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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Learning Outcomes Are Coming, Learning Outcomes Are Coming--What They Are and How to Draft Them

[From our guest Jennifer Bard]

My last correspondence with Dan was in May when he asked if I would do another month as a guest in the fall, I said “yes” and “Thank you” and we agreed to September.  Although I didn’t yet know him as well as many of you, and that is clearly my loss, I’m honored to be part of the continuation process and without further ado—I did get the be concise vibe—let’s go.

The ABA dropped something of a bombshell last week when it sent out a letter to the Deans of ABA approved law schools with an advanced copy of a document now on their website,  letting the Deans know that not only were going to adopt Standard 302 to require learning outcomes, but they expected Law Schools to implement the change immediately.  

Well “bombshell” is a relative term for a draft that has been kicking around since at least 2010, but dealing with reality, here is the entire revised document as a clean copy and redlined.

The topic of today’s Post is Standard 302.


A law school shall establish learning outcomes that shall, at a minimum, include competency in the following:

(a) Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law;

(b) Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context;

(c) Exercise of proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system; and

(d) Other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession.

Learning outcomes are already required of schools accredited by the Southeastern Associations of Colleges and Schools, as well as other regional accreditors,   Indeed, quite a few law schools and law professors are way ahead of the curve on this—here are some examples from Hastings, Belmont Law School, Thurgood Marshall, and a book by Gregory Munro.

But as we know, the temptation within law schools is to address anything new as “yet another administrative burden” and, always, that “just doesn’t fit with a law school education.”  We can’t do that anymore.  And I don’t think it’s going to be terrible.   In fact, I’d suggest that the way we teach now is unduly Procrustean--and these latest requirements are a path to measuring what’s going on the classroom and a method of identifying students who are struggling as well as those who may be bored.     Here is a very thoughtful article by Mary Lynch at Albany that addresses concerns specific to legal education.  Anyway, as the saying goes, this is not a situation that requires our belief—it’s something we have to do. 

So—to dive in.  The big concept here comes from Bloom’s taxonomy of learning in which he argues that there are “levels” of expertise that everyone goes through in learning new material.  People start at “knowledge” and end up moving through comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.   Our job is to evaluate the level of student learning within our own classes along that continuum—and the way to do that within the Bloom framework is by using "measurable verbs."  And, Good News!  There is lots of help available.  I close today with some resources—and will go into more detail later.   This overview from the learning center at UNC Charlotte is helpful.  Here’s another from Tulane, a youtube video from a doctoral candidate, a lot of detail from Rutgers, and one we use at TTU.  Another interesting practice is to have students draft their own learning objectives—here’s one for an experiential learning program from the University of Central Florida.  

Posted by Paul Horwitz on August 28, 2014 at 10:20 AM | Permalink


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