How to Boost the Staying Power of Your CLE

person writing and developing CLE materials

I first sailed with my mum off the coast of England when I was about seven. She took me out in a little Mirror dinghy and showed me the basics. Then, in true 1970s English parenting style, she jumped out and pushed me off on my own. I sailed for the next 20 years.

Years later, in a bid to deconstruct the experience that would make any psychologist rich, I bought a nice sensible dinghy, I prepared well, sailed it twice, and didn’t come close to capsizing (much to my disappointment). Soon after this successful experience, I traded my sensible dinghy in for a less-sensible Laser, which is much more likely to capsize.

All this intro is to talk about CLE materials. When you go dinghy sailing, the actual sailing is about 60% of the experience. Before you even get on the water, you think about the weather, rig the boat appropriately, tune your components to get the best performance, launch the boat, and return the trailer – only then do you get to sail, and possibly capsize.

Developing an educational experience is best done with the same mindset as sailing: prepare well and take the long view. Jumping into developing a PowerPoint can get you quick results or go south rapidly.

While our Train the Trainer toolkit is a great resource for the ins and outs of course design and development, if you’re short on time, I’d recommend planning your CLE course materials first.

CLE materials provide the framework

This may be counterintuitive, but CLE course materials are, realistically, the only long-term connection you will have with the learners.

Long after your wise words are forgotten, the learners will have your course materials to judge whether what you provided was an hour away from work or a blueprint to improve their practice. As such, CLE materials need to be succinct, focused, and (above all) easy to understand.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 795(a)(5) lays out the standards for written course materials:

Thorough, high quality, readable and carefully prepared written materials should be made available to all participants at or before the time the course is presented, unless the absence of such materials is recognized as reasonable and approved by the Board.

The MCLE Board also has some clarifying details on the purpose of written materials:

Providers should not plan a course to be presented without thorough, carefully prepared written materials because they fill a valuable role in the overall learning experience. There are essentially three reasons to require the provider distribute written materials during or before the course:

  1. Written materials make it much more likely that the speaker is organized and prepared to teach;
  2. Written materials alleviate the need for attorneys to take extensive notes, allowing them to concentrate on the oral presentation; and
  3. Written materials are a valuable reference for attorneys after they leave the course.

How to develop effective CLE materials

So, what simple things can you do to deliver effective course materials? Try these tips out:

  1. Start by jotting down the type of content you want to include – just a few bullets that you feel are important. This will focus your materials on what’s important and direct you away from adding too much filler.
  2. Separate the bullets into two distinct content types: materials and resources. Think of materials as supporting the course through takeaways, best practices, and reminders of concepts covered. Resources, however, can be thought of as additional sources that inform through further study, such as research, videos, articles, cases, or opinions.
  3. Develop a simple, one-page outline of the key points you want the course to deliver. You can provide this guide to the learners as a takeaway. For example, the image below is a participant guide for a CLE on collaborative communication. Each section corresponds with the CLE and provides examples, scenarios, and activities that reinforce the course’s key points.
  4. Don’t just export your slides. Slides should support your content through simple keywords, images, videos, etc. If your slides are useful as a written resource, they’ll be useless during the presentation. For example, these two slides have the same message:
This slide has way too much text but a lot of content the learner could review later.
This slide would make no sense in course materials but is great for a live session. It simply reinforces the idea you’re discussing with the group.

Changing your mindset

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, shifting how you think about CLE materials is a change in mindset. We need to move away from thinking of the PowerPoint as the entire learning experience and instead view it as a tool that conveys what we want people to learn, reflect on, and adopt.

By taking the time to think about and plan your course materials differently, you will enable attorneys to benefit from your CLE far beyond the one-hour course.

Good luck!

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