Learning contract

One way to support and facilitate flexible learning is for the student and the lecturer to develop a learning contract. As stated in my previous post, adult learners are self motivated, learning best when course structure is individualised to the needs of the learner. Knowles described this type of learning as androgogical learning, where the learner takes responsibility for their own learning and the teacher is a facilitator, providing resources, guidance and support. Knowles developed the idea of learning contracts to support this self directed individualised process (Jarvis, Holford & Griffin, 2003).

where is our contract

When forming a learning contract Knowles recommended the following steps

  • diagnose your learning needs
  • specify your learning objectives
  • specify learning resources and strategies
  • specify evidence of accomplishments
  • specify how the evidence will be validated
  • review your contract with consultants
  • carry out the contract
  • evaluate your learning

(Jarvis et al., 2003, pg 107)

Learning contracts can be developed in partnership between the lecturer and the student. Learning contracts also call on Kolb’s four stage learning cycle. (See also my previous post) . In this instance the student can be provided with a learning objective, they can then observe and reflect on this within the learning contract. The student can then enter stage three of the learning cycle with abstract conceptualisation when they identify applicability to their learning and professional requirements. Stage four would occur when the learning that has occurred to this point is carried forward into practice, and the cycle continues once more.

When considering a flexible option for midwifery education this would seem to form a good basis for learning for students. The partnership that is required between the student and lecturer models the midwife woman partnership that is the basis of the midwifery profession in New Zealand (Stewart, 2004).


Jarvis, P., Holford, J., Griffin, C. (2003). The theory and practice of learning. New York: Routledge.

Stewart, M. (2004). Pregnancy, birth and maternity care. Feminist perspectives. London: Elsevier.

Image: New York Daily, where is our contract. Anthony Topper’s photos at flickr.com

Leave a comment


  1. Bronwyn is a big fan of learning contracts. I’m not so sure as I see just as many if not more people being put off by the idea as being turned on by it. I guess it could be a n optional process for people to enter into.. maybe on the tail of the informal and formal options… where someone who decides to go formal, would enter into a learning contract. It would be good if the contract and the enrollment form were 2 in the 1 document and process though…

  2. It seems that learning contracts are written into our new curriculum so not choice there. However I do think they are appropriate in our program as they prepare students for the requirements of the profession, to maintain a professional portfolio in which they record their learning and reflections. I believe midwifery is not alone in this requirement, of professional portfolios,so learning contracts might a have place here. Whether we should have to maintain a professional portfolio is probably an whole other discussion. I am quite excited about the idea of the learning contract though but I wait to see what the final process looks like. I do have some ideas, a above, but not sure how useful they are going to be.

  3. Mmmmn learning contracts. Yum! It would be great to see you modelling one for the course Carolyn. How about it?

  4. I am keen to look more at learning contracts. I do see them being one way to support partnership in education and individualised learning. I can see them fitting very well alongside the requirement for midwives to have a portfolio as I see a learning contract being a portfolio of learning. I will keep all informed of progress but not sure how much influence I will have in the format of this. I will have a better idea very soon.

  5. Shaun and Molly

     /  March 30, 2008

    this is very much what we do in year two and three of our existing degree – and is one of the strengths we plan to carry forward to our new delivery. We have worked pretty hard to consider which parts of the course are currently working well so we don’t throw the baby out….
    I think it is exciting that we can continue building on this by adopting more ways of delivery to extend our course out to other regions.
    I also liked your comments in a previous post about partnership – I have found that incorporating the partnership model into my work with yr 2 and 3 students has been really positive – and students have provided a lot of feedback to suggest this approach is a positive one for them too in terms of enabling.
    I think for midwives established in working in partnership we already have a solid grounding and strength to bring to the new delivery.
    In response to your comments re industry control Bronwyn – I think as long as we continue to observe the bottom lines set by industry – which for midwifery are a key part of our partnership with women -and a necessary guide for the end goal of the provision of safe care (as you acknowledge) we can then move far beyond these bottom lines and really assist students and ourselves to extend our potential even further. I don’t think we need to see industry as a limit but more as a minimum.

  6. rae

     /  March 30, 2008

    I think learning contracts won’t work everywhere – but in midwifery they are currrently working better and better i am finding. I think they work well for us as our students are so diverse (ages and experiences, backgrounds) but also because at the moment our students very much have an individualised programme of study (in yr 2 and 3 anyway) as they access such diverse and varied clinical experiences – so learning contracts have been one way of moving through this with them in a way that makes sense and is responsive to their dynamic needs, journey.

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