Learning contracts, according to Bonnell and Caffarella, seek to adapt educational needs to individual student needs, and are a viable option when there is diversity in learner needs and interests. They define the learning contract as "a formal agreement written by a learner which details what will be learned, how the learning will be accomplished, the period of time involved, and the specific evaluation criteria to be used in judging the completion of the learning". Learning contracts help the educator and learner share the responsibility for learning.
Knowles supports the use of contract learning as an instructional strategy to bring about many practical benefits, including deeper involvement of the learner in the learning activities which they themselves have been involved in planning. He states that once a learner passes through the stage of confusion and anxiety associated with developing a contract, he/she will get excited about carrying out their own plans". Knowles sites another benefit of utilizing contract learning--an increase of accountability, since the learning contract provides more functional and validated evidence of the learning outcomes. The contract also provides a means for the learner to receive continuous feedback regarding progress toward accomplishing learning objectives.
Learning contracts, a powerful tool in conventional classrooms, can be equally effective in the online environment. Because the online environment does not provide the luxury of physically meeting with the class to discuss learning goals, objectives, and expectations, we must be very clear and concise in what we expect from the learner. Likewise, the learner must also be clear about what he/she expects from us and the course. A learning contract can facilitate negotiation and clarity of learning goals and outcomes. Sample learning contracts with instructions can be placed on a web page for the student to use as examples, and students can be encouraged to brainstorm ideas for learning contracts with the instructor and their online peers as well as negotiate the final contract utilizing email or an online discussion group.
This text has been adapted from Creating a Powerful Online Course through the Use of Multiple Instructional Strategies
The Independent Learning Contract System: Motivating Students Enrolled in College Reading Courses
College students, enrolled in basic skills courses, sometimes lack motivation to fully participate in class activities and related homework assignments. Factors that can account for poor motivation include perceived irrelevance of courses to their everyday lives, unrealistic perceptions of their learning skills, low self-confidence, personal problems, time constraints, and ineffective instructional strategies. This article presents the results of a study to assess the effectiveness of an instructional strategy, the Independent Learning Contract System (ILCS), designed to improve college reading skills while addressing the challenge of poor motivation. Included are descriptions of the student academic motivation factors, the independent learning principles, and the learning contract principles underlying the development and implementation of the strategy. Results from an analysis of variance indicated the ILCS was an effective instructional strategy. Jerry J. Lewis