Tips from an E-Learning Guru

We know we should be doing more to leverage technology—especially when other firms are getting online to get ahead.

But how?

I recently interviewed Steve Gluckman, a former PD Director and the founder of Law Firm Elearning, a consultancy that helps law firms harness online learning for lawyer development. Steve spoke candidly on everything from e-learning “baby steps” to cost-cutting ideas and predictions about the next wave.

Steve, I know that a lot of my clients are intrigued by your work. But when they hear things like “e-learning” or “disruptive technology,” they sometimes get nervous. Let me put it to you this way: In lay terms, what are some things you can offer the law-firm professional development world? Walk us through how a law firm might use some of these new learning technologies.

No need to panic! It’s all very straightforward.

Let me give you an actual example of how one of our law-firm clients is leveraging the benefits of online learning.

Consider this scenario: Let’s say the firm is holding a lunch-and-learn program in its New York office on a Tuesday afternoon. The firm might have the people in the NY office attend in person and pipe the program to other offices via videoconference. That’s all good stuff, but what about those who couldn’t attend the program? And what about the attorneys who did attend the program but will need to put what they learned into practice eight months later? That’s why it would be great for this firm to be able to make the program’s content available in a self-paced, easy-to-navigate format right at the attorneys’ fingertips.

To address this need, we helped this particular client record the live session and then convert it to a high-energy, polished, and easy-to-use e-learning module. We began with the original PowerPoint slides and other documents, but then we created custom graphics, animations, and speed-whiteboarding videos to engage the lawyers.

Those lawyers can now launch the module and jump right to their topic of interest. We call this “learning at the point of execution.” We built this module so that the firm can offer it via PC, iPhone, and iPad. And we also included user-participation verification for CLE.

This particular firm decided to host the modules on their CLE tracking system. But other firms can host modules on their Learning Management System (LMS) or even on SharePoint. We also offer a cloud-based LMS—our Lawyer Learning Platform—to make the whole process turn-key for our clients and help them track module usage by lawyer, to create learning paths, and to set up learning groups.

This firm continues to converts multiple programs every month and is building up a significant internal e-learning library—with topics matched to its associate competency model. Other firms we work with do more or less. It all depends on the firm and its objectives.

I know that costs are wildly variable. But could you give my readers a sense of the cost range? How might they dip their toes into e-learning, and are there any expensive mistakes at the outset that my clients should avoid?

When I started supporting law firms with online learning 11 years ago, e-learning was expensive. Most of the firms we worked with back then used online learning sparingly for this reason. The world is very different now. We can now build high-end online modules for a fraction of the cost while including much more functionality. The tools and methods we’ve developed here over the years have also allowed us to work very cost-effectively, and we pass that on to the firms we work with.

As you said, Ross, costs vary widely, but a firm that’s just starting out with e-learning can create a few self-paced modules for an investment of just a few hundred dollars. Some clients that have been doing this for a while are building up a robust internal library of e-learning modules for their attorneys and staff.

One mistake I see some firms make at first is investing in a learning platform right off the bat. Contrary to what you might think, you do NOT need a learning management system (LMS) to get started with e-learning. Save the investment for later—once you know where you’re headed and once you’ve built up a critical mass of online learning resources. You will want to consider an LMS (or similar platform) at some point, but it is not a prerequisite for launching an e-learning effort.

Some PD people believe that although on-line learning has its advantages, it reduces interactivity and does away with those great moments when you get many lawyers talking in room who otherwise barely known each other. What say you?

I’m obviously a huge proponent of e-learning, but I don’t think online learning should ever replace live in-person training. Online learning is simply another tool in the learning and development toolbox. I think online learning is at its most effective when it’s offered as part of a “blended learning” solution in concert with other learning methods and resources.

For example, one of our clients recently created an E-Discovery Basics learning series for associates across their firm. The series was divided into four parts. The firm decided to offer the first three segments in a self-paced, online format. Associates were expected to complete the modules on their own by a certain date. The modules also included some exercises and scenarios that the associates had to respond to. The fourth session was held live, with all associates coming together in a room with the presenters. This served as the capstone session of the series and provided a forum for the associates to discuss what they had learned, to pose questions, to work with each other, and to explore the remaining topics with the presenting partners.

Finally, Steve, I always enjoy those articles that try to predict what technology will be like in five years or 50. What do you think is the next frontier in e-learning, particularly for law firms?

Great question. I think about this a lot. The first thing I can say without any hesitation is that everything will be mobile within the next few years. Any learning resources that a firm creates, regardless of format, will need to be accessible from hand-held devices. (Did you know that tablets alone are expected to outsell PCs this year?)

We’re also seeing a move toward much more targeted and modular online learning. That is, rather than implementing a 75-minute program on a certain topic, we’re now working with firms to create a series of stand-alone modules that address a small piece of a specific topic.

Many recent studies have shown that brief, modular, and focused learning resources can be extremely helpful job aids and can enhance understanding and retention.

So in addition to an hour-long firm training program on “Taking and Defending Depositions,” for example, a firm might also build a 10-minute module focused on “The Top Five Things to Do When Preparing for a Deposition.” This mini-module could serve as an extremely valuable resource that could be leveraged just in time. We call this kind of brief, energetic learning resource a “SkillBurst.”

Down the road, I see firms moving to more scenario-based learning. Think “apprenticeship meets virtual worlds and gaming.” Other industries have already embraced this idea, but I don’t know of any firms that are doing so yet.

Basically, an associate would interface with virtual clients, partners, and other associates as they address a true-to-life legal scenario. They would respond to events and then navigate and address the consequences of those actions all while trying to meet the original goal. Think “lawyer flight simulator”: an environment where the associates can put into practice what they’ve learned and a safe place to experiment and make mistakes. We’ve started playing around with this concept here a bit and I’m looking forward to the day when a firm is ready to give it a shot.

Thanks, Steve! You’re a true leader in this field. If readers want to get in touch with you, they should email you at