The Learning Contract. What we’re asking from learners and what we give them in return.

When we design a learning solution, we are asking people to commit time and effort to something, and it’s important to consider how we set that contract in place. If everyone is clear what’s expected of them, both learner and designer, then it’s more likely to be a successful and productive experience.

From a learners point of view, they want to know what they are committing themselves to. We need to clearly identify the time that learning will take and the expected outcomes, but we also need to contextualise the material, helping people to relate the new learning to things that they’ve learnt before. Simply throwing ideas out into the ether, with no regard of context, is unlikely to be productive. Part of the learning contract is to ask people to commit blocks of time and dedicated effort, and in return for this commitment, we need to ensure that materials are of a suitable quality and duration.

At a simple level, it’s essential that everything is tested; effectively that we treat learners as consumers. You wouldn’t be able to sell a car that rattled and only indicated right, so we need to ensure that any e-learning is fully functional too. Nothing betrays the energy that people commit to learning so much as discovering that it doesn’t work, that the video is jerky, that it crashes half way through or that it doesn’t record their results.

In terms of time, we have to make sure that the duration of the learning is warranted and that we haven’t simply filled the time or made something a certain length to meet the standard ‘forty five minute’ template. If you can achieve results in fifteen minutes, then that’s what we should use. Similarly, if there is too much to cover within a subject, we need to go back to project sponsors to move some of it out or to agree different structures for the materials. Trying to cram too much into too short a space simply means we leap from one superficial hill to another, without ever penetrating the details that lie between.

If we do justice to the trust and commitments that learners make, then we are better placed to ask more from them. If we are sure that our materials are time efficient, concise, professional and effective, then it’s ok to ask for people to make changes to behaviours, to learn new skills and to commit their mental energy to the task in hand.

Whilst it’s usually the learner who has most to gain through fully committing, learning is, nonetheless, an activity that’s contracted between two parties. it’s worth us standing back and ensuring that we’re fulfilling our end of the deal.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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