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What Is Contract Learning?

By C. Webb
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Contract learning is a tool used in education in which the student and instructor agree on benchmark standards and ultimate learning goals. It offers an alternative to a content learning plan by providing a process learning plan. The student's participation in the process can be the foundation for a lifelong love of learning.

Most contract learning is typically used in self-directed study, though it also sometimes occurs in traditional classroom settings. The process of contract learning teaches students to be more involved in their educations and to identify steps needed to reach their ultimate learning goals. For example, a student who needs to learn about the universe might prepare a contract that states which planet he will study each week and by what benchmarks he will show he has learned the content.

Each learning contract is individually prepared but typically identifies the learning objective, how the objective will be accomplished, a date by which it should be done, and how the student will demonstrate the newly acquired knowledge. This process should be shared between the student and instructor. There should also be a clause denoting what score or mark the student will receive for each benchmark reached.

If a student is studying plants, the contract might state that he or she will receive the top grade if he can name all plant parts, explain how plants pollinate, and discuss five plants indigenous to his or her geographic area. The student who only completes a portion of these objectives will receive a reduced grade or score. All of these elements should be agreed on when the contract is drawn up.

Contract learning focuses the responsibility for learning back on the student. Instead of a teacher determining how a student will learn a concept, the student identifies the steps and process by which it will be done. This type of education is frequently used in home-school settings. Students who successfully complete their contracts are often able to continue self-directed studies throughout their lives.

The concept of contract learning is used from preschool through college. Contracts are written and signed by the student and the instructor. Sometimes there is an evaluation process in which contracts are reviewed periodically by other educators to ensure they are being properly written and fairly judged.

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