Millennials, Boomers and Free Online CLE

free online cle

Two years ago, I was sitting in my living room, binge watching Netflix, when my phone rang. I looked down. It was my mother. Now this was surprising as my mother and I, living in two different countries, have an almost exclusive texting and Facetime relationship. I answered the phone quickly, worrying that some disaster had hit my overseas family. But before I could even say, “Hello,” my Baby Boomer mother says, “Michelle! What is wrong with your generation?” Welcome to the beginning of my Millennial journey.

Talking About the Four Generations In the Workplace

Over the past three years, I’ve written about Millennials, Xers, Boomers and Traditionalists in the legal workplace. I’ve talked about technologyleadership, and even fashion. I’ve explained how Millennials can succeed in the workplace, and why Boomers need to be recognized as mentors. I even wrote a post called “Stop Complaining About Millennials!” That one, I think, was directed at my mother. (The phone call by the way was her complaining about her Millennial colleagues.)

At the same time, we at the Commission have developed and facilitated numerous programs about communication and civility.  We have been lucky enough to travel all around the state presenting a CLE about professionalism among multiple generations. We’ve spoken at law schools, bar associations, law firms, government agencies, even for the Governor’s lawyers themselves. The feedback has been uniformly positive, and raucous. See my mother isn’t the only one who has a problem with Millennials. Everyone does! Even the Millennials themselves. (“You think I’m bad? You haven’t met my 17-year-old cousin.”)

It has been a great experience and we are always willing to bring our program around the state. However there are over 90,000 attorneys in Illinois and as much as we’d love to reach them all, we just can’t. We firmly believe in the transformative power of in-person education. But we also realize that The Future Is Now and for many of our attorneys, that “Now” is online.

Welcome to the next project of the Commission on Professionalism – a free online CLE professional responsibility course. And after the past two years, what else could that first online course be but this: Talking About My Generation: Learning Conversations in the Legal Workplace.

Online Learning in the United States

Online learning isn’t new. But it is a big piece of the education pie. According to the 2015 Survey of Online learning, over 5.8 million students are taking at least one distance education course. That’s almost 30% of all enrolled students in the United States. Over 2.8 million students are only taking courses online. Academic leaders believe in the importance of online learning. 63.3% say that it is critical to their long-term strategy.

What does online learning look like? Essentially, online courses are those in which at least 80% of the course content is delivered online. Your online course could have as many as thousands of students, or as few as one –you. It could be live, in real-time, where participants use a course portal to listen to the lecture, or it could be on-demand, asynchronous as the biz calls it, where you take the course at your pace, on your own time. It could be on your PC, your tablet, or your smartphone. You could have streaming video, virtual break-out rooms, listservs, interactive activities, and friendly online competition with your fellow students. It could be completely free, or several thousand dollars. And it could be a very well-delivered course, or an extraordinarily poorly-delivered one.

But how much learning goes on? That’s the question that no one has truly been able to answer. Some reports say that e-learning outcomes are the same or better than in-person learning outcomes. Other reports say that e-learning outcomes are worse than in-person ones with significantly high drop-out rates in the highly-touted massive open online courses.

Moving Learning from In-Person to Online

One of the problems with online learning, from our perspective, is the delivery method. Lecture, most agree, is not the best delivery method for teaching adults. But it’s a popular delivery method because it’s easy and economical. How much are you truly going to retain from a person standing at a podium ten rows in front of you, talking for 55 minutes straight while you either take furious notes, or scroll through your smartphone waiting for the lecture to be over? When you move that lecture format in its entirety online, well, few people are going to learn that way.

And in the area of professional responsibility, very little of the course content is black letter law. Education in the subjects of professionalism, diversity, and civility requires discussion of context, judgment, and fact-based scenarios.

So how do adults learn? And more importantly, how do they retain what they’ve learned? Through the use of visuals, answering questions, doing practice exercises and role-playing. Students rehearse what they’ve learned, and then through that rehearsal, encode the information into their long-term memory. That way, when they are faced with situations at work or at home, they can easily retrieve and apply their fully-acquired knowledge and skills.

The challenge with online learning is how to move these in-person learning techniques into a virtual space. That’s where we came in.

The Commission’s First Free Online Course 

Many CLE providers have offered high-quality online courses in professional responsibility over the years. We want to see more. To help, we unveil our version of an online course that incorporates many in-person learning techniques into an online learning experience – Talking About My Generation: Learning Conversations in the Legal Workplace.

The course is a completely free one-hour interactive online course focused on improving communication among the four generations in the workplace. See, professionalism in the workplace is an ever-evolving concept, one that has changed remarkably over the past ten years. As an attorney, you will need to communicate with clients and colleagues who may have different outlooks on professionalism. The online course will help you understand the differing perspectives each generation brings to the workplace and how those perspectives impact perceptions of professionalism. Why is midnight not the “end of day”? How can a Gen Xer stop feeling overlooked in the workplace? What can younger attorneys and older staff do to work together more successfully? Not only will this course help you answer those questions, it will provide you with practical communication skills that you can use right now in your workplace.

After you complete the course, you’ll receive a certificate for one hour of Illinois professional responsibility CLE credit.

The course has videos, audio, quizzes, activities, even “games.” We want you to not only listen to what you hear, but remember it, apply it and then retrieve it the next time you’re faced with a frustrating generational issue at work.

So we turn it over to you. This course is the first of several free online CLE courses that we will be putting out over the next few years. After you take the course, complete the feedback form to let us know what you learned from it and what we can improve. The Future Is Now for all of us, including us in education. And hopefully, one day, I can tell my mother that thanks to a late night phone call years ago, lawyers in Illinois are now better equipped to handle the generational challenges of today’s workplace.

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

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Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

Former Diversity & Education Director at Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism

7 thoughts on “Millennials, Boomers and Free Online CLE

  1. What a great article. I’m starting an online course soon and one of the concerns I have is with the experience of “online learning”. I don’t know if it will be the same quality as an in person lesson. I’m sure I will find out, but I’m glad that people are thinking about this idea. This isn’t an easy gap to bridge.

    1. Thanks for commenting Leighton. Please let us know how you like your online course. And definitely take ours! There are so many different options out there and it’s great that attorneys can see what they like and how the education experience compares to in-person learning.

  2. Thank you, this article was great! As a fellow Millennial I can say that online courses are the new normal. I too was a but unsure about the delivery and my attention span prior to taking my first course via online only learning platform but it was fine and I did well. I would imagine that as long as the subject matter is of some interest and you weight the benefit of the course you will excel no matter the platform! I will fill out the feedback and I look forward to taking this course!

  3. I have to say I’m really surprised about the tentativeness toward online courses expressed in this article. I’ve been an attorney since 2003, and almost every CLE credit I obtained was via an online course. The ABA has at least one free online CLE course per month. I work in eDiscovery, IT, and IP law, and eDiscovery service providers and professional organizations regularly offer online CLE courses – a couple of times a year there are day-long virtual conferences that feature 6 or so CLE courses combined with shared online spaces for communicating with other attendees, course presenters, and program sponsors. Certain law firms regularly offer CLE courses about IT and IP matters.

    And if you’re looking for professional responsibility credits, the IARDC has many online courses, including courses specifically about Illinois. 9 hours worth currently, here

    But I’ve also taken multiple online courses through systems like Coursera on (mostly) non-legal topics, such as methods of problem-solving and the structure of the internet, and plan on taking more. Then there’s YouTube. I’ve watched lecture courses on history and philosophy from universities like Yale. The University of Pennsylvania has excellent lectures on topics in anthropology and archaeology. The University of California Television channel offers presentations about everything you can imagine, linguistics, medicine, marine biology…

    Plus YouTube is a great source of programming of all sorts in languages other than English. Again, I tend to stick to the more intellectual topics, and if you’re looking for information about something like the history of the Roman Empire, you can easily get it French and German and compare that to the English perspective. Perhaps needless to say, as well, discussions on economics and international affairs are very different in France vs Germany vs the US.

    I’m 42 years old. “Now” is not online. Online is not “the future”. Online for me was my first term in college in 1991. And that is about 30 years later than it was for the physicists who developed the internet to share large amounts of data obtained from experiments on the structure of matter produced by supercolliders at CERN in Geneva, Brookhaven National Labs on Long Island a few miles from where I grew up, and at Fermilab just a bit outside of Chicago.

    1. Thanks for commenting, James. I agree with you that much of information transfer can take place online and has over the past several decades. The challenge we have, speaking as legal educators, is making that information transfer interactive, engaging, and relevant to the practice of law. And also cost-effective. Also many states don’t allow attorneys to take CLE online; Illinois is a leader in this, so it’s interesting from a regulator perspective as to the future direction of online CLE. I’m very glad you’ve found and participated in some quality online courses. That’s the kind of quality and accessibility we’re looking for across the board!

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