Learning holistically is not done by trying to remember information by using repetition and force. Holistic learners instead organize their minds like spider webs. Every piece of information is a single point. That point is then consciously related to tons of other points on the web. There are no boxes with this form of learning. Science becomes literature which becomes economics. Subject distinctions may help when going to class, but a holistic learner never sees things in a box.
The interconnectedness of ideas, concepts, experiences, disciplines is at the heart of holistic learning. Whether or not you practice holistic learning regularly, I think you are likely to experience the “magic” of holistic learning when you research and write a paper, work on a case in a clinic, or work on a project as an intern. You don’t try to memorize the material, but the engagement and thinking involved in the process will cause you to remember it even years later.
Holistic learning is synthesis on steroids. You establish connections not only between the legal concepts you study, but also link to other disciplines and areas of life in general. Law is fertile ground for this as it permeates almost everything around us. In addition, law is constantly evolving, so to understand where a legal standard stands in relation to other rules and doctrines on the grand scheme of things is more important than to know its current interpretation (that doesn’t apply to the bar exam). It is like star gazing when you identify the stars by their relative positions in the constellation. Issue-spotting is another context where the holistic approach will serve you well because you have to take the characteristics of the familiar pattern and extend it to a new situation.
So how do you approach the study of law holistically? Next time when you struggle to understand a legal concept, consider the following questions:
- What is this concept like? Think of any association that comes to mind. Go further and analyze the essential characteristics that make this association work. Is there a point where the association breaks down?
- What does this concept remind you of? Think of what you already know and how it can help you understand this concept better. Does it involve a process similar to “X”? Can it be applied just like “Y”? Does it produce outcomes much like “Z”?
- How does this concept relate to the previous material? Here you engage in synthesis.
- How do you think the doctrine will develop from this point on? Make some predictions about what’s to come.
- Do you know of any concrete, real-life scenarios where you can practice applying the theory? When you encounter or read about various controversies, think of what you know and how it applies to the situation in question.
- What other disciplines influence the evolution of this concept? For example, technological developments affect patent law. Ethics come into play in the regulation of biomedical research. As you read papers and listen to the news, think of the ways the law may change in the future.
- What areas of life are affected by this concept? Think of the results and consequences. Do you like them?
Mind-mapping can be a great tool to visualize these multiple levels of connections.
What do you think of holistic learning? Is it worth the time and effort? Does it really eliminate the need for the traditional cramming right before the exam? Have you experienced those "Aha! moments" when
things just "clicked" for you? How did you get there?