How to Teach Legal Skills at Scale

Why video is reinventing the classroom

How to Teach Legal Skills at Scale

The lawyers of the future don’t just need legal knowledge, they need skills. In law and many related disciplines such as dispute resolution, teaching skills in a face-to-face classroom setting is not only the norm, but often a requirement. In this article, we are going to show that there is another, more efficient and, if done right, more effective way of teaching skills, even to large numbers of students.

Young lawyers who want to succeed need to have a range of skills before they start their training contracts as firms can’t afford to spend the first six months instilling these skills in their trainees, who are expected to hit the ground running. (1)

It falls to law schools, therefore to integrate teaching skills such as communication skills, advocacy skills, dispute resolution skills, presentation skills and many more into their (already crowded) curriculum. The prevailing method for teaching these skills is in the classroom but this method has its limitations.




Old school

At the time of writing, there is no accredited mediation course we are aware of that does not require a minimum number of hours to be spent in a classroom, and specifically participating in role-play, the traditional default for learning mediation skills. The dogged adherence to this gold standard must be based on evidence that this is the only reliable way to teach skills.

But what if it isn’t?

What if there was a medium through which you can teach not just interpersonal skills like communication, but physical ones like examining a patient or jumping over a hurdle without being physically in a particular place - like in front of the hurdle? And that the medium used is not an expensive, complex piece of virtual reality technology but instead the humble video camera?




A range of studies in different disciplines now show that video can be at least as effective, if not more so, than more traditional types of skill instruction. Many of these studies focus on nursing skills, and have shown a variety of interesting findings.

Improving your bedside manners

A 2013 study by Hibbert (2) showed that:

“high quality videos demonstrating clinical skills can significantly improve medical student skill performance”.

In a recent study on clinical skills instruction for paediatric nurses in South Africa, traditional bedside instruction had been replaced with video due to resource constraints (too many students, too few instructors, too little time and space).

The outcomes of video instruction were equal to those for bedside instruction, both in terms of technical skills and non-technical skills such as clinical reasoning and patient communication. (3) What was particularly interesting was the different benefits of video instruction that the students identified as shown in the graphic below:




In addition to these benefits, a review of research on the use of video to support teaching and learning of clinical skills highlighted that alongside increased cognitive and procedural knowledge, students experienced greater satisfaction and a reduction of student anxiety with video, and preferred it for its flexibility, potential for self-management and repetition. (4)

Given these findings, it is worth having a look at why video can be effective in teaching skills.

Theoretical and practical benefits of video instruction

The students’ feedback above gives some clues - repetition, flexibility, clarity...but there are a number of lenses through the effectiveness of video can be viewed.

From a theoretical perspective, according to the “social cognitive model of sequential skill acquisition” (5) the first two stages of skill acquisition involve observing a skill being demonstrated by someone who is proficient, followed by engaging in imitation of that skill.




This is easier to achieve using video as the modelled skill can be observed, and imitated, repeatedly before being put into practice. This was particularly effective for the hurdlers, who used video modelling and feedback to greater effect than verbal feedback. The skill can also be observed from different angles and viewpoints, for example when studying body language.

Role-play and its flaws

Students often report a significant level of anxiety and / or embarrassment when engaging in classroom-based role-play exercises, particularly early in their learning. Such feelings not only make for a less than pleasant experience, but compromise learning, as the student becomes more concerned with managing their anxiety than learning skills. Students who, for example, are playing a secondary role in such an exercise, are less likely to observe and then model on what the primary role-player is doing than to focus on the complexities of playing their role. At the same time, the primary role-player is also a novice, so other students relying on their performances to model their own on are not necessarily well served.

Having the opportunity to watch skills being modelled by someone proficient, and being able to watch this repeatedly, is much more valuable, particularly early in the learning journey.

A Sage White Paper on the impact of video on various aspects of learning emphasised the fact that video can bring about a shift to more constructivist learning. This means that through engaging with video, learners interpret and construct their own meaning of what they see, before practicing and making the skills their own.

It also found that behavioural, cognitive and especially emotional engagement rates are particularly positive with video, and that it is a vastly superior medium for demonstrating the “how to” of a skill. (6)

Video learning and its positive by-products

An additional, possibly unintended, benefit was identified Forbes’ review mentioned above which described how a number of studies have found that the use of educational video has had a significant positive impact on students’ technological skills and knowledge. (3).

Given the dramatic inroads technology is making into daily legal practice, such additional benefits can only be a good thing.




If video is such a good option for teaching skills, why is it not used more often?

All video is not created equal

There are a range of complex reasons for this that relate to institutional resistance to change among other things, but a simpler, and more easily solvable reason is that all video is not created equal.

Whether the positive outcomes discussed actually come about is very much dependent on how the video in question is designed, produced and delivered. Just watching recorded one hour lectures, as is prevalent now thanks to the massively increased use of lecture capture, does not make for better outcomes. If anything, attainment rates decrease. (7)

Likewise, sourcing videos on open platforms like YouTube yields an enormous range of quality, from pretty good and engaging to downright dangerous, in the case of medical skills. (4).




Even if we leave aside the concerns around quality and outcomes from an institution’s perspective, we must recognise that today’s students, essentially the consumers of higher education, have grown up learning how to do things from YouTube, and therefore expect video in their learning environment.

Equally, they will have no tolerance for boring, lengthy, poorly produced and low quality videos

In order for educational video to be effective, it needs to be approached from a different place altogether. A useful frame for considering this is Hughes 2008 “RAT Framework” for understanding technology’s role in teaching. (8)




Doing the same thing and expecting a different result

Most institutions are still at the first stage, seeing video as replacing the same instructional practices. Lecture capture is the clearest example of this. Video is used to replicate exactly what is happening in the lecture theatre, often in real time. Engagement rates are low and outcomes often sub-optimal, as Edwards and Clinton found.

Some are moving into the second stage, amplification, whereby video is embraced and some adjustments are made to learning goals, but without any real change in instructional practice. This includes practices like using basic demonstration videos to supplement lectures or show in the classroom. Most MOOCs also fall into this category, and research has consistently shown poor completion rates of these courses (9), though this is, of course, related to more than just video quality.

Going from zero to one - Transformation

In order for video to bring about the maximum in terms of outcomes for students, and for institutions, we need to see a move to transformation, where new curricula, instructional practices and activities are designed using video by maximising its capabilities. If viewed, and deigned as a tool to transform education, rather than replicate or improve it, video has the potential to revolutionise the way skills are taught.




Such transformative practices must be based on a commitment to informing learning design with new research on how people learn effectively from video, and online learning in general. Research and experimentation has provided the ingredients which, if combined effectively, create a recipe for top class, transformational educational video.

If you want to learn more about what this looks like and how you too can create top class educational video then look out for our next article on the four key ingredients of a great educational video.


What are the best examples of educational video that you've come across? 

What do you think makes for engaging and impactful videos for instructional purposes?

Leave your comments below, we'd love to read your views...




(1) Legal Cheek Blog July 2018

(2) Hibbert, E.J., Lambert, T., Carter, J.N., Learoyd, D.L., Twigg, S., Clarke, S., 2013. A randomized controlled pilot trial comparing the impact of access to clinical endocrinology video demonstrations with access to usual revision resources on medical student performance of clinical endocrinology skills. BMC Med. Educ. 13 (1), 135. http://dx.doi. org/10.1186/1472–6920–13-135 (1–10).

(3) George, A., Blaauw, D., Green-Thompson, L. et al. Int J Educ Technol High Educ (2019) 16: 34.

(4) Forbes, H., Oprescu, F.I., Downer, T., Phillips, N.M., McTier, L., Lord, B., Barr, N., Alla, K., Bright, P., Dayton, J., Simbag, V., & Visser, I. (2016). Use of videos to support teaching and learning of clinical skills in nursing education: A review. Nurse education today, 42, 53-6 .DOI:

(5) Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (2002). Acquiring writing revision and self-regulatory skill through observation and emulation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(4), 660–668.

(6) Sage Publishing, White paper "Assessing the Impact of Educational Video on Student Engagement, Critical Thinking and Learning: The Current State of Play,” (2018)

(7) Edwards, Martin R, and Michael E Clinton, ‘A Study Exploring the Impact of Lecture Capture Availability and Lecture Capture Usage on Student Attendance and Attainment’, Higher Education, 77 (2019), 403–21

(8) Hughes, J., Thomas, R. & Scharber, C. (2006). Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation - Framework. In C. Crawford, R. Carlsen, K. McFerrin, J. Price, R. Weber & D. Willis (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2006--Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1616-1620). Orlando, Florida, USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)

(9) Freitas, Sara & Morgan, John & Gibson, David. (2015). Will MOOCs transform learning and teaching in higher education? Engagement and course retention in online learning provision. British Journal of Educational Technology. 46. 10.1111/bjet.12268.

Topics: legal curriculum, legal education

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