A 2008 report from the Economist Intelligence Unit states that technology is without a doubt changing the field of education. “Technology is enabling multi-modal teaching, changing curricula and spawning rich forms of online research and collaboration.”[i] The article explains that the benefits of distance learning have “found an eager audience among students, working professionals and employers,” and that a myriad of academic institutions “consider online learning key to advancing their mission, placing post-graduate education within reach of people who might otherwise not be able to access it.”[ii]
Online education has most certainly found its audience, with roughly 6.1 million college students having taken an online course in the fall semester of 2010.[iii] Nearly 1 in 3 higher education students now take at least one course online.[iv] Additionally, the growth rate for online enrollment remains strong at 10%, dwarfing the growth rate in traditional higher education (2%).[v]
Online education has not taken off quite as fast in the legal field, likely due to the traditional nature of the industry. Nevertheless, online law schools are appearing and demand for them appears to be increasing. The benefits of online education make it much more manageable for professionals to enhance their education by obtaining a law degree. Online classes reduce the need to move close to a law school or commute on a daily or almost daily basis. Online classes are often offered in the evenings on a part-time basis, allowing people to maintain their fulltime jobs; this enables working students to keep their connections in the real world as well as avoid taking large loans for living expenses. In addition to not having to take loans for living expenses, the significantly reduced cost of an online legal degree makes it infinitely more attractive. What you would pay for one year at a traditional law school would pays for or nearly pays for (depending on the school) your entire degree if you were to earn it online – that is nearly priceless.
Of course online legal education is not without its skeptics. The biggest criticism is that online law schools are not ABA approved. California is currently the only state to allow law schools to officially register and allow graduates of an online law school to immediately sit for the Bar Exam. However, other states do allow practitioners to sit for their bar after having been barred in another state (say California) for a set number of years; these eligibility requirements change often, so it is best to check with the State Bar of the state in which you are interested in practicing, but for a summary, click here.
Other concerns involve the quality of education that a student receives, but this appears to be unfounded as data from the US Department of Education indicates that “[s]tudents in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.”[vi]
With the current state of the economy, and individuals now carefully considering how they can afford to spend both their time and their money, online legal education will likely continue to grow, and dare I say flourish.
[i] Glen, Marie The Future of Higher Education: How Technology Will Shape Learning at 6, Economist Intelligence Unit (Debra D’Agostino, ed.) (2008) available at http://www.nmc.org/pdf/Future-of-Higher-Ed-(NMC).pdf
[ii] Id. at 8
[iii] Report by the Babson Survey Research Group
[vi] U.S. Dep’t of Education, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning, available at http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf