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Social learning, 'online' versus in-person: Experimental Evidence from Indian Farmers

Last registered on August 29, 2022


Trial Information

General Information

Social learning, 'online' versus in-person: Experimental Evidence from Indian Farmers
Initial registration date
June 24, 2021

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
June 25, 2021, 1:39 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Last updated
August 29, 2022, 8:11 PM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.


Primary Investigator

Cornell University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
With increasing internet accessibility in India, channels of information exchange have widened more than ever before. A by-product of this development has been an increase in the rural uptake of smartphones for various purposes, including agriculture. In this paper, I study the effects of exogenously created farmer-Whatsapp groups on agriculture outcomes, including yields, costs and response to weather and pest shocks. I also measure the effect of online interactions on farmer beliefs of willingness to exchange information with other farmers in-person versus over the phone. More specifically, by collecting data from a unique field experiment spanning 108 Indian villages, I test whether long-distant (online) connections lead to better diffusion of information and adoption of new agricultural technology by connecting farmers across space on several online groups. Due to the endogeneity of within-village networks, I randomize treatment at the village level, into two treatment interventions. In the first arm, farmers from non-neighboring villages are connected on twelve moderated Whatsapp groups (one group per 3 villages) to facilitate online information sharing of farming practices. In the second arm, along with the Whatsapp groups I also simulate in-person connections by inviting the Whatsapp group participants meet physically to discuss several farming related topics over lunch, and attend a poster-presentation. I then measure the differential effects of online farmer-interactions in these two types of groups. In addition, I track individual Whatsapp chat participation rates to test whether in-person interactions substitute or complement the online interactions. By facilitating online discussions on topics that are important to local farmers, I expect to see better agricultural outcomes for treated farmers. Preliminary analysis indicates that the mechanism through which this may happen is increasing willingness to exchange agriculture information with unknown farmers for treated groups.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Sharma, Vanisha. 2022. "Social learning, 'online' versus in-person: Experimental Evidence from Indian Farmers." AEA RCT Registry. August 29.
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Experimental Details


The main goal is to connect farmers on social media groups to test traditional social learning and technology adoption theories in a new dimension of virtual interactions. We will test the influence of connecting farmers from different villages onto the same platform, a moderated Whatsapp group, to enable engagement in conversations about new technology. This influence will be compared to another treatment group, where farmers, before being added to the moderated Whatsapp group, will be offered to meet in-person with their Whatsapp peers- thereby simulating an in-person connection.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Smartphone agriculture technology adoption and usage: Are farmers more likely to adopt and engage in agriculture mobile phone applications if they are connected to other peers using these applications?

Learning from virtual vs in-person peers: Is learning different for farmers interacting on Whatsapp with virtual peers from other villages, or do virtual interactions with known farmers from the same village complement learning?
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Beliefs about the phone application- Do farmers update their baseline beliefs about smartphone agriculture after engaging in virtual interactions with their peers?

Crop loss due to pests: Does using a pest-diagnostic smartphone application reduce crop loss due to pests?
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
We will create 2 treatment arms with across-village Whatsapp groups to enable farmer interaction about smartphone agriculture technologies. Sampled farmers from non-neighboring villages will be connected on a Whatsapp group in both arms. In one treatment group, other than the Whatsapp group, farmers will also be encouraged to meet their Whatsapp peers in-person on a monthly basis to simulate an in-person connection.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization will be conducted through the statistical software Stata.
Randomization Unit
This study uses a two-stage randomization method. First, 109 villages were randomly selected in the Chittoor district of India. Then within each village, a random sample of at least 10 farmers were surveyed.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
A total of 109 village clusters.
Sample size: planned number of observations
We plan to survey at least 1000 farmers, 10 per each village.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Approximately 30 clusters (villages) and at least 300 farmers per treatment arm (100 farmers per cluster), 1000 farmers in total.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Cornell IRB
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
July 31, 2022, 12:00 +00:00
Data Collection Complete
Data Collection Completion Date
July 31, 2023, 12:00 +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
108 villages
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
1083 farmers
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
35 villages in control, 36 in first treatment, 37 villages in second treatment
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Self-selection into social media networks makes it challenging to tease out effects of online peer interactions. In this paper, I study the effects of online interactions among farmers in rural India on their farm investments, revenues, and online information sharing behavior. I exogenously assign farmers to multi-village WhatsApp groups in an experiment spanning 108 villages in south India. I then randomly assign a subset of these farmer groups to a second treatment, involving monthly in-person meetings. I test whether farmers exchange agricultural information with their peers online, and if in-person interaction enhances this online exchange. First, I find that farmers in both the WhatsApp-Only and WhatsApp+In-Person treatments invest more in their farms in the form of pesticides, fertilizers and seeds, by an average of Rs. 10,000 (approximately $120). Second, the increase in farm investment is preceded by increases in online information exchange: treated farmers are about 55% more likely to use WhatsApp to inform their agricultural decisions. Third, text analysis reveals that farmers that do not meet in person exchange more social greetings online and show more positive sentiment, and farmers that meet in-person exchange more market-relevant information on treatment WhatsApp groups. Fourth, I do not find significant increases in farm revenues for treated farmers in the short-run. For farm investment and revenue results, the added in-person interactions do not significantly add to the effects of online information exchange. I find that information sharing on social media has causal effects on farm investments, and is accompanied with greater likelihood of using WhatsApp in the agricultural decision-making process.
Sharma, V. (2023). Social (Media) Learning: Experimental Evidence from Indian Farmers

Reports & Other Materials