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Are Present CLE Methodologies Worthless?

I spent 40 months living in India while training patent engineers about patent law. 

I thought you should know the history and evolution of my teaching methodology.  I owe the lion’s share of my success to others, as you shall now read. 

When I first arrived in India, I used to give CLE type lectures.  I assigned reading materials (e.g., MPEP) and we discussed them in class.  I did not assign homework nor grade it.  It was mainly ‘push’ training, and not many people were reading.  I was lecturing.  The trainings had neither carrots nor sticks.  We were not even testing anyone for retention.  Often in class, it seemed like just me and 3 or 4 other students were having a discussion about the reading materials.  The other 20 students often listened without comment. 

At that time, a few students approached me and said, if you want people to read, you should assign questions from the reading materials and have each student hand in answers at the beginning of class.  I realized that there were too many students for me to grade essay style answers, so I used true-false and multiple choice questions.  They would hand them in and the students would debate the answers during class and ask questions.  The difference was amazing.  Their comprehension and interest increased in a significant way.    

Observation 1: People read actively, learn more, and retain more when they are asked not only to participate in class, but to hand in assignments to be graded. 

It seems obvious right?  But there were still a few who were not doing as well as I would like.  We were allowing and even encouraging students to work in groups.  We asked them to read and do the assignments first, but then meet in groups before class and discuss their answers together.  But some students were rumored to be free-riding on others in their groups.  They would not read but would show up and listen for the best answers in group meetings.  Another student came up with the idea, why don’t you pick students at random during class to answer the questions.  The idea was to create fear of being picked in class.  This reminded me of the Socratic Method, so I tried it.  It worked.  Picking students randomly to answer questions made a big difference.  Even those who relied upon others to complete their assignments, had to study the answers before coming to class out of fear that they would be picked and appear unprofessional.

Observation 2:  People who may be accountable in a public way are more likely to do their own work, even when a group format might otherwise have allowed free riders.

There were a few students still rumored to be handing in the work of others.  Another student came up with the idea ‘¦ why not give a quiz at the beginning of class?  The quiz can be just five or so questions so it doesn’t disrupt the class in general, just the first 10 minutes or so.  This will force students who want to do well to read the entire reading materials and not just the portions needed to answer the assignment.  You can still have an assignment handed in, just have the quiz to test who is reading the whole assignment, and not just preparing to discuss the known questions.  This also helped improve reading.    

Observation 3:  Group activities are beneficial and short in-class quizzes will encourage reading and participation by all group members.  

There were times when 20-30% of the students were missing from class.  They were the students who often did poorly later on tests.  A student recommended that we take attendance in class and have attendance be part of the course grade.  As a result, attendance increased dramatically as well as understanding.

Observation 4: Attendance should be part of the grade since it increases understanding and participation.

Some students despite all these methodologies, were not performing to their know capabilities.  We decided that advancement on the team into management positions should depend at least in part upon training performance.  We set training performance metrics that a student must meet to advance within the organization.  This idea has been heavily supported by both client and provider and has made a big difference.

Observation 5: Tying career advancement to continued training scores motivates high knowledge acquisition in this continuous learning environment.

A few students over the last few years have approached me with the idea that some leaders are scoring poorly as compared to their reports.  Some students achieve management levels and then are no longer motivated to maintain their scores.  One student felt that if someone is leading a team and reviewing people for advancement decisions, they should also maintain their own scores.   As far as I know we have not demoted anyone for failing to take their studies seriously, so I have no observation about whether or not that would motivate, but that seems likely on its face.  It does appear silly to require training scores for advancement, but not expect our leaders to be examples of our organizational values.

Observation 6: Demoting leaders who do not score well in a continuous learning environment will help maintain organizational learning values.

Now I ask lawyers reading these observations ‘¦ is there really any lasting value obtained in existing CLE learning methodologies in the USA?  I just finished 50 hours of CLE in the US over the last three months.  It was a big waste of time when viewed in light of the above observations.  They often assigned hundreds of pages of reading materials with no questions.  The expert lectured the entire time often only taking questions at the end.  The only monitoring of any kind was a sign in sheet or a code word that must be recalled for credit.  I’ll bet that less than 10% of the attending lawyers could pass a test covering the materials.  The purpose of CLE is to maintian continuous learning in the legal profession, but present methodologies do no such thing.  Every lawyer knows this, so why do we all keep pretending? 

Warm Regards,

Dan Bell (Contact me.)

Do not disclose confidential information to me.  This is not legal advice or opinion.  This does not represent the current state of the law and does not include all issues relevant to this topic.  Do not take any action based upon this information without discussing the facts of your case with your lawyer.  I hereby refuse to be your lawyer.   I am only teaching now.  Copyrights © 2010 Dan Bell

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