A pre-wifi experience: Learning contracts for CPD

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LEARNING contracts provide a commitment for adults to learn, guiding learners to keep track of their choice of learning goals. With reference to continuing professional development (CPD) of the academics themselves, a learning contract may be defined as “a written plan that describes what an individual will learn as a result of some specified learning activity.” It serves as “a tool for communicating learning intentions. …” “Learning contracts can take many forms” and there are “a number of terms used interchangeably in reference to them, such as learning plans, study plans, performance agreements, or self-development plans.” “… the term learning contract … is the most common term in use today.” <www.caaschool.com/download/ philosophical _pillars/Learning %20 Contracts.pdf> However, I have not come across this term or its other labels in either local or international teaching and learning discussions in the several decades as an official in several HEI’s. But we did use it in several state colleges I was with.

How learning contracts may be utilized depends on an HEI’s purpose. As a major tool for CPD, preferably in summer, hold a review of human and attendant resources of general education and major requirements for each program. This assumes that the various curricula respond to the philosophy, vision and mission of the institution. The review translates into present and needed enhancement of qualifications and experience of the academics, the library and laboratory resources essential to all curricula and related policies. Review results focus on invigorating the threefold function of instruction, research and community extension/civic engagement. Accordingly, academics draft the specific objectives of their learning contracts in consultation with their respective peers, chairs and deans. Together, college deans draw up the overall plan and the CPD budget, coordinating with proper officials for support resources. Much spade work needs to be done in coming out with a consolidated two-pronged CPD plan—the school-based and the study leaves and sabbaticals; the search for the latter for study grants, leave schedules to avoid disrupting term course offerings, readiness of concerned academics to be away from families for studies, etc.—all these details need working out.

Particularly during the 80s when there were no computers, learning contracts served to accelerate academic growth. Research was quite a new focus in Philippine institutions, especially in typical provincial HEI’s. Nonetheless, we utilized learning contracts for school-based learning. Study leaves for higher degrees were a separate plan. Our source confirms our experience: that learning contracts provide “the strong motivation to learn what one needs or wants to learn; the concern to develop intellectual skills and lifelong learning habits; and the desire to individualize and personalize learning” (Lindquist, 1975, p. 76).

A learning contract to which the academic and dean and department heads were signatories had a timeframe of a semester to a school year or longer. It became a part of one’s portfolio and was credited accordingly for rank and tenure. Examples of school-based learning contract objectives and specific learning activities were: to enhance research trends knowledge in the courses the academic usually conducts by a review of at least five research studies on a given discipline; to come up with a proposed roadmap for extension services anchored on appropriate contemporary theories drawn from a literature review, etc. Most of the learning contracts responded to individual need for academic growth but there were those composing a study group, allowing for cooperative learning.


As an outlet to share respective learning contracts, a regular fortnightly CPD session took place. However, we had set the stage much earlier for this activity. The usual MWF and TTh classes instead met M-Th and T-Fri for one-and-a-half hours each session.

Wednesday mornings the academics and officials concerned attended to administrative/academic departmental/college/institutional matters. Meetings covered the spectrum of academic life: from hiring to retirement, from student admission to graduation, student and alumni affairs, partnerships, outsourcing, etc. Meanwhile, students went to the library or to the computer/science laboratories to accomplish their assignments. In the afternoon, all academics did related work while some assisted with meetings of student organizations on co-curricular and extracurricular matters.
The first Wednesday we introduced this schedule, several department heads wanted to give up. Suddenly, our library was full of students. Result: unprepared staff and slow service! With two days in-between class meetings of the new schedule, academics tended to give voluminous assignments. High morale of the VP’s helped us carry on the change.

They heard the side of academic support directors, academics and students as well, solicited suggestions and enlightened doubting Thomases on the rationale of the change.

In a month, most of the suggestions have been put in place. College deans took turns to prepare and post the monthly schedule of CPD activities. More life was in the Learning Resource Center, where we had the latest SONY digital presentation equipment. As there were no computers then, the much availed of learning aid was our updated related literature sent through post by our links offshore. Achieved learning contracts were reported through seminars, symposia or workshops. No need to dangle performance points to attract the academic audience, enthusiastic to take turns sharing across disciplines what they learned. It was heartwarming. With some scheduling modifications, the learning contract bore a new life to both who taught and learned—CPD on one hand and, on the other, student development. After 25 years, from one institutional head to another, traces of this pre-wifiCPD mode are still very visible. With lesser resources, try the learning contract!

Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, PhD, is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies included not only education and pedagogy but also literature, general science and history. She studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Great Britain and Japan. She headed chartered institutions, was vice-president for academics and for external relations and internationalization. She is copy editor of the Liceo journals, an internationalization consultant and professorial lecturer on-call and at the Graduate Studies of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro City). She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the central office of the Commission on Higher Education.

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