Creating Desirable Difficulties: Strategies for Reshaping Teaching and Learning in the Law School Classroom

37 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2017 Last revised: 26 Feb 2021

See all articles by Elizabeth M. Bloom

Elizabeth M. Bloom

Northeastern University - School of Law

Date Written: October 12, 2018


Students unconsciously experience a conflict between the type of learning they believe is best for them and the type of learning that actually is best for them. As a result, they are choosing ineffective study techniques and making numerous mistakes when it comes to learning. This Article seeks to make law professors aware of students’ learning mistakes and to equip them with strategies to teach students how to be self-regulated learners who make thoughtful decisions about how best to learn. These strategies introduce desirable difficulties into the learning process – namely, complex learning activities that require students to actively engage with the material in ways that promote self-assessment and reflection skills. While this process might initially appear to slow the rate of learning, challenging students in this manner pushes them to develop their own strategies to address the intricate learning tasks that are prevalent in law school. This Article anticipates law school efforts to implement the revised American Bar Association Accreditation standards, which, amongst other changes, require schools to establish and assess learning outcomes. These new standards shift the focus of legal education from what we are teaching to what our students are learning. This shift will require professors to become comfortable evaluating learning outcomes. Accordingly, the Article proposes that professors engage in “backwards course design” – first determining desired learning outcomes, then choosing formative and summative assessment methods to measure those outcomes, and finally incorporating specific teaching strategies to achieve their learning objectives. The Article demonstrates this approach by articulating a specific legal learning outcome for an Evidence class and suggesting formative assessment activities and teaching strategies to help students achieve that outcome. The Article’s intended learning outcome is to provide professors with tools to design and deploy tangible strategies that advance learning in the law school classroom, while ensuring compliance with the ABA standards.

Keywords: Legal Education, Pedagogy, Educational Psychology, Self-Regulated Learning, Metacognition, Desirable Difficulties, Formative Assessment, Feedback, Learning Outcomes, ABA, Active Learning, Visual Organizers, Cognitive Taxonomies, Retention, Transfer, Retrieval, Schema Theory, Bloom's Taxonomy

Suggested Citation

Bloom, Elizabeth M., Creating Desirable Difficulties: Strategies for Reshaping Teaching and Learning in the Law School Classroom (October 12, 2018). University of Detroit Mercy Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 2, pp. 115-151 (2018), Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 335-2018, New England Law | Boston Research Paper No. 17-04, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth M. Bloom (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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