Why are legal expert often bad legal teachers?

knowledge structure

The more you are a legal expert, the bigger the chance that you are a bad teacher. Really?! Yep. What is the reason?

Legal teachers often complain why their students do not simply grasp, remember or apply what they are explaining to them: “It is so simple!” Legal students, on the other hand, often complain that the lecturer simply does not understand what learners do not understand. Why does this painful gap in understanding occur? The reason lies in the inherent different understanding between expert and learner.

Brain difference expert and learner
Let’s climb into a legal brain to look at the difference between an expert’s understanding and a learner’s understanding.

Being an expert, you have over the years developed rich meaningful legal knowledge structures. These are complex cognitive networks that connect the important facts, concepts, procedures and other elements within your legal domain.  These structures allow you to quickly access the exact information needed when solving complex problems.

Novices, on the other hand, are still in the process of building knowledge structures and such structures lack sophistication in the beginning: Novices tend to build sparse, superficial knowledge structures. It takes time and much practice to refine a knowledge network.

Experts are unaware of their expertise
The aforementioned teaching disconnection is caused by the fact that the expert is mostly unaware of the complexity of his/her knowledge network. Especially in relation to the emerging network that the learner is trying to build. Result: conversation of the deaf. There is a dialogue but parties do not really connect. Lacking this connection slows down (or can even stop) the learner from building a cognitive knowledge network regarding the topic of the course.

Solution: come prepared
One way to address this network complexity gap of expert and learner is to give the learner advance opportunities to build the complexity of his/her network. So when the lecture starts the lecture, the learner has already build a rather sophisticated network which makes it easier to bridge the gap in complexity between the two knowledge networks. The conversation between experts and learner becomes a true exchange and knowledge can flow and be build up.

A technique to provide learners with advance opportunities to build complexity is to design “advance organizers” for learners. Such an advance organizer is set of principles or propositions that provide a cognitive structure to guide the incorporation of the new information to be learned. These organizers can also cue critical information  helping students understand the content of a course topic before it is introduced.

Timing is crucial
Such advance organizers are made available to learners quite some time before the lecture. Ideally, the learner is given opportunities to practice with the advance organizers before starting the lectures. Even better, the learners receive feedback on their practice.

Once the learners enter the course and having studied or worked with the advance organizer, their knowledge structure is ready to receive the expertise that the lecturer provides. The learner can integrate the new knowledge in his/her well prepared own knowledge structure.

Be succesful: Avoid the expert trap
Advance organizers have a strong and positive effect on learning outcomes. When students are provided with an organizational structure in which to fit new knowledge, they learn more effectively and efficiently than when they are left to deduce this conceptual structure for themselves during class.

You might wish to learn how to develop legal advance organizers that advance the effectiveness of your course and make these more motivating. Do not hesitate, contact TrainWell for the best way for doing that for your situation.

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