Big changes are happening in online education. We think there's a great opportunity for legal.
(A version of this article, written by Hotshot co-founders Ian Nelson and Chris Wedgeworth, originally appeared in Legaltech News in December 2014.)
Chris was recently talking to his 14-year-old niece who had to cut the call short - she was going to a party and had to try a new hairstyle. He asked her how she knew how to do it and she said, “I don’t know how. I’m going to watch a YouTube video,” frustrated with the stupid question. What about how to learn a new math problem, he asked. “Another video – obviously!” Chris stopped asking, sensing that his cool uncle status was coming into question.
On the other hand, if you ask a junior associate how she would learn to do something on the job she hadn’t done before you’re likely to get answers ranging from asking other junior associates, looking at old CLE materials, searching Google for a while and possibly just panicking.
Outside legal, there is a revolution happening in online education. Services offering short, highly practical “just-in-time” learning are on the rise and everyone from major corporations to investors are taking notice. But the legal industry is lagging behind. A lot is being said on the need to better prepare law students and associates for practice, and the use of just-in-time learning has the potential to make a major impact on teaching everything from reviewing a license to delivering excellent client service.
This article looks at this growing industry, discusses the opportunity for legal and offers suggestions for getting a program started at your organization. While much of this article focuses on law firms, the concepts generally apply to law schools and corporate law departments too.
Online Learning Outside Legal
Probably the best-known example of how the Internet has changed education is Khan Academy. It’s a great story: a Harvard and MIT graduate used YouTube to tutor his cousin in math, and before long millions of students around the world were watching his videos. Khan Academy is now a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.”
Khan Academy is just one of the big names in online learning. Coursera, edX and Udacity are examples of MOOCs - massive open online courses that allow an instructor to give an online course to an unlimited audience, rather than being limited by the number of students that fit a lecture hall or training room.
These companies and others focus on higher education, and the early signs are that it may take some time for universities to adapt their offerings for online delivery. Developments in the corporate training market are likely to go much faster, on the other hand. Deloitte thinks that companies will be much faster to adopt online learning, and there’s a long list of startups that are positioning themselves in a market that Deloitte says is worth $130 billion annually. Lynda.com and Skillsoft are the big names in corporate skills, with companies like Grovo starting to get involved. And there are a growing number of industry-focused solutions, such as Pluralsight, a company that does online training for software professionals.
These different providers have different approaches, but the best include certain core features: video delivery; short pieces of content, often no more than five minutes; and interactivity, e.g., quizzes to check that the user has mastered the concept before they move on.
Reasons for the Rise
Technology A large reason we’re seeing this rise in online learning is technology. Even a few years ago, most people’s internet connections couldn’t handle the bandwidth needed to stream videos, but in the era of YouTube and Netflix far fewer people have these concerns. And technology has that other obvious quality: students and professionals don’t need to be physically present, so they can receive the same high-quality education, whether they’re in Calcutta or Seattle.
Economics There’s a strong economic argument for changing the way lessons are delivered at universities and companies. Think about the inefficiency that exists now: there isn’t much variation to the substance of what’s taught in hundreds of Biology 101 courses at universities or numerous spreadsheet training classes at accounting firms, yet it’s rare for organizations to pool resources and have people attend the same class. It’s easy to see how you could produce a better product at a much lower cost if the best lecture or training class was watched by all students.
Better Ways to Learn Educators and trainers love the fact that they’re able to deliver lessons in the way the current generation learns and uses technology in their everyday lives, and are excited about the opportunities to teach in different ways. One favorite concept is “flipping the classroom”: instead of an instructor delivering a lecture to a passive class and sending them away to complete exercises, they ask students to watch the lecture material in advance, and then spend time during the class on the concepts that the students are most interested in or have the biggest problems with.
Realities of the Modern Workplace and Workforce People are busier and more mobile than ever. They want to be able to learn concrete, specific skills exactly when they need to put those skills into practice. The model of “just-in-case learning” (think of traditional monthly lunch-and-learns where people come for the cookies and CLE) is being replaced by the just-in-time model that companies like Khan Academy and others are delivering.
Opportunities for Legal
The legal industry can learn and benefit from these innovations in the education and corporate training markets. We’ve listed below several factors for consideration in this regard:
- Recognize that law students and junior associates are already learning this way. New and future generations of lawyers instinctively turn to short videos to learn what they need to, when they need to. Shouldn’t their jobs reflect this?
- Use online learning for broader, more equitable geographic reach. Live seminars, bootcamps and consultants can be very effective but don’t scale to multiple offices and practice groups.
- Deliver just-in-time learning. We should provide students and junior lawyers with better support when that support is needed. If an associate needs to learn how to review a set of by-laws at midnight, why not arm her with a short video to explain?
- Empower PD and training programs. With a collection of short videos and exercises, professional development and training staff can organize and conduct better, more practical programs instead of chasing people to create background materials.
- Improve consistency and control risk. A common and trusted learning platform helps reduce the risk of people learning from outdated or unreliable resources.
- Firms of all sizes benefit. This can be the topic of another paper, but from supporting existing programs at large firms to empowering a small firm, benefits exist for firms of all sizes.
- Demonstrate the benefit to clients. With the now common knowledge that clients are pushing back on junior time due to a lack of value, adopting a just-in-time solution can be a step towards showing clients concrete steps are being taken to fix the problem.
Buy v. Build
Firms should consider a buy v. build strategy, or some combination of the two, before going too far down any one path. We would propose that a hybrid model makes the most sense, so that firms can spend their resources creating content unique to the firm and outsource the foundational, generic layer of information.
There is thankfully a lot of talk (and action!) on revamping legal education to create practice ready junior lawyers. Law firms, law schools, clients and vendors need to work together in new and innovative ways to bring about the necessary change. Online, just-in-time learning programs should play an important role in advancing this mission.
Below are some ideas and suggestions if you’re considering creating just-in-time videos for your firm or organization:
- Start small to establish a proof of concept to get buy-in from users and decision makers. One or two videos will do.
- Pick a short, bite-sized lesson or topic, which can be a substantive legal skill (e.g., understanding the difference between an asset and stock deal) or a professional skill (e.g., editing a table in Excel).
- Enlist the help of a good content expert - one that will actually have time to help!
- Keep each video short, ideally no more than a few minutes.
- Include more than a talking head, such as whiteboarding and screen captures.
- Use whatever technology you feel comfortable with – you’ll have time to find the best solution later.
- Practice reading the script out loud a few times before filming to make sure it sounds natural and not too thick with legalese.
- Do more than film a regular CLE program and/or re-use existing firm content.
- Remember it’s just a proof of concept! You can finesse the look and feel later.