Saturday, October 24, 2009

Learning Contracts: Bane of my existence!

I don't know if these "things" are used as much by other programs, but here at McMaster they are used extensively as part of the self-directed learning approach. They are intended to be a tool that helps a student to identify their learning gaps, set SMART goals, and create a plan for achieving those goals by identifying the resources, strategies and evidence of accomplishment that will be required. We use them for everything, and while they're a good idea in principle they are currently the bane of my existence!!
We have goals (aka Learning Objectives) for Foundational Knowledge, goals for our Problem-Based Tutorials, goals for improving our interviewing skills, and a 12-goal Learning Contract for our placements! Now, I have to say... I DO get it. I understand why we use the tool and I can even see how it's useful. I will even concede that they will get easier to do as time goes by. But right now I hate them. The process feels very contrived, it doesn't come naturally, and it takes a LOT of time.
So, what is this tool I speak of? The Learning Objective (or Contract... a series of objectives) has four parts:
1. Objective - The end result you're looking for (ie. Become an expert at using the CPPF in practice).
2. Identify Resources and Strategies - What tools do you have access to and what will you do with them (ie. Resource = Textbook Enabling Occupation II, Strategy = Read the chapter about the CPPF and make notes about how it could be applied in my placement setting). You'll list every possible Resource and Strategy you can think of, but at minimum will identify one text, one human, and one other resource.
3. Evidence of Accomplishment - Here's where the SMART goals come in. These are all "I" statements that are measurable and timelined and all the other things that SMART goals should be. As with the Resources and Strategies, there will be a number of different evidence statements (ie. At the end of week one, I will discuss with my preceptor the different stages of the CPPF as they applied to one client during the week and ask for feedback regarding the accuracy of my understanding).
4. Grading Scheme - How will your success be evaluated. Must include specific measurable outcomes for a grade of Excellent, Good, Incomplete, and Fail (I'm not doing an example for this... it takes too freakin' long! lol).

So, as you can see... setting proper learning objectives can be a really lengthy process, especially when it comes to detailing exactly how you would demonstrate evidence of accomplishment and evaluate your success in the grading scheme. Just talking about it now makes me feel like I'm dying a little on the inside.
The upside of all of this... and I'm glad to say that there is an upside... is that in time (I'm told) it gets easier. And the great part about that is this: Once we are practicing OTs we will be required to create professional development plans each year that include identifying our learning gaps, resources, strategies, and evidence of accomplishment... and we'll be required to submit our professional portfolios, which include these learning plans, to our regulating body (in Ontario it's COTO) every two years. So, if it's something I'm going to have to do for the rest of my professional life, and my license depends on it, I'd rather get some practice in now! That way it won't be quite so stressful when the time comes that my professional life depends on it.
So the moral of my story is this... hate them now all you like, but find it in your heart to learn to love Learning Contracts. Perhaps that should be my next Objective? ha ha ha ha... um NO. That's not going to happen.
One day I will love them.
For now, I strongly dislike them.
I hope everyone else's objectified learning is going well!! All the best, :)SweetPea

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