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How To Write a Learning Contract

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A learning contract is a document a student creates to compare current abilities with desired abilities, and determine the best strategy for bridging the gap. What do you need to know that you don't already know? The learning contract includes learning objectives, available resources, obstacles and solutions, deadlines, and measurements.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Depends on the number of objectives

Here's How:

  1. Determine the abilities required in your desired position.
    • What are you going back to school to learn?
    • What job do you want?
    • What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you need to have in order to get the job you desire?
    Consider conducting information interviews with someone in the job you seek, and ask questions about exactly what you need to know. Your local librarian can also help you with this.
  2. Determine your current abilities based on prior learning and experience. Make a list of the knowledge, skills, and abilities you already have from prior school and work experience.

    It can be helpful to ask people who know you or have worked with you. We often overlook talents in ourselves that are easily noticed by others.

  3. Compare your two lists and make a third list of the skills you need and don't yet have. This is called gap analysis. What knowledge, skills, and abilities will you need for your dream job that you haven't yet developed. This list will help you determine the appropriate school for you and the classes you'll need to take.
  4. Write objectives for learning the skills you listed in Step 3. Learning objectives are very similar to SMAART goals.

    SMAART goals are:
    Specific (Give a detailed description.)
    Measurable (How will you know you've achieved it?)
    Attainable (Is your objective reasonable?)
    Action-oriented (Use an action verb.)
    Results-oriented (Phrase with the end result in mind.)
    Time-phased (Include a deadline.)

    Example:
    Learning objective: To speak conversational Italian fluently enough before traveling to Italy on (date) that I can travel without speaking English.

  5. Identify available resources for reaching your objectives. How will you go about learning the skills on your list?
    • Is there a local school that teaches your subjects?
    • Are there online courses you can take?
    • What books are available to you?
    • Are there study groups you can join?
    • Who will help you if you get stuck?
    • Is there a library accessible to you?
    • Do you have the computer technology you need?
    • Do you have the finances you need?
  6. Create a strategy for using those resources to meet your objectives. Once you know the resources available to you, choose the ones that match the way you learn best. Know your learning style.

    Some people learn better in a classroom setting, and others prefer the solitary study of learning online. Choose the strategy that will be most likely to help you succeed.

  7. Identify potential obstacles. What problems might you encounter as you begin your study? Anticipating problems will help you be ready to overcome them, and you won't be thrown off course by a nasty surprise.
    • Your computer could break.
    • Your daycare arrangements could fall through.
    • You might get sick.
    • What if you don't get along with your teacher?
    • What will you do if you don't understand the lessons?
    • Your spouse or partner complains you're never available.
    Think of everything that might become an obstacle and write it down.
  8. Identify solutions to each obstacle. Decide what you will do if any of the obstacles on your list actually happen. Having a plan for potential problems frees your mind of worry and allows you to focus on your studies.
  9. Specify a deadline for meeting your objectives. Each objective may have a different deadline, depending on what's involved. Choose a date that is realistic, write it down, and work your strategy. Objectives that don't have a deadline have a tendency to go on and on forever. Work toward a specific goal with a desired end in mind.
  10. Determine how you will measure your success. How will you know if you've succeeded or not?
    • Will you pass a test?
    • Will you be able to perform a specific task in a certain manner?
    • Will a particular person evaluate you and judge your competency?
  11. Review your first draft with several friends or teachers. Go back to the people you consulted with in Step 2 and ask them to review your contract. You might ask them if:
    • Your objectives are realistic given your personality and study habits
    • They know of other resources available to you
    • They can think of any other obstacles or solutions
    • They have any comments or suggestions regarding your strategy
    You alone are responsible for whether or not you succeed, but there are lots of people available to help you. Part of being a student is accepting what you don't know and seeking help in learning it.
  12. Make suggested changes and begin. Edit your learning contract based on the feedback you receive, and then begin your journey. You've got a map drawn specifically for you and designed with your success in mind. You can do this!

Tips:

  1. When you're thinking of the people in your life you might be able to ask for input, consider the ones who will tell you the truth, not the ones who will tell you what you want to hear or say only nice things. Your success is at stake. You need to know the good things, and the bad. Ask the people who will be honest with you.
  2. Online forums are great places to talk with other people who share your goals. Participate by posting your questions, responding to other people's questions, and getting to know people who are interested in the same things you are.

What You Need

  • You'll need to know what it is you want.
  • You'll need to know what you need to do to get it.
  • You'll need to know who you can ask if you don't know.
  • You'll need to know how you prefer to learn. You can take assessments online.
  • You'll need to know how long it will realistically take you to learn.
  • You'll need to know how you'll want to celebrate when you reach your goals!

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