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Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Law Schools Experiment With Partially Online Learning | U.S. News & World Report

Photo: Jordan Friedman
"J.D. programs have been slow to embrace online education, but that's starting to change, experts say." notes Jordan Friedman, online education editor at U.S. News.

The American Bar Association generally allows J.D. students to earn up to 15 credit hours in courses designated as online.  
Photo: manley099/Getty Images

For John Sears, a third-year Juris Doctor candidate at the Wake Forest University School of Law, the teaching style in a course last fall titled "Professional Responsibility" differed from his other classes.

Rather than taking notes during lectures, the 37-year-old watched videos, listened to podcasts and answered multiple-choice questions remotely.

He and his classmates then attended class in person and applied that material to group work, in-depth discussions, project-based learning and hypotheticals, says Ellen Murphy, Wake Forest law school's assistant dean of instructional technologies and design who teaches the course.

"It allows the in-class portions to be very focused on really prodding the concepts that are more difficult for people to understand," says Sears. "It gives you a chance to dig a little bit deeper into those," rather than first absorbing all of the material.

Sears isn't alone. While the field of law has been slower than most to embrace online learning, some J.D. program professors are straying from the traditional teaching model and incorporating blended courses – those partially online, partially on campus – into their curriculums, experts say.

There are currently no fully online J.D. programs accredited by the American Bar Association – though recognized online Master of Laws Degrees, or LL.M.s, and other legal master's degrees and certificates do exist. A few law schools are, however, designating entire J.D. programs as blended to emphasize their convenience for busy adults.

"I think the legal profession and legal education are just very resistant to change," says Gregory Duhl, associate dean for strategic initiatives at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, a recent merger between Hamline University and the William Mitchell College of Law. But since the Great Recession, when legal jobs were scarce, law schools have faced pressures to innovate, he says.

The Mitchell Hamline School of Law – then William Mitchell – launched a hybrid J.D. program in January 2015, allowing students to take classes online for about 12 weeks a semester and requiring 10 campus visits throughout the program. Vermont Law School and the Loyola University Chicago School of Law have also introduced blended J.D. options.

"The biggest selling point for me was really the flexibility in terms of in-classroom time," says Shemario Winfrey, a student in the program at the Loyola University Chicago, where J.D. candidates come to campus every other weekend. Winfrey travels often for work, so a part-time law program with classes held weekday evenings wouldn't fit into his schedule.

More blended programs are emerging as lawyers communicate virtually with clients worldwide, says Nina A. Kohn, associate dean for research at the College of Law at Syracuse University. The school recently partnered with online education company 2U to develop a hybrid J.D. program pending state and ABA approval.
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Source: U.S. News & World Report