Thursday, June 13, 2013
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have spread across the landscape of higher education like an invasive plant species. Although few people had heard of MOOCs before 2012, these internet-based courses, taught by university professors, are now routinely offered simultaneously to tens of thousands or in some cases, hundreds of thousands of people. Most MOOCs are still provided free of charge, but the two companies and one non-profit entity that promote MOOCs and provide the software have recently created partnerships with institutions of higher education in order to realize substantial revenues by offering MOOCs for academic credit to tuition-paying students at colleges and universities. Despite resistance from professors at some institutions, MOOCs for credit are proliferating rapidly. This development has great significance for the future of legal education, because most law schools are experiencing an economic crisis and are searching for ways to cut costs and lower tuition so that they can fill their classes and remain viable. Already, some law schools are offering academic credit for distance learning, within limits permitted by the Section of Legal Education of the American Bar Association—limits that may soon be relaxed. Within ten years, MOOCs could replace traditional law school classes altogether, except at a few elite law schools that produce lawyers to serve large corporations and wealthy individuals. However, most law schools might survive by embracing rather than resisting internet-based learning. They could cut costs by reducing faculty and staff positions, using MOOCs for the delivery of most of the legal information that students need, hiring part-time lawyers to help students with exercises to supplement the MOOCs, and concentrating the remaining full-time faculty on first-semester offerings, writing seminars, and clinics. Sadly, the result will be a watered-down form of legal education compared to the three years of interactive experiences that law schools have offered students for the last century. But it may be the only way in which most law schools can survive.