The MOOC Revolution: Law Schools

online education, Mooc “The revolution will not be televised.” Gil Scott-Heron made that prophecy in 1970. Turns out, he was right. The revolution went online, instead.

In education, the revolution is coming in the form of MOOCs. And they’re either saviors or shams, depending on the administrator. MOOCs–an acronym for massive open online courses–are classes that can be accessed over the internet. So how are they different from any other online course? Well, “massive” and “open” are clues. By massive, you’re looking at enrollments of up to 110,000 students for Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller’s Financial Markets MOOC. And open? Well, anyone around the world can enroll. There are rarely any prerequisites or previous experience benchmarks required.

And here’s the best part: Most MOOCs are free. Even better, most courses come with online books, readings, and software. So students aren’t being gouged by Chegg or the bookstore. Otherwise, MOOCs can be a mixed bag. Some maintain set start and end dates, while others are self-study and self-paced. Many use videos and PowerPoints to deliver content. But check out their message boards, and you’ll often find robust, real-time discussions between students (and sometimes their professors).

HARVARD LAW PROF MICHAEL SANDEL TAKES HIS CELEBRATED JUSTICE COURSE TO THE MASSES

But here’s what makes MOOCs so formidable. They’re being embraced by the top schools (and the best-and-brightest faculty). Take the Wharton School of Business, for instance, which has placed its first year foundational courses online as MOOCs. Or Harvard Law, where rock star professor Michael J. Sandel is taking his celebrated Justice course to the masses. With the best teachers signing on, you can forget about a dumbed-down curriculum. What’s more, MOOCs have become a platform for schools to attract new students. As a result, schools are paying special attention to these courses, giving students the highest quality education.

Business school curriculum has been particularly adaptable to MOOCs. In fact, one student has figured out a way to complete a full MBA curriculum for under $1000 using MOOCS. And that brings up the question: How beneficial could MOOCs be to lawyers and law students? They certainly present an array of options. For seasoned lawyers, MOOCs could help them fill knowledge gaps in specific legal areas–or in fields like finance that may be relevant to particular cases. For graduates, MOOCs could serve as refreshers when they’re studying for the bar. And MOOCs could give prospective students a head start on legal concepts (or help them decide if law school is right for them).

With the quantity and quality of MOOCs growing, some may wonder if they’ll eventually replace law school. Just imagine being able to continue working (and avoiding six-figure debt for tuition). You’d skip the LSAT. You could learn at your own pace and convenience. And listing courses from Yale, Harvard, and Northwestern would certainly spruce up your resume.

That said, don’t get too excited. MOOCs are unlikely to replace law school soon, if ever. Why? Let’s start with 1L required courses, which include Introductory Law, Torts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Constitutional Law, Property Law, and Legal Research and Writing. How many of these courses are available via MOOCs? Try one: Yale’s Constitutional Law. And electives? You’ll find an environmental law course here and a human rights course there, but nothing structured. If you’re thinking of specializing in areas like taxes or intellectual property, MOOCs won’t help. There just aren’t any MOOCs available in those areas yet.