July 4, 2013

Learning Contracts


A tool that many people use when pursuing self-education, or as they often call it in the business world, informal learning, is the learning contract. Learning contracts are documents you can use on your own or that can be used in business environments to guide employees in their self-directed education.

Learning contracts can take many forms, but the typical learning contract identifies the following:

  • Specific learning objectives. In other words, what is it you want to learn? This might seem like something so obvious as to not require documenting, but it’s not always so obvious. Subject matter topics often have various sub-topics that are entire areas of learning and study unto themselves. So stating clearly here what you want to learn focuses you best on your learning objective.
  • Reasons why you want to accomplish the learning objective. Again, this might seem obvious, but giving this some thought is a good idea. Why? Because just identifying something to learn isn’t enough. If you don’t identify why you want to learn it, you won’t have any passion behind the learning process and some passion about something is required if the learning is going to be rewarding and the knowledge or skill truly useful.
  • Resources you can use to accomplish the learning objective. Some of the many types of resources are websites, books, magazines, professional journals and newsletters, co-workers, managers, elearning, classroom-based learning, mentors, subject matter experts you can interview, and anything else you can think of that might prove useful.
  • Target dates and milestones. Do you have a specific date by which you’d like to have accomplished the learning objective? If so, do you have interim milestone dates along the way you’d like to document in order to keep your learning on track? List what you want to learn by what date. If this is a personal learning project without any specific deadline date attached to it, you could ignore this information. However, even for personal learning projects it can be useful to create dates by which you’d like to accomplish learning to keep you on track.
  • Documentation of the learning accomplished. In what way will you demonstrate that you’ve accomplished the learning objective? Creating some sort of “proof” of your learning serves multiple purposes. First, by creating such documentation you’ll feel more confident that you have learned what you set out to learn. Second, when presented to potential employers, perhaps as part of an entire education and experience portfolio, such documentation will impress hiring managers and tell them you’re serious about your ongoing education. Third, if you ever decide to enter into formal higher education schooling, many colleges and universities offer credit for previous life experience and knowledge and this part of the learning contract documentation will provide the source material required by those institutions.

So do you have something identified that you’d like to learn? Go ahead and create a learning contract for yourself. Just open up a word processor and start typing. The form the contract itself takes isn’t important. All that’s important is that it serves the purpose for which it’s intended.

Are you the owner or manager in a business or corporate department? Do you have specific knowledge or skills you’d like to see your employees learn? Consider implementing the use of learning contracts as part of your company’s regular, ongoing employee development.

If you have used a learning contract and have more insight into their use based on your experience, I’d love to hear about it.

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