In the last two decades, higher education has come to embrace blended learning as the most effective way to engage students. Within law faculties – particularly in response to COVID-19 – this uptake has accelerated as more lecturers recognise the benefits of applying a blended learning approach in their teaching, for them and their students.

Universities once focused solely on what happened inside the classroom. Students were given a weighty textbook and told what to read and when. Especially in law programs. But with the arrival of the internet and smart phones, higher education has had to evolve and take more responsibility for supporting students’ learning outside of the classroom.

In part, this evolution was driven by the ever-expanding presence of technology in all our lives – but also a growing expectation from incoming students who were rightly miffed to discover many universities, particularly the more traditional in scope, lagged well behind the technology-rich secondary schools they’d just graduated from.

Blended learning: Is it here to stay?

Nick James is the Immediate Past Chair of the Australasian Law Academics Association, Vice Chair of the Legal Education of the Council of Australian Law Deans and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law at Bond University. He’s been impressed by the way his colleagues have embraced blended learning and the myriad of new online resources available.

“The reality is, students are supposed to spend more time outside of the classroom independently learning,” says Nick.

“We have to really think about the learning resources we’re going to provide them with – not just what we can do in the classroom. What support, structure and resources do students need to learn the best they can?”

“I think all the disciplines have grappled with this for the past few decades,” he says. “But it’s been a positive development that we’re now thinking more deeply about our students’ entire learning experience, not just the hours they spend in front of a teacher, whether in person or on a screen.”

Why embrace blended learning

While law has traditionally been quite conservative, both as a profession and an academic discipline, in the last few years many law schools have embraced the potential for technology-enhancing teaching. At Bond University, the Faculty of Law is leading the charge, spurred on by the opportunities available to its staff and students.

“One of the lasting impacts of COVID-19 has been that universities were forced to navigate five years’ academic professional development of technology-enabled teaching in two weeks,” says Nick. “It meant that deans, coordinators and lecturers had no choice but to embrace technology and all the support that’s available out there.”

“So now we’ve leapt ahead in terms of our capacity to use technology in teaching, which is a wonderful thing because we now know that technology makes it possible to provide a better, more engaging learning experience for students. It’s much better to provide a rigorous online learning scenario than telling students to read Chapter 13 of a textbook.”

The Limitations

While some lecturers are keen to develop their own resources, Nick admits this has its limitations. “While we could do this ourselves, it’s mostly very time consuming and we’re just not experts in creating online learning resources,” he says. “I think publishers have a tactical role to play in supporting academics to enhance the resources they provide.”

As an example, Nick cites the value in assigning online quizzes at the end of a learning module. “Multiple choice tests can gently motivate students to read the material and show they’ve engaged with the concepts – but you don’t want each student to sit the same test so you need to randomly generate a different test from a large bank of questions.”

“While we could do this ourselves, it’s mostly very time consuming and we’re just not exper