Learning involves change. But now legal training and education itself are undergoing a fundamental change: they are becoming more flexible. It is all around us, especially in the Anglo-Saxon legal organizations. The legal learning environment is, like the rest of society, restructuring to respond to clients’ increasing demand for choice.
Flexible learning is a complex phenomenon. It is difficult to describe and it is multidimensional. In addition, it is also complex to implement in practice. What is flexibility? And what is vital for its successful implementation?
What is flexibility?
Flexible learning is a movement away from a situation in which key decisions about learning dimensions are made in advance by the instructor or institution, towards a situation where the learner has a range of options from which to choose with respect to these key dimensions
Flexible learning is no longer just associated with distance learning. It can vary in many other dimensions than in respect of location. Flexibility examples:
- Program: takes into account learners’ relevant previous experience and offers subgroups, learning paths or different levels of courses in terms of the learner’s needs
- Interaction: acknowledges that some like to work in groups and others not, some like to organize their own times and ways of studying and others like to be told how to study
- Communication: involves the choice to study using face-to-face sessions like lectures or using learning management systems where learners can organize their own schedule and ask the teacher questions online when needed
- Study material: offers a wide choice of resources and modalities of study materials from which to choose other than only what the instructor has previously selected
- Teaching architecture: involves different combinations of listening, reading, discussing, writing, producing, solving, researching and collaborating activities to acquire and consolidate legal expertise
What is required for implementation of flexible training and education
Implementing flexibility requires careful management from the beginning. It often starts when the legal organization has concluded that indeed training and education needs to become more flexible. It usually let this be known by official announcements from somewhere high up in the organization. This is a critical moment. Not so much for the announcement itself. No, what is critical is that we see in practice that leadership leaves it at that and moves on towards the next challenge.
And that non-commitment from those who determine the direction within the organization can derail the flexibility operation right from its start. For example if subsequent implementation managers try to make the vision concrete in a way which happen not to represent the unspoken idea of the original decision maker, institutional support and funding are in danger.
Similar dangers lurk when the statement of goals is expressed in vague and non-concrete terms. This often results in subsequent lack of evidence of success. This again puts the project in danger of losing its organizational support.
An important step towards more flexible learning is for leadership to take the time to develop consensus within the institution as to what is meant by this term within the context of one’s own organization. Flexible learning needs to be made operational, expressed in terms that can be turned into manageable options to offer learners.
Such operationalization from the top has several benefits:
- helps to guide and to steer a change process in a practical and coherent way
- is necessary for implementation planning
- facilitates a return-on-investment estimation
- helps selecting appropriate technologies for the new situation
For successful implementation of flexibility in legal training and education leadership support is crucial during all stages and it should make clear what exactly it wants.