I recently read an article in the Boston Globe about a professional school that is pioneering a nationwide movement to ensure students are ready to meet the needs of the 21st century by pledging to eliminate all lectures in favor of interactive learning by 2019. Specifically, the school seeks to improve students’ listening, fact-finding, critical thinking, and collaborating skills. You might think the article was about a law school, since these are the skills often cited as crucial to law students’ future success, but the article was about the University of Vermont Medical School.
Lecture format is difficult to move away from. Students are comfortable as they feel they get a guide to what will be tested. Professors are comfortable with lectures because they learned by lecture and likely have already prepared and lectured on the material before. However, experts agree that much of what is taught by lecture is forgotten within weeks. Learning requires more than just listening to take hold.
Medical school has typically been divided into half lecture, half clinical clerkship. In this way, medical students already received more on the job training than most law students. Law schools, prompted by the new ABA guidelines, are striving for ways to introduce more active learning through experiential classes, skills requirements, and clinics. Maybe a close look at this movement in medical schools would serve us well. A 2014 review of 225 studies of science, engineering, and mathematics instruction, as well as Vermont Medical School’s own review, showed that test scores increased after team-based learning was introduced. Law schools have traditionally lagged behind curricular development in other professional schools. For example, in 2007, the Carnegie Report criticized the law school lecture format, saying “…unlike other professional education, most notably medical school, legal education typically pays relatively little attention to direct training in professional practice. The result is to prolong and reinforce the habits of thinking like a student rather than an apprentice practitioner.” Maybe it’s time for law schools to again follow these other professional schools and move further away from the lecture format.
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