Learning Contracts

Learning Contracts

Learning Contracts

A learning contract is an agreement negotiated between a learner and a supervisor to ensure that certain activities will be undertaken in order to achieve an indentified learning goal, specific evidence will be produced to demonstrate that goal has been reached.

Learning contracts have grown in popularity as part of the changing trend in assessment methods from tutor-centred to more student-centred approaches. It also reflects the move towards more self-directed learning. Knight (2002b) describes how there are many alternative terms for learning contracts including 'learning agreements' and 'negotiable learning agreements'.

An essential component of Learning Contracts is that they centre around the gaps in the knowledge of the student and what it is they need / wish to learn.

A learning contract usually has a written record of:

  • A series of negotiated learning goals/objectives. These are set between the student and the tutor/expert
  • The strategies and resources by which these goals can be met
  • The evidence which will be presented to show that objectives have been achieved and how it will be assessed
  • A time scale for completion

The Negotiated Learning Contract / Agreement

This variation provides for clarity of purpose (learning goals and experiences) and of roles (of the tutor, learner, peer etc). In addition it enables the parties to gain a sense of ownership to the overall process, this in itself provides a strong motivational justification for partaking in any future collaborative activities. It also opens the path for the development of a number of key transferable skills; such as communication, personal effectiveness, reflective practice etc.

In this process the learner is required to be explicit about their learning intentions, setting (and agreeing to) achievable goals. And being able to justify their own plans in terms of ‘x’ [where x is the curriculum or agreed learning outcomes].

This is achievable at undergraduate level, whether through class discussion or tangentially through individual learners deciding on their particular pathways – such as the choices provided by UCD Horizons. At graduate level it is almost an inevitability that this will occur in the discussions between a research student and their supervisor. This is further supported by recent interventions such as student PDP (personal development planning) and supervisor evaluation cycles.

Negotiated Learning Contracts
Advantages Disadvantages
Support individualised learning and flexible learning Need to be carefully introduced
Enhance self-reflection, learning to learn and self-management Can be inflexible, i.e. not take account of changes in learner's need and goals
Provides learners with clear goals May devalue collaborative learning
Provision of pathways for achieving these goals, based on their own learning needs May engender a legalistic attitude to education

Back to Engaging StudentsContinue to Example Learning Contract

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