Review: True North

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By Aida Alaka from Washburn University School of Law

Tonya Kowalski, True North: Navigating for the Transfer of Learning in Legal Education, 34Seattle University Law Review 51 (2010) [Read fulltext at SSRN]

Many law professors are bewildered and frustrated by the failure of their students to display the skills and knowledge they learned in prior educational experiences – both in and out of law school. Thus, for example, will a clinic student appear confused when required to write a legal research memo, or a trial advocacy student appear to forget the rules of evidence, or an upper-level student appear oblivious to the basic skills of analogizing to precedent. This phenomenon, which is related to the transfer of prior learning to new situations, is common in all educational settings. And yet, as Professor Kowalski notes, “[t]ransfer of learning is at the very essence of what lawyers do every day.” That is, lawyers take rules and precedent and apply them to new legal problems.

Professor Kowalski’s article is essential reading for any educator who wishes to overcome this commonplace hurdle in skill development. True North is the first article to propose a comprehensive method for improving transfer of learning in legal education. It proposes that law schools employ “mental maps” based on schema theory to transfer knowledge and assist students in conceptually unifying their education. The article provides an overview of transfer theory and examines how it has been incorporated in legal education. It also introduces the Core Skills Approach to transfer and explains how it can be employed for the benefit of our students. Finally, the article provides an appendix that contains sample schemas, guides, and modules that professors and students can adapt to their own needs. Thus, the article not only examines a common problem in legal education but also provides concrete solutions.

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