The learning contract, which suggests a two-way transaction between student and mentor, involves initial dialogue between mentor and student regarding goals, possible alternatives, aspects of design, and methods of implementation and evaluation. Through such a process, students and mentors develop new ideas for studies and call upon an array of resources and modes of study that take into account a student's background, skills, interests, schedule, and degree goals.
Empire State College has always been committed to the idea that effective learning derives from purposes, needs, activities and study forms that are important to the individual, that learning occurs in varied ways and places, and that styles of learning may differ significantly from person to person and from one setting to another. Even in special programs where students from similar situations or the same organizations are grouped together, or in study groups where a number of students work together with the same mentor, or in studies designed to be carried out online, mentors quickly discover wide variations in the learning needs and purposes of individual students. The learning contract reflects the college's commitment to individualization since it allows for the possibility of, and encourages, active student involvement in the development of its content.
Working with students in a contract mode invites us to shift gears from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning, and from a position of sole authority in the student-teacher relationship to a position of cooperation and shared decision-making between student and mentor. Such a refocusing is a complex and sometimes difficult task.
Mentors need to actively involve the student in the articulation of goals, the identification of learning resources, and the naming of activities. Mentors need to guide students in this process (in helping them know where or how to look, in providing them with solid starting points, and in structuring touchstones along the way), and in evaluating the appropriateness of a student's suggestions. But it is the student's active engagement that fosters the acquisition of skills which will be strengthened from contract to contract, and that will serve the student well even beyond Empire State College.
In larger group settings such as formal group studies or residency-based programs or in circumstances where mentors are asked to repeatedly guide the same study with many individual students.
Contracts created without the direct participation of students can still accommodate student differences by being only a sketch of what might be required (to be filled out as the student progresses), or by providing a good number of options to meet the various needs and interests of the individual student -- options to be worked out as the study progresses.
Center for Distance Learning courses are like extensive generic contracts in that they structure and time the student's learning activities but provide a good number of options in the individual assignments to meet the various needs and interests of the individual student. CDL course guides provide the same information that is provided in a learning contract: purpose-goals-objectives of the study, learning activities, criteria for evaluation.
Attributes: The very first contract undertaken at the college by a student, whether academically experienced or not, should be very carefully considered. In almost every case the studies on that contract should be:
Therefore, studies ought to be avoided that are:
A special contract for new students: Mentors are strongly encouraged to create at least one study for first contracts that they can tutor themselves and that meets the above criteria. Such an early connection with the student gives the mentor a easy way to become acquainted with the student's academic interests, background, and purposes, and it also provides the mentor with a means of assessing the student's various strengths and weaknesses. To make the best use of this unique opportunity and to minimize the chances of failure, here are some specific suggestions for this first study: