The concept of contract learning has been present in educational practices for a few decades now. While the model's premises are very similar to the concepts of personalized learning and self-directed learning in contemporary Instructional Design, its application is much more structured in action. Contract learning efficiently systemizes the learning process and provides individuals with the opportunity to direct their own learning journey. Learning contracts involve active participation from both student and instructor, who negotiate and make a joint agreement to achieve certain objectives during the learning process. This model can be applied in every grade or class. Let's delve deeper and discover the nature of the concept, its benefits, and ways to incorporate this model in your Instructional Design.
As mentioned above, contract learning is essentially a tool that aids in the personalization of the learning process through the establishment of certain goals and objectives. Moreover, it's especially effective in self-directed learning. Student and instructor participation and collaboration are vital. In traditional classroom settings, the teacher typically decides on the curriculum, plans its execution, and determines the benchmark of success for their students. In contract learning, the roles are reversed. The student becomes responsible for mapping out their learning goals, identifying ways to reach them, and deciding which ways they will exhibit the knowledge acquired. To successfully complete a learning contract, the instructor supervises the learning process and ascertains whether the student demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the subject.
For example, if a student needs to learn about human anatomy, they will collaborate with their instructor to determine which systems they need to study each week. Then they'll have to agree on specific indicators or assessment methods when it's time to prove what they've learned. This approach is particularly beneficial for people who need more structured approaches to learning or those who would rather combine self-motivation and external motivation to reach their targets.
Contract learning not only teaches students how to become more active in terms of determining their own learning paths—it also promotes the cultivation of autonomy, which is a valuable skill. Students become masters of their fate, in a sense; they become motivated to proceed to the next step and meet the next milestone. By creating their own learning contracts in collaboration with their instructors, they can get acquainted with goal setting to incorporate it into their daily habits further.
In addition, through learning contracts, both parties can easily map out the student's progress on the learning path. As students become active in determining their own learning objectives and journey, each step they take will bring them closer to their goal. And due to the nature of the learning contract, progress can be visibly marked as they move from one objective to another. Lastly, the most obvious advantage of contract learning is the individualization of the learning journey. Through one-on-one discussions with their instructor, students can work out what learning methods are most effective for them, which resources they interact with best, and what timeframe the learning process will require. They can also decide on what evidence they will provide to prove that they have met their learning targets, which allows for tailor-made learning that, in turn, fosters the personalization of the assessment process itself.
Contract learning begins as a form of negotiation between all parties involved in the learning process: the student and the instructor. Usually, there's a verbal discussion about what should be learned and what should be achieved during a one-on-one session. The findings from this discussion eventually turn into a written agreement, including a plan or a schedule. The final document, or learning contract, details the following:
Of course, a learning contract is also ideally suited for corporate training curricula. Companies can utilize learning contracts to support and promote their training and continuous education initiatives. The process can be made easier through the participation of multiple departments, Subject Matter Experts, and external content providers that can aid in cornering target areas for improvement with more precision. Nonetheless, personalizing the path to reaching each learning goal depends on the company's industry and the employees' learning objectives.
Ultimately, the learning contract lists a series of predetermined actions that smoothen and plan out the learning process to maximize a student's chances of reaching their learning milestones. However, predicting potential obstacles in the learning process is not always possible for the student or the instructor. Attempting to work out possible bottlenecks should be done during the planning stage, but there should always be room to consider or reconsider possible obstacles depending on the given circumstances. And although contract learning is great for self-directed learning, students and instructors should have regular check-ins to ensure that things go according to plan.
If you want to follow along with this series, check out our Instructional Design Models and Theories list to learn more about the history and the most notable models of Instructional Design.
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