The changing landscape of legal education and the potential for online learning with Head of Curriculum, Jane Waddell
This week, we sat down with our Head of Curriculum, Jane Waddell to delve into her experience within the ever-changing legal landscape. We looked at how things have evolved since she started out, where she thinks legal education is heading and what makes online learning so effective.
Tell us a bit about your role at the College, when did you make the switch to teaching?
“I made the move to legal education 12 years ago after working as a practising solicitor for 15 years in corporate finance. As Head of Curriculum, Design and Development, I’m responsible for making sure we create courses that are functional and that students find enjoyable. Because learning can be fun! And it's certainly a lot easier if it’s engaging and stimulating, which is what we’re trying to do online with our courses, and I think we do it very well. That’s part of my role, as well as developing new modules not just for students but also bespoke modules for law firms that help point their future trainees in the right direction.”
In what ways has legal education changed since you were in the process of qualifying?
“I think learning has come a long way, it’s changing rapidly and there’s a lot more knowledge available about how students learn and how different students learn differently. It’s not one-size-fits-all anymore. In the past learning was more of an endurance for students, it was one-dimensional, you just sat and listened and either you took it in, or you didn’t.”
How do you think that this ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to learning can be avoided?
“Personal contact time is really important. At the College, we have a team of supervisors to help students learn in a way that is best suited to them. Learning materials and the structure of courses should be and have been, very carefully thought out - from interactive 1-2-1 sessions with supervisors, to group work collaboration and multiple-choice practice. This means there’s something there to suit every type of learning style. It also means that students can go over materials as many times as they need in order to fully understand the topic they’re working on.”
Do you think there are any drawbacks to virtual learning?
“A year ago, virtual learning may have seemed an odd experience for many, but now I think people have recognised the potential for it. It doesn’t suit everybody, but I think it suits a lot more people now more than ever. It can be argued the lack of in-person contact is a drawback, but regarding the traditional classroom model, learning can be quite passive, where students sit there and just listen. They might be in the room, but whether they are properly engaging could be debatable. At the College, we’ve designed our online courses to be one-to-one. We help students engage more in a way that can be difficult in the classroom."
“The time to study will never find you, you have to find it.”
What tips or tricks would you give people before they start a training course?
“I have lots of tips and tricks! In my experience, for students who are working part-time and have other commitments, my advice right from the outset is that the time to study will never find you, you have to find it. You need to sit down and work out when you are going to study and negotiate with the people around you. It might be your employer, family, friends, but you have to negotiate that time in advance and let them know that this is really important to you.
Knowing when you study best is vital, for some it’s evenings and others it’s the morning. And also, exercise, eating well, sleeping well all play a vital part in a healthy study routine to succeed in exams. The SQE particularly is not something you can simply cram in a few weeks before, so a consistent and well-structured study routine will be the best way you can feel comfortable and confident when you do get round to sitting the exam.”
In your opinion, where does online learning work best, in the office or at home?
"Probably a blend actually, and it goes back to what I said about knowing when you study best. But with our set-up, you don’t need to save it all for the weekend or commute to a college twice a week. It’s there to fit around your work and home commitments. That said, there is a timetable, which you need to follow, but it offers flexibility and I think nowadays, especially after the last 18 months, this is what people are increasingly looking for.
I think there’s also a trust now, that may not have been there before, where employees can work from home productively, and it doesn’t have to be between nine-to-five in the office. I think this is also echoed in what we offer, in that studying doesn’t have to be in a nine-to-five university setting. You can do it effectively online."
To find out more about how the courses on offer from The College of Legal Practice can help you in your legal career journey, or to hear how we can work with your organisation to create courses designed for you, simply get in touch with our student services team.