Taking Negotiation Teaching into the Real World: Conducting, Debriefing and Assessing Adventure Learning


Ever feel like giving your students or trainees real-life negotiation assignments? Sending them out of the classroom to discover how the concepts learned in class play out in the real world?

This approach to learning negotiation, called “Adventure Learning” is a fairly new kid on the negotiation teaching block. In a nutshell, adventure learning involves sending students on negotiation missions beyond the classroom, brushing up against - or actively engaging in - real-world / real-life / real-consequences situations.  Putting a fairly wide lens on this, co-author Lynn Cohn and I once suggested that adventure learning can be:

1) A classroom experience with real implications for the student;

2) A role play set in a real-world setting, in which students engage with professional negotiation opposites;

3) An assignment in which students negotiate for themselves;

4) An assignment that involves the student applying a key concept from the course out-of-class;

5) An opportunity to observe or participate in real-life negotiations of others; or

6) An out-of-class experience not involving negotiating directly but which allows the student to transfer learning from the adventure to their understanding of negotiations.

Of course – the more “real-world” the assignment, the greater the adventure. Assigning students to negotiate with each other over who will pay for lunch adds real-life flavor and implications to a negotiation exercise; assigning students to engage with a vendor in the market bangs this up a notch. A student negotiating with her teacher for a portion of her final grade enjoys some of the protections afforded by the student-teacher relationship that she will have to learn to do without in an exercise in which she negotiates with a stranger in the real world.

Although many teachers have experimented with it at one time or another, it is just beginning to catch on as a widely practiced pedagogical approach.

The second book of the Rethinking Negotiation Teaching Project offered several chapters making recommendations for conducting adventure learning (in fact, the book was named Venturing Beyond the Classroom for the many pieces suggesting teachers needed to do just that!). For example, Straight Off the Deep End in Adventure Learning (by James Coben, Christopher Honeyman & Sharon Press)  describes a series of adventure learning exercises conducted in the bazaars of Istanbul, whereas Bringing Negotiation Teaching to Life (which I wrote together with Lynn Cohn) suggests ways teachers can give students these experiences in surroundings closer to home – beginning with the campus they are teaching at. In Orientation and Disorientation (by Melissa Manwaring, Bobbi McAdoo & Sandra Cheldelin ), a theoretical foundation is laid for creating adventure learning experiences that go beyond “fun” and “cool” to being authentic learning experiences.

Fast forward a few years. Two recent pieces have taken another step forward in helping adventure learning continue its transition from being an engaging and enjoyable experience to a valuable learning exercise, worthy of the time and effort –investment by teachers and students.

In Debriefing Adventure Learning   (by Ellen E. Deason, Yael Efron, Ranse Howell, Sanda Kaufman, Joel Lee & Sharon Press) the authors provide an extremely helpful set of suggestions for teachers on extricating knowledge and competencies from the adventure learning experience. 

 Finally, in Assessing the Adventure (which I wrote together with Sharon Press and Lynn Cohn, we set out to nail down the missing academic link of evaluation and assessment of learning achievements in adventure learning. Given that these are often subjective activities, conducted far from the teacher’s view –can they be reliably and helpfully assessed? They can, we suggest, and while it raises some interesting questions it’s not as hard as you might think. In general, we’ve found, adding on a layer of assessment to adventure learning assignments not only motivates students to perform better – it motivates teachers to plan better activities. Check out how this happens – and then consider taking your class out to play!

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