There is a world of difference between teaching negotiation theory, which pertains to conceptual understanding, and teaching negotiation skills, which pertain to actual behavior in real-world situations. The principle of reflective practice is widely used for theoretical instruction. Deliberate practice, however, is a more powerful model for skills training. Cognitive scientists have discovered that subjects will learn skills best when they perform well-defined tasks at appropriate levels of difficulty, and when they are given immediate feedback, an opportunity to correct their errors, and an opportunity to practice until the tasks become routine.
To satisfy the deliberate practice conditions for large graduate-level negotiation courses (some as large as seventy students), students were assigned to use webcams with their laptop computers to video record their negotiation exercises. Before each exercise, students were assigned to prepare for and to concentrate on performing two or three well-defined tasks. Students reviewed these recordings and commented on their performances in a journal before uploading the videos and journals to an assigned network folder. The instructor and teaching assistants then reviewed the journals and specified portions of the videos and provided individual written feedback to the students.
The instructors found that student negotiating skills have improved significantly using this new system. In comparison with earlier semesters, students also felt they were involved in a more intense and personal learning experience. A majority of students reported they intend to apply the principles of deliberate practice in their professional lives after graduation. The authors have found this method continues to challenge their ability to identify and describe the skills used by expert negotiators.
As an addition to this new methodology, two of the authors have spearheaded the development of video annotation software, known as “MediaNotes,” to help students and instructors review, comment upon, and learn from video recordings of negotiations. Based on their experiences using the software to support deliberate practice, the authors expect this tool to initiate a significant advance in our ability to recognize and describe expert negotiation behavior and in students’ ability to improve their negotiating skills.