Many of the traditions of legal education are not informed by the literature on learning theories, rather, the way law has been taught has tended to be based on how the instructor was taught or on how his or her colleagues teach. Since the goal is for law students to learn, this has often been an unsatisfactory reality. Over the last decade, however, law school educators have begun addressing this issue in an effort to improve student outcomes by integrating strategies into their teaching that are derived from learning theory research.
Three concepts at the center of learning theories are instruction, learning, and transfer. Instruction is the purposeful arrangement of conditions so that learning and transfer can be demonstrated by students. As an example, consider how one learning theory, behaviorism, can be applied to instruction. According to behaviorism, instruction should be designed so that students are given the opportunity to master easier problems early in the learning process and only then be expected to address complex problems or issues. In the traditional law class, students are often assumed to be able to read, analyze, and discuss difficult cases before they have first demonstrated mastery of the basic skills of application and analysis with easier problems. Law instructors are applying such ideas as they reform their teaching practice with the use of materials that facilitate mastery of essential skills. Resources that provide a foundation in learning theory are listed below.