This week I am going to give you some tips on using learning contracts. There are times when it is necessary to use learning contracts but there are other times when I think it is tokenistic and probably not worth doing. Usually learning contracts would be used for:

  • longer training courses,
  • when learners will be working together or
  • when learners are expected to undertake work such as assignments or observations as part of the course.

When Learning Contracts are Useful:

When Training is Part of Employment

A learning contract should be in place alongside employment contracts when training is required as part of someone’s job role or when there is an agreement in place because the employer is paying for the training. In these instances I think the contract is useful. This is not only to protect the employer’s investment but also to ensure that the learner engages fully with the training and so the employer gives the required support to the learner.

Where Many People are Involved in The Learning Process

Learning contracts can also be useful when a number of different people are involved in the learning process. In this instance it isn’t because we necessarily want anyone to sign to agree that they will do certain things, although this could be part of the contract. We do it so everyone understands the role of each person in the process.

For example I was a Work Based supervisor for Youth Workers who were undertaking their Youth Work qualification at University. In this situation there was the learner, me as the Work Based supervisor, the lecturers and the line manager of the learner. Essentially four parties were involved. The learner needed to be clear of all of our roles related to their learning and each of us needed to be clear on each others’ roles to ensure we weren’t trying to duplicate things and cause confusion.

If The Learner is Reluctant

Obviously it is lovely, when you are delivering training, for all learners to want to be there. For them to be engaged and to be enthusiastic about doing all of the work. In reality this isn’t always the case. People may be on training courses because it is a legal requirement. Their performance at work might not be up to scratch so they have been sent on a training course. They might be doing it because it means they get some time out of the office. If this is the case then I think a learning contract would be beneficial because that is your way of saying, you might not want to be here but you are here so this is what we expect of you and if you do not follow this contract then this is what will happen.

When Learning Contracts are Not Useful:

I don’t think a learning contract needs to be used if you are delivering a short course. I also don’t think one is required if the course has no expectations for the learners to complete work outside of the course time. Also, if you have a very motivated group of learners who have instigated the training or people are paying for the course themselves then I think those are reason enough for them to engage, a learning contract won’t add any benefit to the learner-trainer relationship.

Make Learning Contracts Meaningful

I have seen it happen that learning contracts have been used but during the process of going through them and signing them the trainer or assessor or whoever is leading the process has said something along the lines of, “Obviously this isn’t really binding.” or “We can’t do anything if you don’t stick to it.” and that may be true. Perhaps contract isn’t really the right word, perhaps Learning Agreement would be a better description. Regardless of that, if everyone involved in the agreement or contract isn’t going into it taking it seriously with full commitment then you may as well not do it. It is as much about how the contract is presented and used as it is about what the contract says.

Next Week

In my Training Tips Thursday blog post next week I will provide some example templates of Learning Contracts for you to download, adapt and use.