Learning Contracts and Agreements

See the full set of assessment cases in the assessment toolkit.

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A learning contract is an agreement negotiated between a learner and a supervisor to ensure that certain activities will be undertaken in order to achieve an indentified learning goal, specific evidence will be produced to demonstrate that goal has been reached.

It is based on the principle of the learners being active partners in the teaching-learning system, rather than passive recipients of whatever it is that the teacher thinks is good for them. It is about their ownership of the process.

A learning contract has the potential to change the student from being merely reactive, in the sense of responding to set demands to produce a 4,000-word assignment on this or that, to being proactive in taking the initiative in proposing work to meet the requirements.

A learning contract usually has a written record of:

  1. A series of negotiated learning goals/objectives. These are set between the student and the tutor/expert
  2. The strategies and resources by which these goals can be met
  3. The evidence which will be presented to show that objectives have been achieved and how it will be assessed
  4. A time scale for completion


  1. Supports individualised learning and flexible learning
  2. Enhance self-reflection, learning to learn and self-management
  3. Provides learners with clear goals
  4. Provision of pathways for achieving these goals, based on their own learning needs
  5. Helps to keep less independent learners on course because of it is specific and concrete
  6. Maximizes students’ motivation to learn because they have chosen the agenda


  1. Needs to be carefully introduced
  2. Can be inflexible, i.e. not take account of changes in learner's need and goals
  3. May devalue collaborative learning
  4. May engender a legalistic attitude to education
  5. May be challenging to create for students who are used to lecture/exam types of courses
  6. Not suitable for content with which student is totally unfamiliar – some initial guidance may be required


  1. Practically a learning contract allows for considerable variation in the form of submission, and clarifies in advance such thorny problems as collaborative working and how much help the student can expect from the tutor.
  2. Requires that lecturers redefine their traditional roles and make the transition from teacher to advisor.


  1. The lecturer should assist in developing learning contract and ensure its completion and good quality. 
  2. Recommend learning resources, such as books, journals, people, agencies, library materials.
  3. Be available as a resource for information, but allow student to take initiative in asking for assistance with learning.
  4. Meet regularly with the student to review progress, share ideas, and encourage learning.
  5. Evaluate the student’s work as described in the learning contract.

Useful websites

Additional Reading

  • Anderson, G., Boud D, and Sampson J., (1996) Learning Contracts: a practical guide. London; Kogan Page
  • Knowles, M. S. (1986). Using Learning Contracts: Practical Approaches to Individualizing and Structuring Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.
  • Codde, J. R. (2006) Using learning Conbtracts in the College Classroom, https://www.msu.edu/user/coddejos/contract.htm

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