The skills required for effective negotiation, collaboration, influencing, sales, purchasing, and leading and managing people are best learned through practical application and reflection guided by expert feedback. Typical “book learning,” instruction and e-learning do not deliver the same results.
In our applied research and training workshops, we found that in order to develop the key skills they need to be highly effective negotiators, leaders and managers, learners need realistic situations and role play counterparts with whom to practice the skills. In short, these are applied skills. As much as we tried—and we tried for years and consulted with numerous colleagues and reviewed available resources on the subject—we found that it is difficult, if not impossible, to create truly realistic opportunities to apply negotiation skills in a classroom environment. The problems are manifold. First, many learners lack real world experience with the types of contexts they will encounter over the course of their careers. Second, by definition, a classroom setting as a locus for negotiation exercises feels contrived; it generally does not feel “real.” Third, the quality of student participation varies widely within a given classroom and between cohorts, so that what is experienced by any given learner may be very different in quality and applicability from what others experience. Fourth, learners have a wide range of comfort levels about engaging in role play visible to their peers; the comfort level can be affected by many factors, including classroom environment, learner personality, English language proficiency, gender, and cultural backgrounds. Finally, the quality, experience and comfort of instructors with role play varies widely as well.
For these reasons, we found that computer-based simulations are the ideal medium for learning the applied skills required for effective negotiation, collaboration, influencing, sales, purchasing, and leading and managing people. These skills are most effectively learned through practical application, which makes them ideally suited for gamification, particularly, when the learning games are supported by engaging instructional videos. Learning games provide a realistic context for introducing learners to situations and experiences they would otherwise encounter only when the stakes are high in real life. For that very reason, most organizations are reluctant to take “unnecessary” risks by putting young people in high stakes situations where the young person’s “failure” might harm the organization or a bad initial experience could harm the young person’s confidence.
That is why we decided on realistic simulations with expert instructional videos as the ideal way to teach these skills. Just as airline pilots first learn to how to fly a plan from instruction on the basic principles and key concepts, then apply those principles and concepts in a computer simulator, inexperienced negotiators and managers should practice their skills in computer simulations with expert guidance available to support them. In the simulations, the scenarios presented and characters are very realistic. One senior learning and development manager in a Fortune 100 company noted that her colleagues regularly exhibit the exact same behaviors as the characters in the “Holding Team Members Accountable” game.