Law schools need to introduce social learning

I’m headed back to the Midwest this week to speak to another law school class. I have to tell you, nothing gets me more jazzed than speaking to law students about the opportunities they have to use the net to learn, network and build a name.

Little question that some law school students are using social media and blogging to build a name for themselves. I shared the stories of a few law grads a couple weeks ago.

But how many law students are blogging and using social media for learning? How many law professors and law schools are promoting its use for learning?

Sadly, not many — and that’s a loss for the students and possible malfeasance on a law school’s part for failing to do so.

ZDNet’s Dion Hinchcliffe recently reported that though technology has long been used to improve how we learn, today’s digital advances, particularly with social media, have taken learning in a powerful new direction.

[The digitization of learning] allows learning — for better or worse, depending on the critic — to be far more situational, on-demand, self-directed, infinitely customized, even outright enjoyable, depending on the user experience, all of which leads to more profound engagement of learners.

In addition, the rise of social networking technology has allowed people with similar learning interests to come together as a group to share knowledge on a subject — and perhaps even more significantly — to express their passion for an area of learning. This can create deeper, more intense, and more immersive educational experiences within a community of like-minded learners.

“Social learning” is more than theory, the use of digital platforms and social networks to bring together communities has proven to work.

The early numbers from social learning make interesting reading. Initial studies have shown that there’s as much as a 75:1 return-on-investment (ROI) ratio for the approach compared to traditional Web-based education. As a result of such insights, this year fully 73% of organizations are planning on increasing their investments in social learning.

How would social learning work in law schools? What media would be used?

  • First recognizing that social will not be for everyone. People learn and teach in different ways.
  • Get students and professors using, for learning, the social media that are readily available and already being used, en masse, by the public.
  • Create a first year class on the use of social media and blogging, just as legal writing and research are taught. Social media, in addition to building a name, enables students to learn from a nationwide network of students, law professors and practicing lawyers. Make sure the professor or teacher — maybe they come from tech or the law library — are credible users of social media and have had personal success in social learning.
  • Teach Feedly as a news aggregator for following sources and subjects, blogging on WordPress (already used by 70% of content management systems), Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Most law students, law professors, law school administrators and lawyers using these media have not a clue what they are doing and have a poor experience as a result.
  • Cover the big picture of what blogging and social media are all about — listening, engaging, relationships, sharing insight, building a network — not search rankings, self promotion, noise, and followers.
  • Review the concept of algorithms and influence. The more you use social media the more valuable it becomes as a network’s algorithms surface information and people who will add value to your life — advertisements and junk are eliminated.
  • Have a social media “resource desk” where students and professors can get ongoing information and questions answered. Maybe it’s part of the library reference desk.
  • Get the faculty and law school leadership using blogs and social media for dissemination of information and engagement with students.

These are my thoughts. Law schools will know more about the ins and outs of what can work for teaching and on-boarding a social learning program. Schools will differ in what will work best for them.

After speaking with authorities, Hinchcliffe suggests organizations lay a foundation for social learning. In the case of law schools, a foundation means creating a positive environment for social media and blogging.

Do professors and the dean use social media? Are they demonstrating, by example, that social is important for learning and networking.

In many cases not only are these folks not using social, they’re scaring students from using social. “Writing unedited content is danergous. Blogging is not professional. Everything you put on the net will remain there forever. Divide your personal lives from your professional lives as a lawyer doesn’t let people know them personally.”

If the law school’s dean and influential professors aren’t on board, forget it. And if they’re not, you have to ask yourself whether they’re fit for the job.

No one is expecting every dean and professor to start rampant blogging and social networking. But an acknowledgement that the stuff is legit and represents a learning opportunity for students is key. Better yet, they should learn social themselves through a little trial and error.

In 2012, the CEO of Mayo Clinic, calling social media not an option but a requirement, launched the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media to coordinate and focus the Clinic’s various social media initiatives for among, other things, the education of patients, students and employees (doctors and in-house counsel included).

The healthcare industry, which was facing a world of problems, and the clinics employees were skeptical — to say the least. The doctors and lawyers at Mayo Clinic weren’t social media users, let alone users for professional purposes.

Mayo now dominates social in medicine. Their patients, students and employees are learning more and are more engaged — through their personal and professional use of social media.

Change takes time, but law schools and law school deans need to say, “Yes. Social learning is important. Social is something we need to learn and something we need to teach.”

Students — and professors are owed it.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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