Following is a strategy for self-diagnosing/self-assessing desired behaviors or required competencies pertaining to learning about any particular topic or subject matter. It involves a series of steps and the use of a learning contract: It concludes with a simulated example of a personal contract related to learning about the topic of distance education.

  1. Find or create a self-diagnosis tool that appears to cover the range of behaviors or competencies associated with a topic or subject matter. If you are unable to delineate all the appropriate behaviors by reading about them, then use a mentor, subject matter expert (SME), or learning partner. See a diagnostic form related to the topic of "Adult Learning" as an example of what could be used or created.

  2. Diagnose your learning needs by honestly and realistically completing the self-diagnosis tool. A learning need is the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in regard to a particular set of competencies. You may already be aware of certain learning needs as a result of a personal appraisal or the long accumulation of evidence for yourself regarding any gaps between where you are now and where you would like to be, but the instrument results can help solidify your awareness or uncover new awareness of personal limitations.

  3. Construct a model of the competencies required to perform excellently the role (e.g., parent, teacher, civic leader, manager, consumer, professional worker, etc.) about which you are concerned. There may be a competency model already in existence that you can use as a thought-starter and checklist; many professions are developing such models. If not, you can build your own with help from friends, colleagues, supervisors, and SME's. A competency can be thought of as the ability to do something at some level of proficiency; it usually is composed of some combination of knowledge, understanding, skill, attitude, and values. For example, "ability to ride a bicycle from my home to work to get in better physical shape" is a competency that involves some knowledge of how a bicycle operates, and the route to work; an understanding of some of the dangers inherent in riding a bicycle; skill in mounting, pedaling, steering, and stopping a bicycle; an attitude or desire to ride a bicycle; and a valuing of the exercise it will yield. Ability to ride a bicycle in cross-country racing would be a higher-level competency that would require greater knowledge, understanding, skill, etc. It is useful to produce a competency model even if it is crude and subjective because of the clearer sense of direction it will give you.

  4. Having constructed a competency model, your next task is to assess the gap between where you are now and where the model says you should be in regard to each competency. You can do this alone or with the help of people who have been observing your performance. The chances are you will find that you have already developed some competencies to a level of excellence, so that you can concentrate on those you haven't mastered.

  5. Use some form of planning tool, model, or format for designing a series of learning activities that will enable you to class the various gaps you have identified. A personally designed learning contract is often used for such planning efforts. For more detail, see a write-up on using learning contracts, an example of a blank learning contract form, or an example of an individualized learning contract for a graduate course on distance education.

  6. Specify your learning objectives. If you decide to use the learning contract form described above, you now are ready to start filling out the first column (objectives). Each of the learning needs diagnosed in Step 2 should be translated into a learning objective. Be sure that your objectives describe what you will learn, not what you will do. State them in terms that are most meaningful to you--content acquisition, terminal behaviors, or direction of growth.

  7. Specify learning resources and strategies. When you have finished listing your objectives, move over to the second column of the contract form (resources and strategies) and describe how you propose to go about accomplishing each objective. Identify the resources (material and human) you plan to use in your various learning experiences and the strategies (techniques, tools) you will employ in making use of them. See Table 1 for an example.

  8. Specify target dates for completion. After completing the second column, move over to the third column (target completion date). Put realistic dates, unless there are institutionally or other required deadlines.

  9. Specify evidence of accomplishment. Move to the fourth column (evidence) and describe what evidence you will collect to indicate the degree to which you have achieved each objective. Table 2, examples of evidence for different types of objectives, may stimulate your thinking about what evidence you could accumulate.

  10. Specify how the evidence will be validated. After you have specified what evidence you will gather for each objective in column four, move to column five (verification). For each objective, first specify the criteria by which you propose the evidence will be judged. The criteria will vary according to the type of objective. For example, appropriate criteria for knowledge objectives might include comprehensiveness, depth, precision, clarity, authentication, usefulness, scholarliness, etc. For skill objectives more appropriate criteria may be flexibility, precision, poise, speed, gracefulness, imaginativeness, etc.

  11. After you have specified the criteria, indicate the means you propose for verifying the evidence according to these criteria. For example, if you produce a paper, who will you have read it and what are their qualifications? Will they express their judgements by rating scales, descriptive reports, or evaluative memos? How will they communicate those judgements to you? Perhaps they can use a memo or some other written statement. If you attempt to improve a professional skill, is there someone at work who can judge your accomplishments? An action helping to differentiate "distinguished" from "adequate" performance in self-directed learning is the wisdom with which personal validators operate.

  12. Review your contract with consultants. After you have completed the first draft of your contract, you will find it useful to review it with two or three friends, supervisors, or other expert resource people to obtain their reaction and suggestions. Here are some questions you might have them ask about the contract to receive optimal benefit from their help:

Table 1. Example of Learning Resources and Strategies Related to a Learning Objective

Learning Objective

Learning Resources and Strategies

Improve my ability to organize my work efficiently so that I can accomplish 20 percent more work in a day:

1. Find books and articles in the library on how to organize your work and manage time and read them.

2. Interview three executives on how they organize their work, then observe them for one day each, noting their techniques.

3. Select the best techniques from each, plan a day's work, and have a colleague observe me for a day, giving me feedback on my efficiency.

Table 2. Examples of Evidence Possibilities for Different Types of Objectives

Type of Objective

Examples of Evidence


Reports of knowledge acquired, as in essays, examinations, oral presentations, audio-visual presentations; annotated bibliographies.


Examples of utilization of knowledge in solving problems, as in action projects, research projects with conclusions and recommendation, plans for curriculum change, etc.


Performance exercises, video-taped performance, etc., with ratings by observers.


Attitudinal rating scales; performance in real situations, role playing, simulation games, critical incident cases, etc., with feedback from participants and/or observers.


Value rating scales; performance in value clarification group, critical incident cases, simulation exercises, etc., with feedback from participants and/or observers.

Simulated Learning Experience to Acquire Knowledge About Distance Education

1. After some initial reading about distance education in a couple of my professional journals, I developed a personal belief that various forms of distance education could be used to improve the training in our workplace.

2. I carried out a self-diagnosis of my knowledge pertaining to distance education. I had found a self-diagnostic tool pertaining to the topic on the World Wide Web.

3. I developed a beginning model of the competencies I wished to acquire, such as better use of the web, the ability to communicate with others electronically, and acquisition of experience in using distance education in the workplace.

4. After acquiring some ideas of what I wanted to learn and determining what I did not yet know, I developed the following individualized learning contract to guide my efforts over a several month period. I intend to ask some work colleagues, and Dr. Joe Adams, a neighbor who specializes in distance education at the local community college, to help me by providing advice and feedback from time to time.

5. Following is the individualized learning contract I developed over a several week period. It will serve as a guide to my study efforts over the next several months.

Learner:  Jane Smith                               Topic:  Distance Education                                Mentor: Dr. Joe Adams

What are you going to learn (objectives)

How are you going to learn it (resources/strategies)

Target date for completion

How are you going to know that you learned it (evidence)

How are you going to prove you learned (verification)

Improve my general knowledge of distance education  1. Actively seek out books and web sites pertaining to distance education and complete some overview reading to obtain a general idea of the topic

2. Talk with my work colleagues and ask them to give me feedback on my learning strategies

3. Complete this Learning Contract

1. By the end of May

2. By June 15 

3. By July 1

Self perceptions about an initial understanding of distance education

An annotated bibliography of those resource I uncover in this initial effort

A learning contract that has been examined by at least one of my colleagues and assessed as making sense, doable, and appropriate 

Ask Dr. Adams, who agreed to be my mentor, to examine my learning contract and provide me feedback

The design of all contract tasks completed 

Acquire an understanding about distance education and its uses 1. Read at least two books and several web articles related to distance education

2. Talk with my work colleagues about how I think distance education could be used in our workplace 

1. By August 1

2. By August 15

Complete a reading log that summarizes my understanding and that includes some reflections on how distance education could be used  Ask Dr. Adams and some work colleagues for feedback 
Improve my ability to acquire knowledge about accessing information electronically  1. Participate in one or more web-based chat room discussions about using the Internet to obtain information

2. Practice searching and downloading information that I find from the Internet

1. By September 15

2. By September 15 

A brief report that describes the listserves I joined and my part in them plus some sample copies of downloaded materials  Ask both  Dr. Adams and several work colleagues for feedback on my involvement and its potential for my work 
Enhance my skills at using distance education by facilitating some Computer Mediated Conversations (CMC) with various work colleagues 1. Read at least 1 book related to CMC

2. Participate in some training offered by the local community college on how to effectively use CMC as a training tool and then use it with my work colleagues to train them about downloading information from the Internet

1. By the end of  September

2. By the end of October

Written report of my findings including implementation plan

Make 1-hr. presentation to my work colleagues regarding CMC and its potential

Ask my supervisor for some feedback
Improve my ability to create and employ CMC in my workplace 1. Use the info I obtain from the training effort described above and design a plan for incorporating CMC into our annual training efforts; ask our training department staff to provide feedback and advice

2. Carry out and evaluate the CMC activities within our division for at least two months 

1. By the end of November

2. By the end of January 

A written report of my entire effort, including the design, implementation, evaluation, and future implications  Ask Dr. Adams and all participants in the CMC efforts for feedback on the experience and its long term implementation possibilities 
Enhance my overall attitude about non-traditional forms of training 1. Carry out a values clarification activity with work colleagues to obtain consensus on the value of CMC for future training efforts

2. Annotate all my ideas, reflections, and new learnings in a personal journal 

1. By the end of February

2. By the end of March 

Extensive interactive personal journal where I will both summarize and interact with my readings, new knowledge, and attitudinal changes regarding distance education 

Proposal to my supervisor about further use of CMC in our workplace

Ask Dr. Adams, my supervisor, and selected work colleagues for feedback 

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