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KAM Resources: Learning Agreement

Conceptualize the KAM as an inverted triangle

Though the components of KAMs are presented linearly (Breadth, Depth, Application), imagine them as an inverted triangle:

Approaching the KAM "in order" and starting with the Breadth leads to multiple possibilities at every stage. While keeping options open is good, it can be overwhelming.

Additionally, if you have ideas (even vague ones!) for your Depth and Application, the theorists you choose might not fit your KAM as a whole. Theories are flexible and can be applied in creative ways, but you might be excluding a different major thinker who better corresponds with the other components. However, you wouldn't know this without first, or simultaneously, diving into the Depth and Application.

We suggest developing your LA backward—or at least developing it holistically.

Develop your LA backward

Rather than starting with the Breadth, work backward:

  1. Think about the problem or project you want to work on for your Application (see Curriculum Resources for suggestions for each KAM).
  2. Collect peer-reviewed articles for your Depth section that address your Application problem. Remember, this topic will be broader than your specific problem or project.
  3. See what theorists the Depth articles refer to as a starting point for theorists to use in the Breadth section. You might not identify all of your theorists this way, but you'll at least narrow your focus.

You might also define your topic of interest—the Depth—and work backward to the Breadth and forward to the Application. Both nonlinear approaches help reign in the scope.

With either approach, the inverted triangle metaphor still works, but you might operate within a narrower spectrum of possibilities compared to the original, full range. This will save you time and probably some frustration.

Remember: the goal is not to cover an entire field of knowledge—only a sliver of it.

The sooner you can define that sliver of interest, the faster your LA will fall into place. Nonetheless, the approach you choose will not affect the success of your final KAM, provided you develop it holistically.

Develop your LA holistically

The KAM should function as a whole with logical, thematic connections between its components.

While starting backward helps define your focus, you might not initially know what you want to do for your Application and Depth, so starting with the Breadth may be preferrable. This is OK—fantastic, in fact! Learning about theories more generally develops a solid foundation for scholarly practice.

Nevertheless, consider and develop sections simultaneously, especially if otherwise mostly working "in order." This will promote better cohesion among the sections and help prevent unnecessary work.

Above all, do not finalize your theorists before considering your Depth or Application. You may end up with a "default topic," chosen only because it fits your theorists, and not because it interests you. You may also find that theories, though interesting on their own and in synthesis together, don't make sense when applied to any single, specific topic. As a result, you would need to change your theorists or risk a disjointed KAM.

Examine and consider your sources carefully

Finding resources for your KAM is more than gathering books and articles that seem on target. 

Read—or browse with great care—each item before including it in your Learning Agreement.

Stack of books with one of them open.

Though you can postpone deep levels of analysis and synthesis until writing the KAM, examining your sources will:

  • ensure the ones you choose will help you fulfill your learning agreement objectives.
  • help you formulate more specific and feasible objectives, because you'll have a better understanding of what the theories and issues are about and how (and whether!) the resources work together. 


Bibliographies that aren't carefully considered may be rejected by your KAM assessor, which means you would need to revise it. Worse (yes, worse!), your mediocre bibliography may be approved only to create havoc when you're trying to write that particular component, and you discover:

  • the sources aren't about what you thought they were.
  • they don't work well together, whether within a component or across the entire KAM.

Remember: The LA is a contract that you will include each item you list in your finished KAM. While your KAM assesor may permit you to add additional key sources that you discover later, excluding an item from your original list may result in failing the rubric.

Learning Agreement Templates

Learning agreements (LA) are the first step toward completing a knowledge area module (KAM). Complete KAM resources are available at the Office of Student Research Administration's KAMs page.