E-learning – plug-in your mind

By William Barns-Graham

If you’ve seen The Matrix, you may recall how Neo et al can instantaneously learn various skills by being plugged into a matrix simulating programme to then have these skills uploaded into their minds. While I may not need to learn jiu jitsu or kickboxing any time soon – I probably won’t be fighting Agent Smith this evening – in respect to researching new articles, the idea of being programmed with expertise of any sort is pretty appealing. This kind of learning remains in the realms of science fiction, but with e-learning becoming bigger and more easily accessible with every passing day, we are not as far away from plugging into the matrix’s resources as we once were.

A report by MarketsandMarkets, a global market research and consulting company in the US, predicts that the worldwide Ed Tech market is to grow from $31.31bn in 2013 to $59.90bn in 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 13.9%. High-speed mobile internet access, cheap tablet devices and the rise of adaptive-learning software means the rise of e-learning is inevitable. While schools and universities are already being transformed by this new sort of education, adult learning, including on-the-job learning, are likely to be vastly improved by learning apps and online courses. Not quite The Matrix, but Ed Tech is nonetheless a lot more progressive than only sticking to the classroom teacher methodology.

The opportunities this provides to professionals in all industries are vast. Science and health journalists may now be able to actually learn about the hot topics they are covering and give far more accurate and informed reports than they do at present. For lawyers, e-learning is an incredible opportunity – using an app on your phone to learn about a particular area of litigation while on the train to a meeting is a far more productive use of such “dead-time” than merely browsing on LinkedIn or Twitter.

In terms of CPD points, there are already plenty of webinars across various platforms. While these are viewed by some as being a “lazier” means to CPD points, interactive and adaptive learning apps are a more conducive way to actually continuing your professional development – the point of the points system after all. Firms are already keen to exploit this growing area, with the Clifford Chance Academy possibly leading the way with its intranet, which hosts technical legal courses and courses specialising in additional business skills. Not everyone is at Clifford Chance, of course, but legal learning providers and universities are already creating online education resources. It is a nascent market and the leading players may have not yet emerged, but it is a market that is showing the buds of growth.

Aside from CPD points, the opportunities for self-improvement and the quick adoption of matter-specific skills presented by e-learning are obvious. For lawyers taking secondments at companies or making the move to being fulltime in-house lawyers, the improving quality and quantity of e-learning resources provide an answer to a longstanding problem; namely, how does a lawyer learn the skills needed to operate in a business? Writing for GC Research Club, one of the things I hear most often is the complaint that in-house lawyers are not well enough prepared to work in a business – they lack industry specific skills, basic financial expertise and the ability to manage working relationships on behalf of the client rather than the law firm, to name but a few. There is already a growing pool of resources to help in-house lawyers pick up these skills and we are not far off from the situation whereby in-house lawyers can attain them through app-based and online courses.

Talking to forward thinking legal service providers and qualified lawyers like Martin Langan at Road Traffic Representation and Larry Bridgesmith at ERM Solutions, there is a growing feeling within the industry that lawyers do not have the same excuses as in the past for not expanding their expertise. The resources are increasingly available and they can be accessed and processed quickly and through various formats, including videos and podcasts. In a world where broad access to information and knowledge allows people from all industries to become better generalists, lawyers too can broaden their skills and expertise like never before.

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