The Pedagogy of Problem Solving: Applying Cognitive Science to Teaching Legal Problem Solving
64 Pages Posted: 7 May 2015
Date Written: May 5, 2012
In order to analyze how law schools can best teach legal problem solving, this Article draws upon the volumes of research in cognitive and educational psychology on problem solving and upon the hundreds of student evaluations since 2002 of Regent University School of Law's Summer Academic Success Program and Academic Orientation. This Article operates from the assumption that legal education is, at least in significant part, about teaching students how to solve legal problems. From this assumption, this Article first considers the research on how problem solving skills can be taught in a way that enables students to transfer the skills to other contexts. This Article specifically looks at law school and undergraduate studies that support the contextualized teaching of problem solving skills. This Article next considers the extent to which problem solving instruction hinges on students' doctrinal knowledge. In the analysis, it discusses studies that suggest that legal educators must provide students with a firm foundation in doctrinal knowledge, also called "domain knowledge," before those students can most effectively learn problem solving skills. This Article then considers the role "deliberate practice" should play in teaching legal problem solving. This Article examines how legal education can provide students with such practice opportunities and, in turn, increase their self-regulation in the learning process. Finally, this Article recognizes that, unless hours are added to law school curricular requirements, increases in effective problem solving instruction will most likely result in decreases in doctrinal content coverage. This Article therefore concludes by discussing options for curricular change and by suggesting considerations for legal educators as they seek to find the appropriate balance between doctrinal content coverage and problem solving instruction.
Keywords: problem solving, pedagogy, legal education. cognitive psychology, educational psychology, domain knowledge, deliberate practice, transfer, curriculum
JEL Classification: I2, I00, I20, I21, I29, K00, K10, K19, K29, K30, K39, K2, K3, K4, K40, K49, D81
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation