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Creating a Personal Learning Contract

Creating a Personal Learning Contract

Author: Mark Rossman

To describe the development of a personal learning contract

This packet provides information about how to develop a personal learning contract. The elements of the learning contract are also described. These elements are 1) the nature of the learning experience; 2) specific learning objectives (what is wanted to be learned); 3) methods of accomplishing the learning objective (how the individual plans to complete the objective, i.e., who will be interviewed, what books, journals or articles will be read, what internet sources will be reviewed, what classes will be attended, etc., and 4) what will be produced as evidence of accomplishment of the learning (i.e.; a research paper, a score of 80% on a test, o log or journal, etc.).how to determine whawt is to be learned, how to provides an understandin

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Introduction to the learning contract

Learners learn differently from one another.  Some learn faster; some slower.  Some learn more by reading; others learn better by viewing films, watching television, listening to a tape or cassette or working on a computer.  Many educators are facilitating learning through the use of the individualized "learning contract" approach.  Essentially, this technique encourages learners to take responsibility for their own learning and to become "self-directed" learners. A personal learning contract will allow you to clearly develop an understanding of what you want to learn, specific learning objectives, how you will accomplish your learning objectives, and what you will produce as evidence of accomplishment. 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

Development of the learning contract

Perhaps the foremost proponent of the learning contract technique was the late Dr. Malcolm Knowles.  He described the learning contract as a " . . . means of reconciling the 'imposed' requirements from institutions and society with the learners' need to be self-directing.  It enables them to blend these requirements in with their own personal goals and objectives, to choose ways of achieving them and the measure of their own progress toward achieving them."  (Knowles 1975. p. 130).  He also provides much help to the learner by providing guidelines for writing learning contracts as well as illustrative examples.  This idea can work for you.

Source: Knowles, M.S. Self-Directed Learning. New York: Association Press, 1975.

What are the elements of a learning contact?

Personal learning contracts have no required elements. A form that I have suggested to my learners is a simple four part form that has the following elements:1) describe the nature of the learning experience; 2) state the specific learning objectives (what is wanted to be learned); 3) determine methods of accomplishing the learning objective (how the individual plans to complete the objective, i.e., who will be interviewed, what books, journals or articles will be read, what internet sources will be reviewed, what classes will be attended, etc., and 4) determine what will be produced as evidence of accomplishment of the learning (i.e.; a research paper, a score of 80% on a test, o log or journal, etc.). 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

WHAT is to be learned

In actual practice, objectives are stated in many ways.  For the purpose of the personal learning contract, a learning objective is defined quite simply as that which the learner wants to learn.  It describes the result rather than the progress of instruction.  Learning objectives should relate to the general nature of the learning goal stated in the first part of the learning contract.  This may be a personal, long-range goal be something specific, like the goals of a particular course.  In any event, the learning objectives should be quite broad and relate to what you want to learn.  

Learning objectives may be one of five types.  The most widely used is the "knowledge" type.  An adult seeking knowledge about something is usually seeking generalizations about experience or is seeking to gain an initial starting point.  The next level of learning objectives is "understanding" wherein the learner is seeking to apply newly gained information or generalizations.  The third level is the "skills" level.  Here learners are seeking new ways of performing through practice.  The fourth level is the "attitude" level.  At this stage, the adult is seeking to adopt new feelings or attitudes by experiencing greater success with them than with old feelings.  The last level is "values."  This is the adoption and priority arrangement of beliefs. 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

HOW it is to be learned

Methods of accomplishing learning objectives are frequently determined by the type of the learning objective.  If the learner is seeking a "knowledge" level, attendance at training sessions, lectures or classes, completing assignments, computer program, etc. may be appropriate.  Higher level learning objectives require different learning methods.  For example, to attain a "skill" as a human resource developer, the internship or practicum method is highly desirable.  Independent study, used carefully, is also an appropriate method.

 Once the learning objective has been determined, the method of accomplishing it should be one that is based upon an understanding of the ways in which you learn best  as well as the type of objective.  Be creative and innovative when designing and selecting methods.  For example, a common method of accomplishing a "knowledge" or "understanding" objective is through the reading of a book or an interview with an expert.  Try to specify the titles of the book to be read or the names of the experts to be interviewed when describing the methods to be used to accomplish the learning objectives.  It should be recognized that when writing the contract, the titles or names might not yet be known.  These may become known only after the learner begins the process.  This may be an appropriate time to renegotiate the contract.  Careful planning and negotiation with the learning facilitator can help with the identification of appropriate resources. 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

Evidence of accomplishment

When seeking evidence of accomplishment, do not be misled by the overemphasis frequently placed in "qualitative," "measurable" or "empirically validated" results.  Different kinds of learning objectives call for different kinds of evidence.  Performance assessment in the area of knowledge requires the participant to demonstrate in some way what has been learned.  If desired knowledge is in an established academic field, or in any of several technical or vocational fields, successful completion of a nationally standardized subject-knowledge test may help a participant to assess present level of performance.  If a standardized test is not available, a teacher-made test could be used.  Locally developed tests to be frequently more acceptable and usually just as effective as standardized tests, especially in the classroom.

Another method of determining accomplishment is the production of a log or journal indicating what has been gained or how you have used the new information.  Performance assessment in the area of understanding and insight requires that you demonstrate an ability to analyze situations, see patterns, develop categories, determine cause and effect relationships, and be able to apply knowledge and thought processes to the resolution of problems.  Some standardized tests of critical thinking ability are designed to give evidence regarding this type of performance as are essay tests. Many learners are more likely to find simulation exercises, wherein you act out your understanding and insight in the handling of "live" problems, to be more relevant and realistic.  Video tapes, audio tapes or statements attesting to one's participation in this type of learning by the individual, the group leader, other participants, subordinates, colleagues, etc., would be examples of this type of evidence of accomplishment.

Performance assessment in the areas of skills requires that you do the action in question and have the performance rated in some way.  A simple illustration of skill-performance assessment is provided by the device commonly used in public speaking classes when the participant makes a speech and has it critiqued by the other participants.  Such items as clarity, appropriateness of textures, poise and rhythm are all responded to thereby providing the speechmaker with an evaluation of the performance.  Similar profiles can be drawn from observer ratings or performance in such areas as typing, operating a word-processor, instruction giving, interviewing, leading a discussion, handling conflict or decision making.  For assessment of certain basic skills, such as reading, computing, finger dexterity, etc., standardized tests are available.

Performance assessment in the areas of attitudes, interests, and values is much more difficult and even less precise than in the areas of knowledge, understanding and skill.  Some standardized tests exist that can be used to determine generalizations regarding self-perceived attitudes, interests and values, but there is little assurance that these are the ones that will be acted upon in a critical situation.  Role playing, and especially reverse role playing (as when the student acts as the instructor) have been used extensively in human relations training to assist individuals to obtain insights into personal attitudes and feelings as they are revealed through action.  Decision-making exercises, in which the individual has to decide between two values (such as to challenge the grade or to accept it and compromise ones principles), can help an individual discover which values are more important than others.

It is important to be creative and innovative when providing evidence of accomplishment.  As mentioned above, it is not necessary to be bound by traditional assessment or evaluative criteria. 

Source: Dr. Mark Rossman

A personal learning contract template

A personal learning contract Learning can take nay form that is convenient for you and helps you to learn. A template that I have found useful looks like this:

Personal Learning Contract for ________________________________



DESCRIBE THE NATURE OF THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE. (Briefly describe what you want to do do)


 LEARNING OBJECTIVES RELATED TO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO (List 3-5 specific learning objectives related to what you want to do


METHODS OF ACCOMPLISHING LEARNING OBJECTIVES What books, articles, etc will you read? Who will you interview? What conferences or other learning resources will you use? Etc.)


EVIDENCE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT (HOW will you know you have accomplished your objectives? What will you produce that demonstrates that this has happened? A paper? A Journal? A product of some sort?


Completion Date: _______________________


Source: Dr. Mark Rossman