Teaching Law by Design: How Learning Theory and Instructional Design Can Inform and Reform Law Teaching

116 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2007


This article asserts an alternative approach to designing and teaching law school courses based on research from the learning theory and instructional design fields.

The first part of the article describes the predominant model of law school teaching, articulates its flaws and explores the barriers to its reform.

The second part of the article articulates the behaviorist, cognitivist and constructivist learning theories and argues how these theories might reform legal education. The behaviorist model suggests law professors should provide multiple opportunities for practice and feedback and evaluate learning for the purpose of evaluating teaching. The cognitivist model recommends that professors facilitate students' efforts to connect what they are learning to their prior knowledge, promote students' efforts to discern hierarchies within the course material, engage students in learning strategies, and encourage metacognitive student efforts to self-evaluate their learning. Finally, the constructivist model should cause law professors to include cooperative learning experiences in their teaching, to encourage students to develop personal understandings, and to use real-world problems as teaching tools.

The longest section of the article traces and explains how an instructional design professional would go about the process of designing a law school class. An instructional designer would evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the learners; articulate learning objectives and classify the intellectual skills those objectives represent; design tools for assessing whether the students have learned; determine how to best deliver the lesson (live classroom, computer or text(s)); sequence instruction to include opportunities for students to make connections, process their learning, practice the skills being taught, obtain feedback, discern how they will use what they have learned; and be assessed as to whether they have learned.

The final section and the appendix of the article demonstrate how these principles would be applied to a contract law lesson on illusory promise.

Keywords: learning, learning theory, learning theories, instructional design, law teaching, law students, law school, assessment, instruction, objectives, media of instruction, cognitive strategies, learning strategies, metacognition, behaviorism, constructivism, cognitivism

JEL Classification: K00, K19

Suggested Citation

Schwartz, Michael Hunter, Teaching Law by Design: How Learning Theory and Instructional Design Can Inform and Reform Law Teaching. San Diego Law Review, Vol. 28, p. 347, 2001, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=959471

Michael Hunter Schwartz (Contact Author)

McGeorge School of Law ( email )

3200 Fifth Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95817
United States

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