7 Tips for More Engaging CLE

Small-group-learningI’ve worked at the Commission a little over six months now.  Over that time, I’ve attended a few dozen CLE professional responsibility courses and reviewed countless more.  I have seen good presentations and, well, less good presentations.  In the case of the latter, the facilitator usually has interesting information he wants to convey and he has a group of attorneys interested in learning that information.  But while the content may be good, the delivery, oftentimes, is not.

We at the Commission want to change that.  If you’re a facilitator, you’re already engaged in your topic. You want others to be engaged as well.  So how do you get them interested and stay interested?  Here are some ways we’ve found that work.  Several of these ideas are taken from Peter Renner’s book “The Art of Teaching Adults”, a must-read for anyone trying to teach attorneys.  Read the ideas below and let us know what you think.

Try out other professional responsibility topics.  We’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again.  Unlike other states, Illinois does not have an “ethics” requirement.  Illinois has a “professional responsibility” requirement.  Illinois attorneys need to take 6 hours of CLE, over a two year time period, in any one of these five topics: professionalism, civility, diversity, wellness and ethics.  Ethics is by far the most utilized PR-CLE topic.  So, shake things up a bit.  Try teaching one of the other PR-CLE topics.   Need some ideas?  Visit the Commission’s CLE webpage for suggestions.

Decide on your learning objectives early on.  Decide what you want the attorneys to learn before you even start planning the course.   It’ll help when researching the topic, when selling the topic to the CLE provider, and when setting out your materials.   Not to mention, the Commission requires the provider supply Learning Objectives when applying for a course.  Early PR-CLE approval is a great way to ramp up attendance at your course.  Don’t think: what should I cover?  Rather, think about what you want attorneys to learn – to take away – from your presentation.

Consider using icebreakers.  You’re at the CLE now.  How do you start?  If the group’s small enough, start with icebreakers.  Nothing complicated.  Maybe just go around the room, have everyone introduce their names, their practice areas, and even what they want to get out of this course.  You don’t want to make them too uncomfortable, but you do want them engaged from the outset.

Small Groups.  Small groups work.  They get people engaged in the material and ensure they remember the material.  Consider having the attorneys divide into small groups at the beginning and introduce themselves.  Not only will they be more comfortable at the outset, but doing so may reduce the number of people you have texting or surfing the web.  Remember, the keyword is “small”.  3-6 people is ideal.

Act interested in your own presentation.  It’s very likely that at least a portion of your CLE will be in a lecture format.  Unfortunately, some CLE lecturers show minimal enthusiasm for their topic.  Attorneys aren’t going to engage in something that you yourself aren’t engaged in.  Act alert, use eye contact, speak with enthusiasm, tell anecdotes – be the person you’d want to pay money to see.  Also, limit your actual lecturing time to 20-30 minutes.  A listener’s attention span is much shorter than that.  Intersperse lecturing with interactive activities like the ones below.

Avoid the 20/80 problem.  80% of volunteered responses to questions come from 20% of students.  Avoid this problem.  Have attorneys discuss questions in small groups.  Have them write their answers on a pad of paper.  Have them raise hands or use clickers to respond to surveys.  Once they’ve talked with someone else about the answer, feel free to call on them whether or not they raise their hands—you know they will have something to say and wont feel put on the spot.  Keeping everyone involved keeps everyone learning.

Outline and Summarize.  Outline your learning objectives and lesson plan at the beginning.  Give the students a road map of where you’re heading.  Then summarize what you’ve covered somewhere in the middle.  Finally, recap all you’ve accomplished and tie it back to your learning objectives.

Those are my ideas for more engaging CLE.  Almost all of them are, of course, dependent on your topic, format, and group.  But try them out; see how they work for you.  And if anyone else has any other ideas, sound off in the comments.


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