Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JUNE 2004

Parting Thoughts
Learning, But Differently
By Lisa LeSage

The entrance into the profession of "Gen Xers," coupled with the rapid development of new technology, create implications for the delivery of continuing legal education for members of the bar. What many see as a tremendous array of new opportunities for growth and learning has been for others a source of tension and concern.

Although it is impossible to assign characteristics to large, diverse groups of people, scholars note some general trends in characteristics of the Gen Xers that differ from the generations before it. For example: many people in this age group (generally considered to be those between the ages of 25 and 40) are very comfortable multi-tasking; they are collaborative learners; they quickly sort through myriad sources of information and immediately disregard anything they do not see an impending need for and they are comfortable communicating with supervisors or teachers on a level playing field. For the past 25 years, classrooms have been structured around team building and collaborative learning; cottage industries have grown up around "making learning fun" (Consider the dawn of Sesame Street and the avalanche of programming it has spawned). Most people under 40 are comfortable with a wide range of technology and familiar and comfortable with coaching in a variety of areas.

The "old" way of presenting information, almost exclusively in a lecture or series of panels format, is not recognized by or especially relevant to this new generation of professionals whose learning styles favor more interactive, diverse approaches. Not only that, the "old way" also is not a format that necessarily has been the most effective learning style for our over 40 members either. Our challenge is to strive to understand these differences in learning styles across the generations and from that create a wide variety of the most effective, content-filled programming possible to educate our membership. Creating a multitude of different delivery methods for continuing legal education does not in any way mean that the content has to suffer. Quite the contrary: if we fail to experiment with new ways of delivering information, we run the very high risk of becoming ineffective for most members, and the integrity of the programs begin to suffer. Nor should the bar shy away from sponsoring educational programs that may present controversial content. Part of professionalism training is to learn how to communicate effectively and advocate for ourselves and our clients despite our disagreement with the method of presentation or the subject matter.

Training a new lawyer or law student today requires the use of multiple methods to engage as many senses as possible. Gen Xers expect to be life-long learners and are comfortable acquiring new information. The bar has already begun to experiment with online learning, video streaming, list serves, and more. We should be equally as pro-active with interactive learning in person as we are with technology. A performance or re-enactment of an event (even a controversial one) followed by specific, guided discussion can stimulate more learning than a lecture. Likewise, programs that offer opportunities to work in small groups and report back to a larger group can generate more ideas and proposed solutions than a single person lecturing to a group. In fact, Inns of Court have used precisely these interactive methods for centuries. Giving busy lawyers opportunities to choose from a wide variety of programs that are most aligned with their learning styles is a much more effective way to promote learning than a "one size fits all" approach.

Striving to identify the different learning styles and characteristics of the lawyers in Oregon, and challenging ourselves to find the most effective ways to work with such diversity, will make us better communicators, better advocates and better professionals.

Lisa LeSage is assistant dean for business law programs at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, and a member of the OSB Board of Governors.

© 2004 Lisa LeSage

Lisa LeSage is assistant dean for business law programs at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, and a member of the OSB Board of Governors.

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