International Financial Law Prof Blog

Editor: William Byrnes
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

American Bar Association Proposes One-Third Distance Education Credits For JDs

Under the proposal, Standard 306, which concerns distance learning allowed in J.D. programs, would change from an absolute number to a percentage of whatever credits a law school requires for graduation. If adopted, law schools could allow one-third of its required credits be taught online. The current rule limits the number of such credits to 15.  ... As proposed, the revised standard would effectively raise the number of credits for distance learning to at least 28 credit hours and, in many cases, 30 credit hours.  Read the ABA News here.

William Byrnes, an early nineties pioneer of distance education for law who founded the first online LL.M. acquiesced by the ABA and by SACS, shared, "I encourage faculty to think innovatively about online opportunities in the context of communication, learning, and community. There is certainly a value in residential learning via the development of diverse social communities.  Yet, merely putting persons together on campus is not in and of itself a learning community, and certainly does not guarantee diversity within the community.  It is how often the persons have incidence of meaningful interaction with each other and how they engage with each other during those interactions that impacts learning.  Studies have established that learning can be influenced by how a group interacts via support mechanisms.  Online, based on best pedagogical practices, has a significant, integrated role to play within legal education.  Merely being a passive residential student member of a group, such as a typical 30 - 60 student JD course,  does not affect learning.  Online technology can help solve some issues that all faculty recognize with pure residential education."

Byrnes continued: "Diverse social communities may potentially be created via online methods that do not require large capital expenditures on brick and mortar, and will achieve the same elements of social interaction.  By example of hybrid education with distance learning, the following residential activities may be employed:

  • Regular residential study group meetings for peers-only, or with a moderator.
  • Coordinated group social opportunities using on-campus facilities such as cafes, lounges, and even health clubs.
  • Designed periodic on-campus learning and social experiences.
  • Campus library designed for social interaction and collaboration.
  • Enhanced student organization experiences."

"This proposal represents the recognition by the ABA that online courses are able to produce good learning outcomes for a student's development. And it is a big win for law schools that have geographic challenges for access to a robust legal career market," concluded Byrnes. "Schools that are in, and able to access, large legal markets like D.C. and New York City have less need to pursue distance education for pedagogical, community, and diversity reasons. But these schools may leverage online with externship credits to encourage transfers of the highest performing students from lower ranked schools."

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