The changing landscape of legal education and online learning

Posted by Jane Waddell, head of curriculum at Legal Futures Associate The College of Legal Practice

Waddell: It’s not one-size-fits-all anymore

I made the move to legal education 12 years ago after practising as a solicitor for 15 years in corporate finance.

As head of curriculum, design and development, I’m responsible for making sure we create courses that are functional and that students find enjoyable. And it’s certainly a lot easier if it’s engaging and stimulating, which is what we’re trying to do online with our courses, and I think we do it very well.

That’s part of my role, as well as developing new modules, not just for students but also bespoke modules for law firms that help point their future trainees in the right direction.”

Learning has come a long way since I qualified. It’s changing rapidly and there’s a lot more knowledge available about how students learn and how different students learn differently. It’s not one-size-fits-all anymore.

In the past, learning was more of an endurance for students, it was one-dimensional, you just sat and listened, and either you took it in or you didn’t.

Personal contact time is really important in this new world. Learning materials and the structure of courses should be very carefully thought out – from interactive one-to-one sessions with supervisors, to group work collaboration and multiple-choice practice.

This means there’s something there to suit every type of learning style. It also means that students can go over materials as many times as they need in order to fully understand the topic they’re working on.

A year ago, virtual learning may have seemed an odd experience for many, but now people have recognised its potential.

It doesn’t suit everybody, but it suits a lot more people now more than ever. It can be argued the lack of in-person contact is a drawback, but then learning in the traditional classroom model can be quite passive. They might be in the room listening, but whether they are properly engaging could be debatable.

It’s why we’ve designed our online courses to be one-to-one. We help students engage more in a way that can be difficult in the classroom.

A blend of online learning in the office and the home probably works best. I always tell students that the time to study will never find you, you have to find it.

You need to sit down and work out when you are going to study and negotiate with the people around you, whether it is your employer, family or friends. Knowing when you study best is also vital.

With our set-up, you don’t need to save it all for the weekend or commute to a college twice a week. It’s there to fit around work and home commitments.

That said, there is a timetable, which students need to follow, but it offers flexibility and I think nowadays, especially after the last 18 months, this is what people are increasingly looking for.

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam in particular is not something you can simply cram in a few weeks before, so a consistent and well-structured study routine will be vital.

There’s also a trust now, that may not have been there before, where employees can work from home productively, and it doesn’t have to be between nine-to-five in the office. I think this is also echoed in what we offer, in that studying doesn’t have to be in a nine-to-five university setting. You can do it effectively online.


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