Abstract Learning contracts are being used in post-secondary education. Adults approach learning as problem solving and in theory by implementing learning contracts, the student becomes more involved in their own learning process. This paper discusses the use of a learning contract, the advantages and disadvantages for using contracts and the general design of a learning contract. The use of learning contracts provides opportunity for the student to be more involved in their own learning and apply relevance to their own educational experience.
Learning Contracts “Contract learning is, in essence, an alternative way of structuring a learning experience: It replaces a content plan with a process plan. ” Malcolm S. Knowles (1991, pg. 39). In the early 1970’s, the concept that adults learn differently than children was introduced by Malcolm Knowles. This theory of andragogy has inspired research and controversy. The complexity of adult learning and motivation provides opportunities to explore new methods of teaching. Implementing learning contracts is an alternative way to structure the learning experience. Definition.
Learning contract by definition is an agreement between students and teachers that grant the student certain freedoms and choices about completing tasks yet requires the student to meet certain specifications (“Definition,” n. d. , p. 1). According to Knowles (1980), contract learning solves, or at least reduces, the problem of dealing with wide differences within any group of adult learners. Knowles (1986) defines a learning contract as containing specifically: 1. the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to be acquired by the learner (learning objectives);
2. how the objectives are to be accomplished; 3. the target date for their accomplishment; 4. what evidence will be presented to demonstrate that the objectives have been accomplished; and 5. how this evidence will be judged or validated. In academic settings the contract also specifies how much credit is to be awarded and what grade is to be given (p. 38). Understanding the purpose and advantages of learning contracts and being able to apply them in our future careers as adult instructors will help prepare us for the variety of learning styles our students will have.
Purposes of Learning Contracts Learning contracts have multiple purposes. One purpose is that it can enrich and extend the curriculum. They can connect educational needs to individual needs. The responsibility of learning is shared by the student and the educator. Learning contracts can also challenge the abilities of highly able students and provide alternate options that can be altered specifically for the differences in abilities, learning styles and interests of individual students. The contract is a tool for structuring the learning process.
Uses of Learning Contracts
Findings from research about adult learning have shown that when adults go about learning something naturally, they are highly self-directed (Tough, 1971, 1979). Coincidentally, when adults learn on their own initiative, they have a deeper understanding and more permanent memory of when they learn by being taught. Core adult learning principles view the adult learner as the primary source of data for making sound decisions regarding the learning process (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 1998, p. 183). Contract learning is compatible with the notion that adult learners are self-directed learners.
Online instruction is an example where contract learning can be highly effective. In an online environment, instructors are not physically meeting with the students to discuss learning goals, objectives and expectations. Learning contracts can help negotiate and define the learning goals and outcomes. Sample learning contracts can be placed on a web page and the student can determine which contract best suits their learning goals. Students can also engage in online discussions about the different options with their peers and gain a broader perspective through shared knowledge.
Learning contracts can also be highly effective in the corporate world. Training employees is costly and can require large investments from organizations. Learning contracts allow the employee to take responsibility and increases motivation in the learning process when they are able to relate the training directly to their job responsibilities. Contracts can also clearly define the company’s expectations of the outcomes. When the expectations are defined, both instructor and trainee can track progress and stay focused on the company’s business goals and strategies. Learning contracts are useful in research.
Research learning contracts provide form and structure to an unstructured environment such as the research laboratory, while ensuring maximal flexibility (“Contracts,” n. d. , para. 2). It allows the student to control their own learning. Contracts allow students to define learning objectives, activities, rate of progress and methods of assessment that will evaluate the student’s success or failure. Advantages and Disadvantages of Learning Contracts Advantages. There are many advantages for learning contracts in adult education. Learning contracts enhance the adult learner’s self-directed learning experience.
They promote creative and critical thinking for the student and develop their time management, planning and decision making skills. They can target specific individuals and their specific learning activities. Each students experience can be unique to them and incorporate their own prior knowledge and experience. The contracts also allow students to work at their appropriate pace and can increase the student’s motivation which in return can increase their class participation. Contracts can help keep students on course if the contracts are specific and concrete.
This can also help minimize miscommunication or misunderstanding of expectations and outcomes. The contract also provides a means for the learner to receive continuous feedback regarding progress toward accomplishing learning objectives. Disadvantages. There are disadvantages to using learning contracts. Contracts can be time consuming to develop. They typically are more detailed and require you to put in more work in the developing stage. Also, students can have confusion especially if their prior learning experience has only been the traditional method of instruction in a classroom.
If students are only familiar with “instructor taught” learning and have not learned to be self-directed learners, the student could have difficulty adapting to this method. The learning contract method in pedagogic learning may require more instructor involvement verses student driven in andragogic learning. The attitude of the educator can have an influence on the learning contract as well. Some educators feel the learning contract gives the student too much control. Designing Learning Contracts There are many different ways to design a learning contract.
Learning contracts can address the diverse learning needs of different students and may be designed to suit a variety of purposes. Despite the flexibility, there is a general format starting with identification of the content that will be learned. Specific methods and strategies that will be used to learn the content should be identified. Specifying resources to be used in order to learn the content and determining the type of evidence that will be used to demonstrate the learning should be identified. Last, the evidence that will be validated and by whom needs to be defined.
Having clarity will lead to improved performance and allow for revision of learning objectives if needed throughout the learning experience (“Learning Contracts,” n. d. ). Conclusion and Recommendations Conclusion. Malcolm Knowles’ introduction of andragogy has influenced adult education. A distinguishing characteristic of adult learning programs is the shared control of program planning and facilitation (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 1998, p. 133). Engaging adults as partners in their learning experience satisfies their “need to know” and appeals to their self-concept as independent learners.
Learning contracts are a tool that encourages students to participate more actively in their own learning experience. It is an alternative method of structuring a learning experience unique to individuals. It enables educators to work with differences among a group of learners. Learning contracts, more so than any other type of instructional method, create the conditions for individualized instruction. The contract method will not be effective if the adult learner is passive in their own learning experience. Disadvantages include extensive planning and commitment as well as excessive focus on individual success (Duggan, n.
d. ). In general, adult learners are going to be self-directed learners as opposed to child learners. Based on the five assumptions learned in WED 486 regarding adult learners: adults need to know why they need to know; adults need to learn experientially; adults approach learning as problem solving; adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value; and adults need to integrate new ideas with what they already know, learning contracts are an effective tool to enhance a self-directed experience. Recommendations. Additional research related to contract learning involves the fairness of learning contracts.
In the traditional method of instructor taught learning, all students are given the same syllabus and information on what it takes to earn a particular grade. In the case of learning contracts, they are individualized to the learner. The contract may be specific as to how each learner will obtain earned grades but will the content be equal? Additional research is recommended to determine if contracts are efficient if not all students are covering the same material. References Duggan, T. (n. d. ). The disadvantages of training agreements.
Retrieved from http://www.ehow. com/list_6075915_disadvantages-training-agreements. html Guidelines for writing. (n. d. ). In Learning contract guidelines [PDF]. Retrieved from https://dsacms. tamu. edu/sites/sllo. tamu. edu/files/LearningContractGuidelines. pdf Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education from pedagogy to andragogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Cambridge Adult Education. Knowles, M. S. (1986). Using learning contracts (p. 38). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. , Publishers. Knowles, M. S. , Holton, III, E. F. , & Swanson, R. A. (1998).
Beyond andragogy. In (Ed. ), The adult learner (5th ed. , pp. 153-183). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing. Learning contracts. (n. d. ). In How to create and use learning contracts [PDF]. Retrieved from http://fcpsteach. org/docs/directions-learning%20contracts. pdf Research learning contracts. (n. d. ). In webGuru. Retrieved October 1, 2011, from http://www. webguru. neu. edu/undergraduate-research/structuring-ur-experience/research-learning-contracts Tough, A. (1971, 1979). The adult’s learning projects. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.