Monday, February 4, 2013

"We Need a New Kind of Learner"

Via the Big Think, [though I added in the references to law students] BigThink

The 21st century requires a new kind of learner—not someone who can simply churn out answers by rote, as has been done in the past, but a student who can think expansively and solve problems resourcefully. The traditional academic skills of reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic must be replaced with creativity, curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving, and collaborative and communication skills in order to solve the complex problems of tomorrow. ...

[I]magine that knowledge is a multisided box. When we teach [law students] to simply memorize material so they can pass tests, we give [law students] access to the knowledge on only one side of the box. So when life tosses this box up (as it certainly will), it may not land on a side that is visible and accessible. In this case, the [law students] don’t have access to the knowledge. ...

[Students] need to learn to navigate the course of acquiring knowledge—essentially, to get to the answers by being curious and coming up with a lot of questions, a lot of whys. They need to get accustomed to learning from different directions, playing with concepts, and figuring out how to ask the whys in order to gain access to knowledge. This process is more important than having the knowledge itself

The author is Ainissa Ramirez.  She is an author and science evalengist who recently wrote the ebook Save our Science: How to Inspire a New Generation of Scientists. I think the identical issues apply to law students.  Education needs to be cheaper, yes.  But to hold our society together, it also needs to be better.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

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Of course, new learners need new teachers. Teachers who are coaches and motivators, rather than just passive conveyors of knowledge (lecturers). These new teachers need to understand that there are better ways to teach our students through problem-solving, experiential learning, teaching metacognition (how to learn), and teaching how to be self-regulated learners. Law professors also need to teach knowledge and skills explicitly, rather than through the traditional "hiding-the-ball" method. I deal with these issues in depth in my article, How to Become an Expert Teacher by Understanding the Neurobiology of Learning at

I agree with you that we cannot forego these changes just because of the cost. Our students deserve better. Since there may be a surplus of teachers under the present Socratic teaching model caused by fewer students attending law school, why not use this surplus to have smaller classes in which teachers can properly apply the above techniques?

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Feb 5, 2013 1:12:49 PM

Bill, Scott, both of you are right on the mark on this.

But, Scott, I wonder what schools do you think in this day and age rely almost exclusively on pseudo-Socratic method and lecturing to train law students? The crisis in legal education is nothing new, just exacerbated by a number of events/trends/structural changes in legal education and the market for lawyer services.

My own sense is that if schools were not paying much attention to these problems when Carnegie came out (with yet another critique of legal education), many of them at least began serious changes in teaching methods after Carnegie. Anybody in the trenches in a place where teaching is valued can tell that it is extrordinarily hard to train this generation of law students in the skills necessary to thrive as a contemporary lawyer. And many of ths law teachers have taken significant steps (beyond the merely trendy "reforms" of the day)to teach better--including taking the good points you make in your article seriously!

That's one of the good things to come out of the sometimes daunting curent conditions in legal academia--lots of new ideas and some very good action at many schools due to the fat that it's pretty obvious that the same old approaches are not fully effective.


Posted by: William Gallagher | Feb 6, 2013 12:25:06 PM

New instructors need to know that there are better methods to educate our learners through problem-solving, experiential studying, training meta cognition (how to learn), and training how to be self-regulated learners.

Posted by: MBA Admission 2013 | Feb 7, 2013 4:55:44 AM



I did not mean to imply that any law school relies "almost exclusively" on the Langdellian/Socratic method. However, I think that the core of most law schools is still the "Langdellian Bargain." This can be seen by articles written last year by Benjamin Spencer and Richard Neumann, which I have summarized at .

I agree that many law schools and individuals are doing great things. This is summarized on the Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Website. However, we still have a great distance to go before we can say we have achieved true reform.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Feb 9, 2013 7:34:31 AM

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