of the horizontal learning method is when the communities establish the initiatives and run them on their own without further facilitation or support from outside. You can plan for such an exit by closely monitoring the development among participants, providing supports where necessary over time.

As the next step, you may also look externally if there are other communities or organizations that have similar issues or challenges and can benefit from ideas or innovations developed.