As a long trusted source of education for legal professionals, the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) is committed to providing high-quality continuing education opportunities to a diverse group of learners. And one of the leaders working to ensure this happens is LSO’s director of continuing professional development, Michelle Ryan.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Michelle about LSO’s learning portfolio and how the generational make-up of the learners they serve – and other key demographic factors – translate into what they offer and how those offerings have evolved in the past decade. They also discuss what LSO is doing to ensure their professional development opportunities offer both practicality and accessibility.
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[02:58] – Introduction to Michelle and some additional background about herself and LSO.
[07:26] – It would be helpful if you could give us an overview of LSO’s learning business. Can you sketch out your offerings (number and type of offerings in a year, number of learners served, is most what you provide required, etc.)? Michelle shares that the organization has very historical roots but even their department of continuing professional development (CPD), has rather historical roots as well. This goes back to after World War II when their operation/function had their seed in the origin of special lecture offerings to help returning lawyers get back up to speed when returning from the War. She says they are part of the regulatory group at LSO and one of a number of many public and private providers of legal professional education in the province. They offer around 90 different programs per year, most of which are offered in person and by Webcast (with the programming available in a post-program archive format). She notes they do offer some e-course programming (asynchronous, learner directed, online programming with interactive elements) and they’ve been doing some prerecorded programming, which is made available as an archive afterwards. They try to make the availability/accessibility as best as they can and within those 90 programs they offer, some are available year after year. Michelle also discusses the different continuing education requirements for lawyers and paralegals and how they serve them.
[14:28] – Can you clarify—how recently did the continuing professional development become mandatory? Michelle says it was about 6-7 years ago and that they have a split in the organization so that as the provider, they aren’t the same people that look at accreditation of programming (so there isn’t a conflict of interest).
[15:57] – It’s my understanding that you’re paying attention to the generational make-up of your learners and trying to determine the priorities and needs of the different generations. How long has LSO been taking a generational view of the folks you serve, and what prompted you to adopt that generational view? Michelle shares that it probably started in the last 10 or so years when they started to see a significant amount of growth in people (and the make-up of those people) becoming licensed as legal services providers. Around that time, as an organization, they started looking at how they were really meeting the learner where they were and generational was an important piece of that. That’s because they have a wide age spread between those that would be called to the bar at around age 25, to lawyers that are continuing to serve into their 60’s, 70’s and even beyond. Also, because Ontario is a large province covering urban and rural areas, lawyers and paralegals are serving a diverse group of people and have different needs. So in the last ten years or so, they’ve started to realize and take more steps to see how they’re meeting that spectrum of learners with accessibility, ease of signing up for programs, reaching out with Webcasts, etc.—and then trying to keep track of that as learners progress through their professional lives and they try to meet that need.
Sponsor: Community Brands
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[21:22] – How did you go about discovering the needs and priorities of the different generations you serve? Did you hold focus groups, run surveys, observe learners, all of the above, something else? Michelle shares that it’s probably all of the above but they haven’t done too much in terms of focus groups, although that might be more in their future. They do survey after every program to help refine and create quality that is moving forward with the times. She also says practicality is a watchword for them because for lawyers and paralegals who often bill on an hourly rate, time is money for them. So unless they’re getting practical nuggets in their PD from LSO, although it may be interesting for them, it’s not going to have the takeaway they need when they go back to their office. She notes the Webcast move was a huge one for them because it created an open door for them to reach people. They’ve also added a more robust ecommerce program in the past three years, which lets people who are now much more used to self-serve options get what they want when they want it. These steps have helped them make sure they are keeping up with modern trends and what people are looking for.
[24:15] – Are there other changes you’ve made (aside from Webcasts, ecommerce), either new topics or formats you’ve begun offering so that you can serve those priorities and needs you’ve discovered of the different generations and the other different ways that your learners divide themselves into subgroups? Michelle says this is an ongoing portfolio for them. They have what she calls a “standard stable” of programs they offer as well as what she calls “short, sharp” updates of six-minute programs. From that, they have discreet programming, which looks at current issues and developments in legislation or case law. They also have changes in things like the materials they give to people. She says people tend to think traditionally about a (academic type) paper being presented, which they still do but they also add things like precedence and checklists, or more informal tips to remember from their speakers and chairs. She notes that all of their speakers and chairs operate on a volunteer basis so it is a peer-to-peer learning design they have. So back to practicality, they may not have a paper but they have an excellent checklist to use, which can be used right away. Michelle also talks about how they’ve seen some move towards shorter programming and even a towards a particular discreet or interesting/developing topic. But offering that gamut of choice is what’s important.
[27:46] – So those short, sharp updates you mentioned were about six minutes each—it sounds like you hold those together so that might be a grouping of different updates—is that correct? Michelle says yes and they’re centered around a particular practice area of law. But there could be 30 speakers and they all have a particular topic they’re going to address. She notes that sometimes they do pair up and get twelve minutes.
[29:00] – Have you yet explored unbundling those and making those six minutes available as just little microlearning bursts or are you keeping them bundled for the time being? Michelle says they are considering that for the future but what the ecommerce robustness allows them to do is think about curation of content in a different way. And as they consider generational concerns, that’s going to be something they think about as they continue to evolve and develop. She also shares about the role that choice plays and how they’ve always had a sort of bundling aspect with their offerings for topics that go together.
[30:23] – What challenges have you encountered in undertaking a generational view of learning? And what have the benefits been? Michelle points out that it’s challenging to be a legal practitioner at any time, but definitely now (as it is for many professions). You have to be able to curate content and be confident in the knowledge that you’re getting from whoever your professional development provider is and LSO wants to make sure they are helping out with this however they can. How they’re shaping and describing their content for learners – whose experience spans a wide range – is key so they know what they’re getting when signing up and happy after the fact. She says mostly they look to an intermediate audience and she talks about how they offer what is now called a “refresher” series as opposed to calling it a “practice basics” program, which is what they used to call it but they later realized it wasn’t appropriately titled. This is because they realized it wasn’t just new lawyers but sometimes experienced ones returning to practice that needed the courses. And they do advanced programming as well for those practitioners who may have more complicated issues. Michelle explains how for these more complex issues, peer-to-peer learning is usually best so they had to look at how to offer this in a Webcast type environment. She says they continue to try to meet the needs of learners but are limited in how many programs they can offer each year so they look at where they think they’ll have the most impact. In all of the feedback they get, it allows them to think about what’s going to work best for them and how LSO can do that in an effective way.
Sponsor: WBT Systems
[35:09] – If want to serve your learners in an effective way, we encourage you to check out our sponsor for this quarter.
WBT Systems develops the industry-leading TopClass LMS, which delivers transformative professional development experiences for education and certification programs. With a single point of support from in-house integration experts, TopClass LMS easily integrates with a wide variety of systems to provide efficient administration and a unified learning experience. WBT supports organizations in using learning technology to help drive growth in membership, increase revenues, and enhance the learning experience. WBT believes in truly understanding your challenges and partnering with you to ensure the success of your education programs.
[36:08] – If peers at another learning business were to come to you for advice on how best to get started on a generational view of learning, knowing what you know now from your own efforts and experiments, what would you recommend? Michelle recommends starting with your learners first so if you have an evaluation strategy or surveys, see what those are telling you because they know what they need best. What LSO has done in the last few years is to think very critically about the content they are offering from that learner or registrant’s point of view. She uses the example (above) of changing the name of their “practice basics” course to a “refresher” course to show how the title originally may have sounded a little too junior for some people but that anyone can take a refresher course. Michelle also discusses how you need to be able to question everything a little bit and build on your strengths. So trust the feedback from the learners and see what’s working well and what’s not.
[40:38] – What do you see as the major opportunities and threats today for LSO and, in general, organizations providing professional development, continuing education, and lifelong learning? Michelle says there’s so much potential for learning in all different aspects because technology has shortened that window between the learner and provider in some ways, and taken out middle people, and that’s a great opportunity. But there’s now so much choice so what do you do, as the learner and as the provider? And how do you make sure that you’re shaping your offerings to best meet whatever your organization’s mandate is? LSO’s is to try to enhance and maintain competence for people so they have considerations about a competency mandate. Because of that, they’ve moved in the past couple years towards considering a competencies-based curriculum for much of their learning. This would be to satisfy stakeholders and considerations on the regulatory side but also to meet people who they are so they can have an informed experience. Figuring out whether people are satisfied with the learning they’re getting when there is so much choice out there, Michelle notes, are both an opportunity and a threat. Navigating that choice – both on the learner side and the provider side – so that you’re making the right decisions for your offerings is probably what’s key when there’s so much choice out there.
[43:26] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Michelle shares about her experience learning how to ski a couple years ago (as someone who doesn’t like heights and had a previous bad skiing experience). She says if you put yourself in a position where you have to try something new, it’s helpful because it puts you in the learner’s shoes and it allows you a chance to rejoice when you make progress. You have to challenge yourself, it makes you more humble, and helps you empathize with learners.
[46:04] – How to connect with Michelle and/or learn more about LSO:
[47:30] – Wrap-Up
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[49:41] – Sign off