Exploring Holistic Education – Learning Contracts


By Dave Till and Christine Lines

This is the fifth article in our series on Holistic Learning, to read the introduction and view the other components to follow please click here.

5. Learning Contracts and Learning Sets

Learning contracts are self-created contracts with yourself to encourage definite learning goals. These can be helpful for both participants and leaders of a group. Dave explains, ‘Within the Findhorn Community Semester programme, we created learning contract sheets that encouraged students to look at all the areas of holistic learning and set themselves targets.’

This was introduced on the advice of the Human Potential Research unit at Surrey University. However, as Dave continues, ‘In practice, some FCS students really hated the linear thinking behind the process and just tore theirs up! This rebellion became a great learning for staff, and we happily let them rebel and then adapted accordingly. We let the students who didn’t want to fill in a linear chart choose some other way of creating a contract with themselves or even in some cases ignore the process altogether!’

Dave considers this valuable feedback and a key learning situation happened when students expressed their dismay and dissent. It’s also a great example of holistic learning at its best. When challenges are approached from a more holistic perspective, creative alternatives are often the result.

In Stephen Covey’s latest book, ‘The 3rd Alternative‘, he introduces a breakthrough approach to resolving conflict and creative problem solving. Stephen describes a situation within the Lego Corporation when they responded in a more holistic way to the undesirable activity of hackers breaking into the Lego website.

The management team decided to open up dialogue with these people and understand the reasoning behind their behaviour. It became clear that the hackers were simply frustrated by the restrictions of Lego sets and wanted more freedom to create their own designs. Hence a whole new area of business opened up and a mutually rewarding and beneficial partnership for all involved.

Sub groups formed for the purpose of learning and development. In holistic terms, these are called learning sets. Other examples include groups who want to research a particular area of learning and compare and contrast their notes. Learning sets encourage education in a similar way to how a meditation group supports the meditation practice of the individual.

In the recent two week training to facilitate the Game of Transformation, the group of five trainees formed a learning set and each individual was encouraged to create their progress list. This was displayed on the wall and included the areas of learning within the training, eg. technical knowledge of the game, listening skills, intuitive ability, questioning skills to deepen a player’s process, confidence with the role of facilitation, whatever felt of most importance to each person.

At the beginning of the training a number from 1 – 10, 1 representing low and 10 high, was written next to each topic, and each trainee was encouraged to mark their progress throughout the two weeks. Similar to a learning contract, it was more of a visual progress list, yet both are created with the clear intention to deepen the learning process and trust the wisdom of the individual.

When a new learning set forms, it can also be helpful to create a group agreement as a form of contract. Through open dialogue, each person has the opportunity to express what is important to them, eg. punctuality, confidentiality, only one person speaking at a time, etc. Whatever is most appropriate and supportive for the group. Shared understanding and clear expectations when a group initially forms can go a long way in reducing potential conflict and also allow for flexibility as the group develops.

Each week we will introduce a new topic. Please feel free to add your views and comments to expand on it more fully.

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