"Contracts provide a sort of transitional experience between complete freedom to learn... but that is within the limits of some institutional demand or course requirement" (Rogers, 1983, p.149)In his book Freedom to Learn*, Rogers has a chapter called Methods of Building Freedom, which offers "a few of the approaches, methods, techniques that have been successfully used by teachers who are endeavoring to give a freedom to learn" (all references here: Rogers 1983) (p.147). The chapter looks briefly at 'using real problems' and at 'providing resources' (including people), then turns to a discussion of the 'Use of Contracts', which he describes as "One open-ended device that helps to give both security and responsibility within an atmosphere of freedom" (p.149). Importantly, Rogers also considers the facilitator: "[the use of contracts] also helps to assuage the uncertainties and insecurities the facilitator may be experiencing" (p.149). Rogers goes on to give a specific example of a contract, which is illuminating, and also offers some 'elements of a contract' - however, I believe that so much good, evidence-based work has been done on the use of contracts in education since Rogers' time, that it is as well simply to take Rogers' frameworking of contracts in the person-centred approach, as summarised here. So, there is more work to do in terms of developing specific contracts - one of which is naming: I think I might prefer 'Learner Agreements' or even 'Learning Agreements' rather than the quite business-oriented/legalistic 'contract'... watch this space!
* Rogers, C. and J. Allender (1983). Freedom to Learn for the 80's, Charles E. Merrill Columbus, OH.
Postscript: Hammond and Collins also draw on Rogers with a header quotation in their chapter on 'Drafting Learning Agreements - they feel like friends!