A Learning Contract is a document developed by the student and Field Instructor to focus and structure the practicum. It should be developed with knowledge of the competencies by which the student will be evaluated (see Mid-Term and Final Evaluation page). It specifies what and how a student will learn within a given period of time and provides a “road map” for the student’s learning.
The contract describes the structure of the practicum with respect to:
- learning objectives,
- learning assignments and activities to achieve objectives, and
- indicators of success and methods for evaluation.
The contract is unique to the practicum setting, ensures the student’s learning is meaningful, and clarifies expectations, assignments, resources, and evaluation procedures.
Observation and discussion sequences can be used by Field Instructors and students to establish specific learning objectives based on the experience and knowledge that the student brings to the role. These agreed-upon learning objectives can then be formalized in a written contract. It is likely that new learning objectives will be established as the student continues to practice. Modifications to the Learning Contract can be made throughout the practicum process.
The following approaches to observation and discussion can be used to inform a learning contract:
- Observation of the Field Instructor by the student (for example during a client interview or committee meeting), followed by a discussion of the student’s observations. In this way, Field Instructors can begin to develop some idea of the student’s ability to conceptualize and assess the interaction.
- Observation of the student by the Field Instructor through such means as co-participation in a client interview or meeting, observation through a one-way mirror, listening to an audio recording, watching a video recording, attending a presentation, etc. Through discussion about the situation and the student’s practice behaviours, Field Instructors will have an opportunity to assess the student’s ability to conceptualize and their level of interpersonal skill.
- Observation of the student by others may be mutually agreed upon by the student, Field Instructor, and designated others. Collateral information can best be sought by offering concrete suggestions of the types of activities that should be observed (e.g., frequency of meeting participation, use of specific communication skills).
- Reflective journals, if used, form a substantial part of the assessment of the work experience, either directly or indirectly, and can be a useful self-assessment tool if used well. Read more on the Reflective Journals page.
Preparing the Learning Contract
The student is responsible for initiating the Learning Contract and including their goals and objectives within the social work competency framework.
The student and Field Instructor will develop and review a draft version of the Learning Contract, which serves as a platform for discussion.
The final version of the Learning Contract is completed by the student, approved by the Field Instructor, and submitted electronically to the Faculty-Field Liaison fifteen days after the start of the practicum. Where relevant, the Education Coordinator is to be copied.
Worksheets developed by Gabrielle Pitt may be helpful in preparing the Learning Contract and organizing supervision. These include a Student Learning Assignment Inventory, Possible Format for Process Recording, and Possible Format for Tape Analysis: Resource Materials (Pitt, G. (2013)).
- Bogo, M. & Vayda, E. (1998), The Integration of Theory and Practice: The ITP Loop Model (PDF), in The practice of field instruction in Social Work: Theory and Process, 2nd Edition. University of Toronto Press. (Reproduced with authors’ permission).