Those eager to replace the standard education model might want to examine an article by Ferris Jabr in the November issue of Scientific American, Why the Brain Prefers Paper. This article summarizes the scientific literature on the differences in brain functioning between reading material on paper and reading it from a screen (of any kind). Of most relevance to the effectiveness of moocs and online education was the distinction described between “remembering” and “knowing” something. While remembering includes the datum itself as well as the context in which it was learned, knowing includes placing that datum into the context of a field of knowledge. It seems obvious that we seek to provide our students with knowledge of the law, not just a memorized set of data points. Consequently, we should seek out techniques that result in our students knowing what we have taught.
What does this have to do with moocs? The article describes the results of studies that establish that
[s]tudents who had read study material on a screen relied much more on remembering than on knowing, whereas students who read on paper depended equally on the two forms of memory. [S]tudents who read on paper learned the study material more thoroughly more quickly; they did not have to spend a lot of time searching their mind for information from the text — they often just knew the answer.Sci. Amer. at 53.
As many of you know, my background before law school was in computer science. I do, indeed, have a propeller on my cap (and silicon in my blood). Nevertheless, I intend to maintain my current approach — have my students read materials in a book first and then help them contextualize it into the field of knowledge that is the law.