Developing the Learner Plan
You have determined that your program is the right place for a client to be and you have completed an assessment for eligibility. Now, you will begin working on developing a plan to help the learner with their Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) needs.
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) requires that LBS service providers maintain a file for each learner. One mandatory document in these files is the LBS Learner Plan. However, Learner Plans are more than an administrative device to fulfill funding requirements. A Learner Plan is an important document that forms the learning agreement between the practitioner (instructor or tutor) and the learner.
Learner plans are key ingredients to successful adult learning. By involving learners in the development and follow-through of a learning plan targeted to their goal, they can buy into the learning process. The Learner Plan is the first step toward active learner participtation in facilitated learning, rather than passive acceptance of what the teacher thinks they should know. When adult learners have control of their learning, they learn better.
Malcolm Knowles was a champion of self-direction in adult learning and andragogy. He defined andragogy as the process of helping adults engage in learning, as opposed to pedagogy which refers to the teaching of children. Androgogy shifts the spotlight from the teacher to the learner. If you are developing a Learner Plan for successful adult learning, you should consider Knowles’ theories. They assume that adult learners have the following needs:
- The need to know. Learners need to understand the need to learn something – how it will benefit them if they learn it or what the consequences will be if they do not – before they are willing to invest time and energy in learning it. In the process of drafting a learning contract, learners are subtly challenged to think through why they are undertaking to learn something.
- The need to be self-directing. The psychological definition of an adult is “one who has achieved a self-concept of being responsible for himself or herself – whose self-perception is that of a self-directing person.” When a person has arrived at self-concept, he or she experiences a deep psychological need to be seen by others and treated by others as being capable of being self-directing. Contract learning at its best involves the learners in making decisions about what will be learned, how it will be learned, when it will be learned, and whether it has been learned, usually with the help of a facilitator or resource person.
- The need to have the learners’ unique experiences taken into account. It is predictable that in a group of adults, the range of experience, both in quantity and in quality, will be greater than in a group of children. Because of their experience, adults have developed different styles of learning, different levels of operation, different needs and interests, different speeds of learning, and different patterns of thought. Hence the importance, particularly with adults, of providing for highly individualized plans for learning. Learning contracts are almost always individualized plans for learning. Five individuals may have the same objective in their contracts and go about accomplishing that objective in five different ways.
- The need to gear learning to the learners’ readiness to learn. Adults become ready to learn something when they experience in their life a need to learn it. Since the life situations of any group of adults are different, they become ready to learn different things at different times. Learning contracts provide the flexibility to enable learners to time their learning according to their readiness to learn.
- The need to organize learning around life tasks or life problems. Adults have a task-centred or problem-centred orientation to learning, rather than the subject-centred orientation that is characteristic for children. Learning contracts enable learners to state their objectives in terms of tasks or problems that relate to their life situations.
- The need to tap into intrinsic motivations. Children and youth have been conditioned by their school experience to rely on extrinsic motivators – pressure from parents, teachers, and the grading system. Although adults respond to some extent to extrinsic motivators (wage increases, job promotions), their deepest motivation comes from such intrinsic motivators as increases in self-esteem, responsibility, creativity, and self-fulfillment. Learning contracts challenge learners to tap into the intrinsic motivators.
Knowles (1986) as related by Joseph R. Codde, Using Learning Contracts In the College Classroom, www.msu.edu/user/coddejos/contract.htm
Knowles (1986) felt that to support the learner’s needs a learning contract should include:
- Learning Objectives – the content (the knowledge, skills, attitudes, etc.) that will be learned and developed by the learners to complete the tasks for their goals
- Learning Resources and Strategies – the methods, strategies, activities and resources that will be used to learn the content to accomplish the learning objectives
- Timelines – the target date(s) for the various learning accomplishments
- Learning Demonstration – what “evidence” will demonstrate that the objectives have been met
- Validation – how this “evidence” will be assessed and by whom
Many years have passed since Knowles put forth his theories, yet they are still the core of adult learning and learning contracts or plans. Most agree that his suggestions for Learner Plan contents are necessary. These five core areas are also consistent with our Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) Learner Plans content requirements. The LBS Service Provider Guidelines (www.tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/eopg/publications/2013-2014_lbs_sd_guidelines.pdf) also say the plan should include:
- the learner’s name, address and background details gathered in the learner profile of the LBS Participant Registration
- overall goals
- barriers, possible solutions and referrals (see the Information and Referral module in Literacy Basics for more information)
- other non-LBS requirements of the learner’s goal path, such as certificates, courses and abilities
As we write Learner Plans, we must consider the learners. The contents, along with the language and format, should meet the learners’ needs
- to understand the plan and the content
- to self-direct their learning
- to build on experience
- to be ready, willing and able to learn the contents
- to address barriers within the plan
- to be motivated to work on and complete the plan
Learning plans are a “map” of the path a learner will take on their learning journey from their starting point (intake assessment) to their desired goal. As each learner is different, each Learner Plan should be unique to reflect individul objectives, wishes, aptitude and needs. Plans
- vary depending on the learners’ goal path and the tasks their goals require.
- include the acquisition of skills to complete tasks in one or more competencies, task groups and levels.
- use different strategies, methods and resources.
- adapt for disabilities, personal issues or learning styles.
- vary in length and may be short (a few weeks) or longer (a year or more).
- have different means of demonstrating learning.
Even if learners are on the same goal path, or have common learning goals, learners probably won’t have the same learning styles, abilities, support needs, time available, previous knowledge or experience. You shouldn’t have identical individual Learner Plans where only the names of learners are different. By duplicating plans, you will not adequately address the needs of learners. Remember that the Learner Plan belongs to the learner and should be specific to that learner.
Because Learner Plans belong to learners, it is important that they understand their Learner Plans and are able to explain them to someone else. They should be able to share them with staff at other literacy or training programs or at other agencies. Therefore, you need to explain the various sections of the Learner Plans to the learners. Learners should have their own copy of the Learner Plan to keep as you maintain a copy in the learners’ files.