In the nineteenth century, Socratic discourse, law school’s signature pedagogy, revolutionized legal education by making law students active interpreters of primary texts rather than vessels to be filled with legal knowledge. Development of this experiential pedagogy was inspired by progressive educators who understood that theories are only deeply grasped when they are used and tested. Just as children can gain a richer understanding of mathematical concepts in structured play with blocks, and just as student scientists can gain a richer understanding of chemistry or physics by experimenting in laboratories, student lawyers can gain a richer understanding of law as they try to use and apply it in hypothetical scenarios.
In the twentieth century, experiential learning was expanded in United States law schools to include sophisticated simulation, clinical, and problem-based methods. New York University’s School of Law led this expansion, developing a uniquely sophisticated clinical program and pioneering the design of simulation courses in which students can study legal theory and methods as they are embodied in the affairs of hypothetical clients. These expanded experiential methods not only illuminate doctrine and process, but they also give unprecedented attention to the relational, social, ethical, and cultural dimensions of legal practice.
The Experiential Learning Lab builds on NYU’s successes in this field to promote, test, and improve experiential learning across the Law School curriculum and across professions, and to study its effectiveness for diverse populations.