Monday, April 2, 2018

Jerry Organ on Learning Outcomes and Self-Directed Learning

As part of his contribution to the Madison Symposium on the PrawfsBlawg, Professor Jerry Organ has written about learning outcomes and self-directed learning.  Here are key excerpts:

"While I have found most of the contributions to this virtual symposium to be very thought-provoking, I have been struck by how little discussion there has been about learning outcomes. Whether people fully understand this or not, the most significant change in the ABA’s Accreditation Standards in the last two decades is the mandate that law schools develop learning outcomes for their graduates and then assess their students and graduates progress on those learning outcomes. This shift in accreditation from an input-based approach to an outcomes-based approach, if it is going to be taken seriously, requires that law schools embrace a more collaborative approach to legal education. The outcomes-based approach is a competency-based approach in which each law school collectively needs to make sure that its students and graduates are making progress in developing the various competencies the law school has identified within its learning outcomes. This is only going to happen if the faculty collaborate to assure that across a set of required and elective courses students and graduates receive opportunities to develop and demonstrate the identified competencies."

"For example, Michael Waterstone highlighted that law schools should be helping students and graduates develop an orientation toward life-long learning.  To some extent, this can be captured within the concept of self-directed learning in which our students take ownership of their learning not only during law school but after law school.  Of those law schools with published learning outcomes, roughly 50 law schools have identified self-directed learning as a learning outcome.  But for those law schools to accomplish this learning objective, they are going to need to create curricular interventions to help students develop and assessment mechanisms to help students demonstrate self-directedness.  Self-directedness might be a particularly vexing learning outcome for many law schools, given that the first year is generally a required curriculum (in which students get to assert limited autonomy or self-directedness).  Moreover, for those students who do not do well in the “first-year tournament,” a common response appears to be disengagement and despair rather than a sense of agency and ownership in which students decide to become self-directed and begin the process of life-long learning. Without some direction and coaching – some intentionality among faculty and staff – I am not sure we can assume students will figure out how and why it is important for them to be self-directed within the new legal marketplace.:

I agree with Professor Organ.  As I have written before, turning out self-directed learners should be a law school's top priority.  However, this cannot be done through traditional law teaching alone.  It requires active learning, instruction in metacognitive skills, formative assessment, and frequent problem-solving exercises.  Above all, it requires that students take responsibility for their own education within a law school that nurtures their professional identity development.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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