Anthony S. Niedwiecki, Lawyers and Learning: A Metacognitive Approach To Legal Education, 13 Widener L. Rev. 33 (2006).
The areas of learning theory and educational psychology, like many disciplines, have various and often complicated theories and approaches. There are, however, several general learning concepts that are widely accepted and universally applied in many educational environments. One of those theories that is most applicable to legal education is the concept of metacognition. Metacognition refers to the self-monitoring by an individual of his own unique cognitive processes. Generally, metacognition refers to having both awareness and control over one’s learning and thinking. Specifically, learners must have awareness over what they bring to the learning experience, such as their own cognitive abilities, learning styles, and learning preferences. Controlling or regulating one’s learning requires actively planning, monitoring, and evaluating during the execution of a cognitive task. By introducing the concept of metacognition into the law school curriculum, we can dramatically improve the students’ ability to transfer and use learned skills in unique situations: “[M]etacognitive strategies provide the necessary format to promote learning not just for a test, but for a lifetime-not just for recall, but for lifelong logic and reasoning.”
Through the over-reliance on teaching through the Socratic method in doctrinal courses and the “how to method” in skills-based courses, law school education hinders a student’s development of metacognitive skills, which are essential to a career that requires constant learning.
The article details the concept of metacognition, how current law school teaching does not teach metacognitive skills, and how legal educators can incorporate metacognitive learning into the law school curriculum to help students better transfer knowledge and skills to the practice of law.