There are several different types of learners sitting in any law school classroom. While each type of learner responds best to particular study strategies, there is one thing all law student can benefit from: active learning. In this post, we discuss the differences between active and passive learning and why active learning is crucial in the legal field.
As the name implies, a passive learner does not do much with the material they are presented. They might take notes in a lecture, but they do it lazily. When they are studying for a test they just re-read their notes and cram at the last minute. Study groups, flashcards, and flowcharts don’t interest them. They do the bare minimum when it comes to studying.
The problems with passive learning is that it lacks the engagement needed to understand complex legal concepts. Simply listening to lectures, taking some notes, and reviewing those notes for exams may have gotten you through high school or college, but law school is different. You must be active to understand and be able to apply the ideas presented in your classes. In general, law is an active discipline. A lawyer advocates. Passivity is, therefore, a contradiction in law practice. The last thing you want is to have passive approaches to learning ingrained in you at the start of your legal career.
Actively learning the material in your classes is what you want to do. This involves many of the study methods we talk about here at Law School Toolbox: outlining, creating visual study tools, participating in study groups, using old exams, etc. Ask yourself questions like “what is happening in this case? What is the law being challenged in this case? What are the key facts of the case? What legal theories pertain to this case?” All these questions make you actively think about the case instead of just reading it. When practicing active learning, taking notes in lectures is the first step in learning the material, not the first and last. Reorganizing and distilling your notes after class is a great way to continue actively learning the material.
The benefit of these techniques is that they challenge you to be able to do more than just repeat a memorized statute. Law school is about learning a concept well enough to apply it to different situations. This is what law school exams test you on. Further, you can take control of your studying by practicing active learning. It is up to you how far you go when using different studying techniques, so the more you use the more you can make yourself confident in your understanding of the material. You are less likely to use the excuses of “the text was boring” or “the professor did not present the material well” if you take control of your studying and actively learn the material in several different ways.
A Note on the Socratic Method
We did a podcast on the Socratic method where we discussed its purpose and benefits of the Socratic method. While you may still fear the Socratic method, it is important to note that it is not only a form of active learning for the person being questioned, but also for the rest of the class as well. You can be active in class by considering the questions the professor is asking during a Socratic dialogue. The professor is trying to get to the essence of an argument by challenging a student in the same way you should be challenging yourself. While many students tune out (probably in relief that they were not called) when the professor begins a Socratic dialogue with another student, don’t be that person! Pay attention to the dialogue and answer the questions in your head or on paper. For more on how to stay engaged during class, be sure to listen to our podcast!
We hope this post helped you understand the importance of your learning methods! Law school is unlike anything you have encountered thus far in your academic career. Therefore, you will most definitely need to adjust your learning techniques and take an active approach to studying.
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Other helpful law school tips:
- Taking Good Law School Notes
- More Reasons to Handwrite Class Notes
- Want to Get Good Law School Grades – Become a Self-Starter
- Three Easy Strategies to Remember What You Read
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