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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Schrag: MOOCs: The Final Nail in Legal Education's Coffin

MOOCPhilip G. Schrag (Georgetown), MOOCs and Legal Education: Valuable Innovation or Looming Disaster?:

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.

Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink

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Why don't law professors try just reducing their salaries to a reasonable level (say $100,000 avg.), reduce the size of the faculty, and reduce all other extraneous expenses and administrative overhead where possible? Then they could offer a tuition level that is reasonable for the value they provide.

MOOC's are a riduculous idea that will never take hold. They may be a great tool for amateurs to learn a little bit about a certain topic, but they will never take the place of intensive personal instruction and feedback. If law schools collapse, I highly doubt they will be replaced with MOOC's. It is far more likely that fewer people will seek to enter the profession.

Posted by: JM | Jun 13, 2013 1:55:50 PM

If they keep the 1L program as it is (and the 1L curriculum, taught "Socratically," is the heart of American legal education), then there should be room for MOOCs in the upper class program. Watching a video of Bebchuck or Bainbridge lecturing on corporate law would probably be more educational than sitting through a lecture by almost anyone else. But the key to making this work is the "exercises to supplement the MOOCs" and having someone sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled in the classroom to help the students with those exercises.

Posted by: Douglas Levene | Jun 13, 2013 6:03:39 PM

When you're in a MOOC, who will write a letter of recommendation? Who will bring employers as guest lectures and introduce you to them? Who will guide interactive Q&A sessions and discussions with classmates? Who will give you feedback on how to sound more like a lawyer? Who will give individualized career advice?

A MOOC will always be an inferior quality good.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 14, 2013 11:32:49 AM