Based on over twenty years of academic and field research by negotiation experts, Alignor’s learning games and instructional videos reflect global best practices in the field of negotiation, collaboration and related skills. The lead architect of Alignor’s learning games is John Shulman, a Harvard-educated negotiator, who has trained thousands of business leaders, managers, professionals, students, government officials, teachers, community leaders and activists around the world in the interest-based approach to negotiation, collaboration, sales, purchasing, influencing and conflict resolution.  See John’s bio.

Alignor’s work with dozens of the largest companies and government agencies across the US, Europe, Asia and Latin and South America and with successful entrepreneurs and professionals has guided the development of our learning games.  Put simply, the characters and scenarios presented in our learning games are modeled after real people and real life situations.

In our academic and field research, we asked the following questions as part of our instructional design process:

  • What makes people effective negotiators?
  • What skills are needed to build healthy and effective relationships?
  • What skills do effective leaders demonstrate?
  • What skills can learners scaffold to build confidence and competence?
  • What skills do young people most need for career and life success?
  • Why are these skills so challenging for young people to develop?
  • How can we accelerate skill development?

As we sought answers for these questions, it became increasingly clear that there were certain categories of skills exhibited by highly effective negotiators, managers and leaders.  We designed our learning games and instructional videos to teach skills within all of the following nine categories:

  1. Developing self-awareness;
  2. Managing emotions;
  3. Being strategic;
  4. Finding creative solutions;
  5. Assessing risk;
  6. Listening effectively;
  7. Communicating effectively;
  8. Building healthy, effective relationships; and
  9. Handling conflict

While there is some overlap among the nine categories of skills, we found that highly effective negotiators, leaders and managers apply specific skills within these categories.  Accordingly, we realized that for learners to become more effective negotiators, leaders and managers, they must master specific skills with each of the nine categories.  For example, in order to develop self-awareness (category 1 above), learners must a) understand stakeholder needs, b) understand their assumptions, and c) understand how their actions affect others.

We therefore built these three specific skills into some of our learning games in order to help learners develop self-awareness.  Each learning game identifies the specific skills it teaches as learning objectives.  When paired with the learning games, the instructional videos reinforce key learning points and skills in a complementary, similarly engaging format.

We built the specific skills from the nine categories above into both our learning games and instructional videos.  Each instructional video identifies at the beginning the specific skills it teaches as learning objectives.  The learning games, by contrast, maintain the element of surprise (the heart of gamification!) by delaying until the end their presentation of key learning points in a General Feedback section.  When paired with each other, the learning games and instructional videos reinforce key learning points and skills in a complementary, similarly engaging format.

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.

The learning games and instructional videos are organized by course modules. The modules are designed to teach specific skills relevant to the course module topics:

  • Negotiation
  • Collaboration and communication
  • Managing people

Each learning game identifies the specific skills taught in that game. The instructional videos cover related topics, such as:

  • How to increase your leverage
  • How and whether to talk about consequences
  • Dealing with people across cultures

You can select learning games and instructional videos at your discretion, based on your learning objectives. For example, you can mix and match games and instructional videos to focus on specific skills, or you can stay with the thematic consistency and structure of our course modules. Either way, skill acquisition and improvement occurs organically and dynamically, as learners connect the situations presented in the learning games and instructional videos with similar challenges they face in real life.

Finally, you can designate the sequencing of learning games and instructional videos. For example, you can select certain videos to be viewed before a selected learning game (or vice versa). This is a particularly effective way to emphasize the real life contexts in which certain skills arise and why those skills should be developed.

We find a wide level of performance among learners, particularly on different games. As a general rule, it is not important how many times a learner plays a game before she obtains a score of 100 on that game. It is more important that once she obtains a score of 100 on a given game, the learner is able to repeat that score the very next time she plays the same game. Our research indicates that the ability to obtain a score of 100 twice in a row indicates an emerging mastery of the skills taught in that game. Often, learners who score below 100 the first time they play a game and take three or four times to reach 100 appear to learn the most from the games.

With the robust reporting built into our online games portal, you can track learner performance in real time and supplement learning as needed. Two ideal ways to improve learner performance are:

1. Play a learning game multiple times (if necessary) until the learner obtains two consecutive scores of 100 on that game; and
2. Review instructional videos that topic areas relevant to the skills in a given game.

For example, if a learner is struggling with the “Saying ‘no’ without damaging relationships” game, she can review the videos on “Saying ‘no’ without damaging relationships” and “How and whether to talk about consequences.” After reviewing these videos, the learner could play the learning game again and see if she is able to increase her score.