Don’t Panic! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Learning Outcomes: Eight Ways to Make Them More Than (Mostly) Harmless

48 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2018

See all articles by Debra Moss Vollweiler

Debra Moss Vollweiler

Nova Southeastern University - Shepard Broad College of Law

Date Written: July 2018


Legal education, professors and administrators at law schools nationwide have finally been thrust fully into the world of educational and curriculum planning. Ever since ABA Standards started requiring law schools to “establish and publish learning outcomes” designed to achieve their objectives, and requiring how to assess them debuted, legal education has turned itself upside down in efforts to comply. However, in the initial stages of these requirements, many law schools viewed these requirements as “boxes to check” to meet the standard, rather than wholeheartedly embracing these reliable educational tools that have been around for decades. However, given that most faculty teaching in law schools have Juris Doctorate and not education degrees, the task of bringing thousands of law professors up to speed on the design, use and measurement of learning outcomes to improve education is a daunting one. Unfortunately, as the motivation to adopt them for many schools was merely meeting the standards, many law schools have opted for technical compliance — naming a committee to manage learning outcomes and assessment planning to ensure the school gets through their accreditation process, rather than for the purpose of truly enhancing the educational experience for students. For those law schools reluctantly trailing along on the learning outcome and assessment train, the best advice to schools thrown into this world comes from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comedy science fiction series, in which the electronic guide of the same name tells those along for the ride “Don’t Panic!” (in large friendly letters) while describing our home planet as a whole, at least for part of the series, as “mostly harmless.” While schools should not be panicking at implementing and measuring learning outcomes, neither should they consign the tool to being a “mostly harmless” -- one that misses out on the opportunity to improve their program of legal education through proper leveraging. Understanding that outcomes design and appropriate assessment design is itself a scholarly, intellectual function that requires judgment, knowledge and skill by faculty can dictate a path of adoption that is thoughtful and productive. This article serves as a guide to law schools implementing learning outcomes and their assessments as to ways these can be devised, used, and measured to gain real improvement in the program of legal education. Part II of this article reviews the ABA Standards, the purpose of learning outcomes and assessments, and the potential that can be unlocked. Part III of this article is a series of practical ideas to use when creating a plan for implementing learning outcomes, and Part IV offers some conclusions to move forward with meaningful change.

Keywords: Legal Education, Learning Outcomes, Assessment, Professional Identity, Competencies

Suggested Citation

Vollweiler, Debra Moss, Don’t Panic! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Learning Outcomes: Eight Ways to Make Them More Than (Mostly) Harmless (July 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Debra Moss Vollweiler (Contact Author)

Nova Southeastern University - Shepard Broad College of Law ( email )

3305 College Avenue
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314
United States

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