Learning Contracts in Self Directed Learning

Self-directed learning has become a popular avenue for education over the past couple of decades as the evolution of the internet has provided opportunities for online courses.  On top of this, various post-secondary education programs and fields of work have begun to incorporate personal learning plans as a requirement.  For example, as a nurse in Canada, I am expected to participate in an ongoing yearly continuing competency program.  This is so that I am able to prove to my employers and governing body that I am continuously learning and staying up-to-date with current information and technologies.

With the boom in self-directed learning, strategies for ensuring compliance and promoting engagement from the learner have been studied and incorporated.  One such strategy is the learning contract.  A learning contract is a document constructed between a learner and an educator regarding specific goals for the learner, as well as strategies that the learner will use in order to meet those goals.  These goals could include theoretical learning or the initiation of specific practical learning experiences, or both!  It can even be something as simple as making a conscious effort to engage in a meaningful way during class time – anything that will engage the learner and make their educational experience fuller and develop common goals between the student and the teacher (Frank & Scharff, 2013).




Rye (2008) showed that the use of learning contracts improved overall confidence in respiratory care students, and helped students to identify areas where they either needed or wanted to enhance their learning or improve their skills.  I plan to become a nursing instructor as my education progresses.  In nursing education, self-reflection and personal identification of weaknesses and strengths is an integral component of developing competencies in the field.  I plan to incorporate learning contracts in my teaching so that students will not only have a strong grasp of the concept as they prepare to begin working as nurses, but will also have developed strong planning and organizational skills as they move from students under supervision to independent nurses.  I hope to not only improve the confidence of my students in their theory courses and practical experiences, but also allow them to have control over experiences during their education so that it is relevant to their career goals.



Frank, T., & Scharff, L. F. V. (2013). Learning contracts in undergraduate courses: Impacts on student behaviors and academic performance. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(4), 36-53.

Rye, K.J.B. (2008). Perceived benefits of the use of learning contracts
to guide clinical education in respiratory care students. Respiratory Care, 53(11), 1475-1481. Retrieved from http://rc.rcjournal.com/content/53/11/1475.full.pdf+html

Sample learning contract [online image]. Retrieved July 3, 2016 from https://www.interventioncentral.org/behavioral-interventions/motivation/how-increase-motivation-learning-contracts



Cognitive Science for Learning

A quick Google search of “right/left brain” brings up a host of articles debunking the idea that people use predominantly either the left or right side of their brain, and that an individual is either creative or logical based on their brainedness.  This is an interesting concept, given the number of individuals I am personally acquainted with who are both logical and creative.

I have always found the concept of creativity fascinating.  I recall one instance where a friend and I were marveling at the creative genius and skill that went into a painting. “I could never paint something like that,” she said.  That conversation got me thinking about creativity and I had another conversation with another friend, a writer.  She talked about how challenging it is to write good material, and how difficult it is to motivate herself.  She said that if she doesn’t set aside a specific time each day to brainstorm and create, she doesn’t maintain the discipline necessary to produce good, creative writing.

As I pondered these discussions, I started to wonder whether creativity was indeed as spontaneous as the average person thinks, or whether it is simply a product of motivation and drive!  I cannot paint, and I will never consider myself an artist when it comes to drawing; however, I do not have the interest in learning techniques and practicing the necessary skills.  I play the violin, and more than once a friend has commented “oh you’re so lucky that you have such natural skill.”  I have played for many years, and practiced countless pieces of music countless times!


The theory of right-brain dominance versus left-brain dominance has been shown to be inaccurate, and that instead the entire brain is generally used for neural processes.  There may be more activity in one specific areas of the brain, however that has not been shown to support the idea that specific types of people use one side of their brain more dominantly (Nielson, Zielinski, Ferguson, Lainhart & Anderson, 2013).

In preparing for instruction, I think the most significant impact this research will have on my teaching and mentoring skills is in situations where students say something like “I’m just not very good at this subject.”  While natural skills, abilities and personality traits may impact the ease with which someone learns something, these areas are not what explicitly determine whether someone can develop skills in a particular area.  Knowing this, I can practice discussing this issue with students and research how to guide students to a better understanding of how to improve their skills through discipline, the development of internal motivation, and goal-setting.


Left brain right brain [online image]. (2016). Retrieved July 3, 2016 from https://teflgeek.net/2015/03/23/left-brain-right-brain-this-idea-must-die/

Nielsen, J.A., Zielinski, B.A., Ferguson, M.A., Lainhart, J.E. & Anderson, J.S. (2013). An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging. PLOS One. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0071275#references

Tatera, K. (2015, November 11). Left-brained vs. right-brained? Myth debunked. The Science Explorer. Retrieved from http://thescienceexplorer.com/brain-and-body/left-brained-vs-right-brained-myth-debunked


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I really enjoyed this week’s foray into  the research of motivation.  Daniel Pink has an awesome TED talk that I’ve linked below, where he talks about the disconnect between science and the way people understand the relationship between reward and productivity.


Autonomy, mastery, and purpose; these are the contributing factors which ensure engagement, productivity and satisfaction in the work world.  I suppose one could argue that these are crucial in the world of education, as learning could be described as the student’s occupation.  When people are given autonomy, productivity increases.  When people are given incentive, it actually statistically is shown to reduce productivity because it narrows their focus and reduces creativity (Glucksberg, 1962).  This was shown by taking a study done by Karl Duncker (1945), and modifying it with a control group under normal circumstances, and another incentivized group.

I can personally relate to this theory.  I recently quit a job where my role was very structured.  I quickly became burnt out, feeling restricted and quickly tired mentally throughout every shift though I often only worked 5 hours at a time.  Following my resignation, I picked up an entirely different job where my hours are flexible, there is little oversight over my activities, and I have a significant amount of creative freedom.  I love this new job!  I want to stay at it for a very long time!  However, the interesting part is that I get paid quite a bit less and I am perfectly happy with it.  I would even say I am better at this job than I was at the previous one, and not because the skills I use are radically different.  I still use critical thinking, interpersonal communication, and creative skills; I simply get to choose (autonomy) how I use them and feel more fulfilled as a result.

It’s exciting that research is starting to support workplace strategies other than the traditional management model!  Although there is still the disconnect, as Pink says (2009) “there is a mismatch between what science knows, and what business does.”  I can’t wait to see how the workplace and learning environments change to accommodate the research.

In my own personal instruction, this concept really reinforces the idea that as an educator I need to foster intrinsic motivation in my students rather than expect them to be motivated by extrinsic factors.  I need to ensure that the content they are learning in my class is relevant to them, and come up with assignments that allow them to come up with meaningful solutions to issues.  In one class I recently took, the major assignment asked us to take the community we were learning in and find a problem that needed to be addressed.  We then had to come up with meaningful strategies and real research about the area.  It was interesting to see the presentations at the end of the term, and understand how each presenter had selected a topic that had some sort of personal relevance to them.  I will take that learning forward with me in my education, and future teaching roles.




Duncker, Karl (1945). On Problem Solving. Psychological Monographs 58. American Psychological Association.

Glucksberg, S. (1962). “The influence of strength of drive on functional fixedness and perceptual recognition”. Journal of Experimental Psychology 63: 36–41. doi:10.1037/h0044683. PMID 13899303.

TED (Producer). (2009). Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation [Youtube]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y&app=desktop

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Creating a Positive Learning Evironment

I watched a video from the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness through the University of Saskatchewan for this blog post.  I have included the video in this post for those interested in it.

The most significant piece of information I took away from the video is the importance of recognizing one’s students as unique, complex individuals with a variety of life experience.  Each person is in a class for a reason, and each person has some level of both desire and potential to learn.  One educator in the video shared that they like to get to personally know their students, and understand their educational background and a little bit of personal history so that the students understand that their instructor places value in them.  Another comment that was made was that it is important to acknowledge and reward in some small way a student’s contribution to discussion.  The example shared was using responses such as “that’s a great question,” or, “you raise an interesting point.”  No matter what the question or point was, regardless of accuracy, it can be used to further the discussion.  Part of the discussion could be using an incorrect point made by a student to guide students to understanding the correct answer.

Another example shared was that in order to foster a positive learning environment, an instructor should be willing to acknowledge personal error.  I know from personal learning experience that I myself have significantly more respect for an instructor that is willing to admit that they don’t know an answer or provided an incorrect answer to the class earlier than an instructor that seems to view themselves as infallible and does not acknowledge their mistakes.

In my classroom, I will be open about my personal experiences.  I have gone through nursing education and worked as a nurse for two years, so I understand the challenges associated with it.  I found that instructors that were accessible and with their personal experiences of success and failure were much more relatable; later it was easier to share honest self-evaluations with them.  With my students, I will share specific examples of both my areas of success and areas where I either made a mistake or needed to improve.  One specific learning experience working as a new nurse stuck with me.  I missed administering a very strong, scheduled painkiller to a patient who experienced extreme pain when the medication wore off.  Because they missed a sheduled dose, they woke up in significant discomfort in the middle of the night.  I learned the significance of monitoring my plans at work in order to provide competent care for my patients, and also adapted my strategy as a result.

Nursing students are often extremely hard on themselves and feel that any mistake is a career-threatening blunder, when in reality all nurses are continually absorbing new information and learning from their mistakes.  I plan to bring this honesty to my teaching in order to create a welcoming, positive environment for my students.


The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness (Producer). (2013). Creating a positive learning environment (Youtube). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqNCiNMuDOs 

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Learning Partner Skype Call

During my Skype call with Susan, we discussed a variety of trends in her area of work, as well as the trends she sees in adult education. In her field of work this included using learning management systems to make courses more accessible to workers in order to continue their learning. In regards to adult education trends, she discussed the concept of flipped classrooms and the ways in which training is provided in self-learning packages and then later practiced in a workshop.

Susan also described how she sees her work world changing as instructors become, as she described it, commodities. The explanation for this was that as corporations are growing and expanding, credentials such as a Provincial Instructor Diploma ensure that individuals are able to obtain and retain employment. Large corporations have very large employee bases, and often need to deliver training to hundreds of people in a relatively short amount of time such as over a few days. Having someone on staff with experience and training to effectively deliver this training is starting to be viewed as a real asset.

I found this image online which gives me a visual of what I imagine the flow of workplace learning to look like where Susan works, or perhaps in a corparation similar to what we discussed.




Ryan, W. J.. (2012, December 17). Learning in a social organization  [digital image]. Retrieved from https://mondaymorningmusings.org/2012/12/17/guide-me-and-i-will-learn-sooner/


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Motivating Adults to Learn

Adult learning is an interesting beast.  It is complex, and requires many different ingredients in order to be successful; appropriate timing, an understanding of why the learning is important, flexibility, and relevance to the individual’s life.  Adult learning requires a very different approach than the learning of children and youth.

In elementary school, for example, children arrive in the morning and join classes filled with other children who have been dropped off by parents or school buses.  They then sit at their desks and open their books to where the teacher tells them and learn the subjects for that day.  If a child is rowdy, or refuses to do their work there are consequences such as loss of recess, detention, or calling the parents.  Even if the child doesn’t want to go back, chances are good that they will remain in that class, and things will be discussed, worked upon, and adapted to ensure that they learn all that they need to in order to progress to the next level of education.

Adults generally decide to pick up learning projects out of personal interest or for personal gain, rather than for a reason such as simply being told they need to.  They may, in fact, be told that they need to by an employer, however this doesn’t guarantee that the adult learner will acquiesce for fear of consequence.  It is not like a child in school who must continue to attend; an adult has the freedom to leave their job if they disagree with the employer.  Instead, an adult must have some degree of personal motivation in order to engage in their learning.

Adults tend to require a number of conditions be satisfied before effective learning can take place.  There must be a motivation; this can be either internal such as learning something new for the sake enjoying of learning itself, or external such as taking a course in order to receive a raise at work or improve work efficiency. They must understand why it is important to learn something, or it will not be viewed as relevant learning.  Adults require flexibility in methods of delivery.  They have been doing things their own way, and over the years their strategies have become more and more concrete.  This means that teaching methods must incorporate a variety of styles in order to ensure that tactile, auditory, and visual learners all have the opportunity to understand course material equally.  The experience needs to be a positive one.  In order for adults to remain motivated and engaged in material, they have to obtain some sense of achievement and success.  Feeling like a failure is not likely to motivate an individual to continue learning (Adult Learners, 2016).

These conditions for learning are important to consider when planning for delivery of lessons in adult education sessions.  There are a variety of strategies that can be incorporated to ensure that they are fulfilled and each learner feels engaged in their learning.  For example, at the start of a course or program the instructor could hold an introduction session and ask the students what they hope to gain from their learning.  This would ensure that the instructor could tailor their curriculum so that not only is the important information being shared, but it is being shared in a way that is relevant to the students’ lives. Another strategy to ensure adult students are learning to their maximum potential is to deliver material in a variety of mediums.  This could mean that visual learners are accommodated with the use of slideshow presentations, auditory learners with a comprehensive lecture and time for asking questions, and tactile or experiential learners could be accommodated with time for group work with a case study or experiment.

There are many differences between young and adult learners.  It is important for the adult educator to understand and adapt teaching styles in order to ensure that learning occurs to its maximum potential.



Adult learners: How to engage & motivate themn to learn (2016).  Retrieved from http://www.growthengineering.co.uk/adult-learners-how-to-engage-motivate-them-to-learn/

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Trends in Adult Education

A trend I have been observing in adult education is the increase in online learning. There are entire college and university programs dedicated to delivering quality education in a significant variety of areas from business to healthcare. There are massive online open courses (MOOC) which are becoming more and more prestigious, and opening up doors to students in areas where previously the opportunities may have been entirely unheard of. For example, students have flourished in these online courses and important people have taken notice. Two aspiring students from two very different parts of the world found themselves doing so well in a MOOC offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that they got the opportunity to participate in an MIT Bootcamp session, and are now slated to attend a formal program at MIT (From MOOC to Bootcamp, 2016).
These are students who, if the internet hadn’t opened up the world, may never have had the opportunity to attend such a prestigious school of technology. The number of great thinkers in the world has not increased, but the world’s access to them has. We think we are living in an age of information and knowledge now, but I imagine that our access to knowledge and understanding will only continue to grow as we expand the access humankind has to global connectedness and we tap into the minds of those which we likely would have missed out on a hundred years ago (or less).



From MOOC to bootcamp to MIT.  (2016, May 19).  Retrieved from http://news.mit.edu/2016/mooc-bootcamp-mit-0519


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Trends in My Field: Nursing

A slow, but significant change in the world of nursing is that it is opening up and becoming more welcoming to men.  Traditionally, the role of nursing is viewed as womens’ work, and stereotypical ideas and treatment have been applied to men who enter the field.  These stereotypes include both overt and subconscious ideas about the motives of men entering nursing, such as unsavoury intent to molest women and children, but also preconceived notions of the sexuality of the man in question with homosexuality often being assumed.  Men also report feeling like a tool to be used in situations where greater upper body strength is needed to move a patient, or to restrain patients in violent situations.

Another trend is that across the country, nursing shortages have been increasing with litle helping to slow it.  This is something that could be greatly influenced if nursing was marketed in a way to make it more appealing to men as a viable career option.  For example, only 6% of my nursing class is male.  If nursing were seen as a more appropriate career-choice for men, it would make available a significantly higher number of workers.  There are many other factors which influence the nursing shortage, however this is one area which needs to be addressed not only in order to attract men to the profession, but also to ensure men are retained as employees in the field of nursing.

The enduring stereotype of the male nurse


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