Thoughts on Distance Learning and the BIALL Legal Foundations Course

Last year I received a bursary to cover the cost of taking the BIALL Legal Foundations Course, previously known as Law for Law Librarians I believe. This has meant that from October 2012 through to this month, I have been listening to one law lecture a week, and completed a series of questions based on the content covered. Below are some thoughts on my experiences (although I do still have one lecture left to take!).

The course is all run remotely, gone are the days where the lecture was held at Westminster Uni on a Monday night. There was an initial (non-mandatory) meeting in London for those taking the course to meet in person, but other than that all interaction has been via BlackBoard through the University’s student portal. The experience has therefore been unlike any course that I have taken before. I’m used to seeing lecturers in person, and whilst I’ve had plenty of experience with WebEx meetings, simply seeing a slide on my screen and listening to a recorded lecture alongside it is a rather different experience. Having said that, some lecturers did make good use of technology, and had uploaded a video of themselves giving the lecture alongside their slides – something that I found to be much more preferable than an audio only option with a slide deck. Perhaps other course attendees haven’t found it quite a strange as I have, but part of me might have preferred an online “live” lecture on a specific weekday night for a couple of hours. Obviously, going back to the old format where all lectures were in person once a week is not an option as it severely limits the ability of those outside of London to attend the course.

As mentioned above, every week a new lecture is released, providing a basic grounding in a different area of law, ranging from Banking Law through to Immigration and Human Rights. The lectures have varied radically in length – the longest clocking in at over 3 hours, where as the shortest was around 55 minutes. Thankfully, all the lectures can be paused – one of the joys of online education that wouldn’t come with a “live” lecture! When allowing time to answer and complete the exercises, the time commitment connected to each lecture becomes relatively substantial on top of a busy working week.

Once a lecture opens, it is accessible for a period of 4 weeks, meaning that if you do not have time to complete it one week then you can always come back to it a bit later (although by then you will have two to catch up on!). I have taken this approach a number of times, as I have found with other commitments (SLA etc) I simply haven’t had time to complete the lecture during my weekday evenings. Sunday therefore quickly became BIALL LFC day, and has remained as such for the last few months. It is something to bear in mind when signing up though – if you aren’t able to complete exercises during your working day (I don’t imagine many people can), then you will need to make sure that you have a good allotment of time set aside each week to do so.

Over all though, whilst it will never live up to a lecture in person, the online system works well, especially considering the people it is targeting. It is all well and good me wishing that I could go along in person, or sign in once a week at a set time to listen and interact with the lecturer, but when push comes to shove, the flexibility of pre-recorded lectures comes out on top. When you also factor in the additional people that can attend the course remotely (one attendee is in the US), it really does begin to make sense.

So, having harped on about the structure, what about the content? Firstly, I’ll deal with the target audience. The course states that it is aimed at those with 1 year’s experience in law libraries. Personally, I think this description should be changed to those that are just starting out. If you can do the course straight away, do so. Whilst I’m still new, some material would have been useful to me earlier on, and some other material I was already familiar with through my day to day work (content in the EU lectures, and introduction to the English Legal System for example).

The course gives a good overall grounding in the basics of different areas of law, and spreads the topic areas out nicely. Whilst in my current role I am not going to be referring to Family Law, but it is good to know that I’ve got a basic understanding, just in case. Similarly, having covered the ‘academic’ side to Company Law, it has put some of the research I carry out into context. No course you ever seem completely applicable to your current role straight away, but education is about a commitment to your future, and that is what the course provides. A strong grounding to build upon.

It is also important to remember that the course does not teach you how to be a law librarian. It is simply a grounding in the basic principles of different areas of law – it doesn’t explain the nuances of the EU’s legislative observatory for example, or the many failings of The grounding provided will feed into your research though (it has already helped with some enquiries) and will hopefully provide an additional level of confidence and guidance when starting a complex query. You will find that aspects of your role such as reference interviews will become easier, All in all, whilst I enjoyed some lectures more than others, I would definitely recommend the course to anyone who was starting out in law librarianship and looking to get a wide, basic understanding in key areas.

The content covered (loosely): an introduction to the English Legal System, Tort, Contract, Sale of Goods, Criminal, Employment, EU, Immigration, Human Rights, Wills and Probate, Civil Procedure, Family, IP, Media, Land, Company Law, Finance & Banking

PS. Thank you again to the BIALL Awards and Bursaries Committee for funding my place on the course.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for sharing these thoughts Sam. I recognise many of them from my time doing distance learning with the Open Univ (OU): finding the time to study when you’re working and doing other things (like SLA); getting used to self-directed study; not being in a learning environment with others (like a lecture hall or tutorial). It took a while to get used to it and the second course I took made me realise how much tacit experience I’d picked up on distance learning study techniques. Technology has certainly transformed distance learning, gone are the days you received books and CDs in the post and had to submit essays by return post. Now everything’s done online and there are definite benefits. What do you plan to study next?


    • The distance learning was certainly a different experience, but I really missed going to the lectures in person!

      As for what to study next, I suppose it depends on if you mean formally or informally! I’m not sure I’ll be enrolling in any long term accredited qualifications for the time being due to other commitments, but I enjoy teaching myself new things both inside and outside work; I don’t imagine that will ever stop.

      I’ve just passed a referees course for taekwondo – maybe I’ll have a think about new transferrable skills that I can take into work from that!


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