If you believed everything you read, you might think the death of the live CLE program is imminent. Maybe you think it’s the fault of legacy organizations that are drowning in tradition. Maybe you think it’s a good thing because you’re an online provider and you think online CLE is the future and that you are poised to dominate.
Maybe I think you’re wrong. Or, at least, kind of wrong.
Now, anyone who reads this blog knows that I think live CLE needs to do better. And by the way, my job title actually has the words “online content” in it and my organization produces tons of it, so it’s not a stretch to call me an advocate for online education.
But I’m also not blind. And you know what I’ve been noticing over the last couple of years?
- Videos on Ted.com. High quality ones by some impressive speakers. On topics I can search easily or stumble upon by happy coincidence.
- Classes on iTunes University. Sometimes even a full semester of a class, complete with a syllabus to work from. From schools like Stanford, Harvard and Yale.
- And when someone I know recently needed a refresher in math and physics I referred him to Khan Academy.
There’s no shortage of online education, but what do these examples all have in common? They’re all free. Internet connection aside, you don’t have to pay a penny to watch them.
The biggest trend in high quality online education seems to be its price–or, rather, its lack of one.
If big players are making education freely accessible by anyone who can access the internet, where does that leave those of us still charging for online CLE? What if lawyers just created their own online CLE?
Good providers bring a lot to the table, but when it comes down to the educational value of the programming, we’re still only as good as the volunteer lawyers who speak for us. So, what if some of our best speakers took things online on their own? Not necessarily to compete with us–maybe they just enjoy it. Just like some lawyers enjoy blogging. They even do it for free. After all, it’s as easy to produce video today as it was to blog eight years ago. And it gets easier all the time.
Which means that online CLE will be abundant but there’s not necessarily the wide open market to charge for it that some predicted. So if your business model is to charge for online content (even if your plan was to out-cheap the next provider), you might want to redesign. There are ways for providers to build some value in curating and positioning the content. Attorneys don’t always have time to search for the information they need, so there’s opportunity if you can get the best piece in front of them when they don’t even know they’re looking for it, but that’s another post. There are also surely sponsorship opportunities, though they might have to be reworked, as well, as vendors find their own ways to access lawyers through online education.
But, in spite of the virtual pitchfork mobs that have been circling those of us who still do live programs, I can’t help but think this could be our time. Two of the examples above–Ted and universities using iTunesU–are, after all, live event producers. Those of us with the infrastructure and drive to create lasting learning experiences using a blend of online and offline tools are in a pretty good position to write a new chapter for continuing legal education. If we’re up to it.